Guest Post: No to Eggsploitation!

// 15 October 2009

The No to Eggsploitation campaigners argue that we need to protect women from the risks of egg donation.

In July, Lisa Jardine, Chair of the Human Fertilization And Embryology Authority (HFEA), announced that the HFEA is likely to rescind the longstanding ban on paying women to donate their eggs to others, for fertility treatment (

We are campaigning against this because:

• Egg donation carries serious health risks – in every country where there is a financial incentive to donate eggs, poor women are induced to take those risks, whilst middle-class women who can afford the fees, and the IVF industry, benefit.

• Turning human body parts into commodities is unethical and will eventually lead to a market in kidneys and other organs.

The HFEA will decide in December whether to even bother consulting the public on this issue – feminists must speak out now to prevent this encroachment of the free market on women’s bodies.

The Risks of Egg Donation

In order to donate eggs, women have to undergo the hormonal treatments which are part of the standard IVF procedure.

Amongst the risks of IVF hormonal treatment are:

• Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which affects up to 10% of women. Given the number of eggs involved, it is almost inevitable that some women will suffer OHSS. In 2005, a woman died in London from complications of OHSS;

• still uncertain long-term increased risks of ovarian cancer;

• stress and mood swings during the process.

These risks are the reason why relatively few women offer to donate eggs for others, leading to a severe shortage of donor eggs in Britain (see below).

The Case Against Selling Eggs

There are two main reasons why payment for egg donation has always been resisted in the UK.

Firstly, offering financial incentives to do something that very few women are currently offering to do because of the risks, will lead to poor women (and eg. students looking to fund college expenses), being exposed to health risks, whilst only middle-class women who can afford the fees and the IVF industry will benefit. In Eastern Europe, there have already been a number of scandals in which women have died or been hospitalised after hormone treatment, in order to donate eggs to Western European ‘fertility tourists’. In fact, it is the severity of this problem that the HFEA is exploiting to argue that paid egg donation should be allowed in Britain (see below).

The second reason for not allowing paid egg donation is that it turns human body parts into commodities, which can be traded by the fertility industry. The traditional view is that human body parts have a special ethical status, which should not be reduced to that of commodities. If payment for egg donation is allowed, it will eventually lead to a market in other human body parts, such as kidneys.

The HFEA’s Dishonest Arguments

The argument that a ‘regulated’ market in Britain is better than fertility tourism is fundamentally bad and dishonest. Since when is it acceptable to argue that: “Here is a bad thing which we have always opposed, but since people are going abroad to do it, we might as well cave in and let it happen here”? In order to combat sex tourism to Thailand, shall we set up regulated brothels in Britain for underage girls? Since British couples are now going to India for sex selection to make sure of having baby boys, why not overturn the UK ban on sex selection, too? Britain would do better to uphold its ethical principles, and resist the encroachment of the free market into every aspect of human life.

Rather than submitting women to the risks of egg donation, we need to address the social and environmental causes of the infertility epidemic. Where women need egg donation, we need to find safe and ethical alternatives that do not commercialise reproduction.

Speak now while you have the chance

Feminists must make it clear that there is strong public opposition to the HFEA’s plan. Sadly, the feminist movement in Britain has historically failed to campaign on these issues, leaving an open field, for, of all people, the pro-life lobby to carry the banner of protection of women and against commercialisation of reproduction. It is time that this absurd situation changed.

To lend your support to this campaign contact: no2eggsploitation[at] There will be a meeting to discuss the campaign at 7.30pm on October 27th at the Feminist Library meeting room, 5 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7XW. See for more details of the meeting.

Comments From You

Hannah // Posted 15 October 2009 at 10:27 am

I commented on this issue in the dissertation I recently submitted, which was on therapeutic cloning for Parkinson’s disease. Refering to a very good publication from the Women’s studies International Forum, written by K.George I was amazed to find out that as well as OHSS other risks include thrombosis, lowered fertility, and chromosonal damage to remaining eggs.

Additionally, women with PCOS (which is on the increase) have a higher risk of OHSS, as well as younger donors, which is in direct conflict with the HFEA’s requirement that egg donors for cloning research be young.

There is also evidence that drug induced ovarian stimulation is associated with increased incidences of ovarian, breast, and endometrial cancers.

My own concerns were in line with the author’s, in that there will be heavy expectations (and exploitation) of women in the future once therapeutic cloning techniques deliver reliable medical treatments. Women are already indirectly coerced into egg donation with the offer of cut-price IVF in return. The number of young women required to donate eggs to provide the NHS (for example) with the required eggs for treatments (for Parkinson’s, the focus of my paper) would be in very high numbers indeed!

Women around the world are already forced, by their economic circumstances, to sell their bodies or parts of their bodies through prostitution or organ/egg donation. I foresee a future where a rich, old western population takes increasing liberties with the younger generations of women in poorer parts of the world.

anonadoptee // Posted 15 October 2009 at 1:57 pm

Thank you so much for this. It really bothers me that western feminists don’t tend to be talking about reproductive exploitation of poor and disadvantaged women. It seems that we think people have a right to a child regardless of who they ride roughshod over to get one.

JDZamir // Posted 15 October 2009 at 5:38 pm

I appreciate the arguments about wishing to protect people like me who would seriously consider selling my eggs for a money. Yes I know the risks that are involved in egg donation. But they are my risks to take. You may class me as economically disadvantaged but that doesnt make my choice any less valid. I would have never have done most of the jobs that I particapated in if I was not renumerated for my time and yes the risks that may have been involved doesnt mean that I was nessarally taken advantage of. It just means I want to be paid and not be on the dole. It is no more unethical than being paid to be in the army (more risky than egg donation if you factor in ptsd) or being paid to take part in medical or pychological research (which was easy and I recommend). The belief that selling eggs will lead to commodification and that is bad is an interesting one. We live in a capitalist society where the sweat on my brow and the time I give to an employer is quantified and commodified and no one sees any particular harm in this. Why is the commodification of my eggs so bad? And even if it is so bad surely I as a woman and feminist have the choice to make my own mistakes and successes.

polly // Posted 15 October 2009 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for posting this, it’s something that has concerned me for a long time.

JDZamir – we may live in a capitalist society, but in the UK it’s one where your employer, if you’re doing paid work, has to provide you with a safe workplace, or face the consequences in terms of legal proceedings.

So you can’t compare working for money with being paid to donate eggs – it would in all probability be illegal to have a workplace where you ran the kind of risks you’d run donating eggs. And it’s entirely immoral for the HFEA to promote something that is so potentially harmful.

Shea // Posted 15 October 2009 at 9:14 pm

I would like to pick up on what JDZamir said – it isn’t as if women aren’t already commodified for what they do & are (sex workers for example). I actually disagree with this protest and I would like to explain why:

You make a very good argument against egg donation, what you haven’t successfully argued is why it shouldn’t be paid for. At the moment in Britain there are numerous “egg sharing schemes” where women donate some of their eggs in return for reduced price fertility treatment (paid for by the woman receiving her eggs). These women are always being sold the “be altruistic line” but the clinics providing the fertility treatment are making in excess of £5,000 profit on every single woman they treat. Where is the altruism in that? It also shows I hope that it isn’t just wealthy middle class women going abroad for treatment who are vulnerable. There are plenty of women in this country who are being exploited in this way.

I’ve never understood the position in this country that is not exploitation if people aren’t paid for it? If something is legitimate as a gift, why does money automatically turn that transaction into something dubious? You aren’t stopping the practise of egg donation and you aren’t making it safer. You are banning what could be a decent means of earning by young women who have judged the risks to be worth taking. If you think that poverty is in any way synonymous with human dignity let me disabuse you of that notion.

(On that note I would make it legal for surrogates to be paid- and set their price too. That’s another position of the HFEA’s that I disagree with). The number of women going ahead with paid egg donation would be very very small – its a very uncomfortable and painful procedure. Those that do would be in greater demand and hopefully in a better position to demand higher prices, rather than the “nominal expenses” (which are pitiful)that can be claimed at the moment. As JDZamir said- it is their choice, and their option can’t we respect that?

If you wanted to stop the exploitation of foreign women abroad, then I would have thought this was a pragmatic solution.

(The above risks you mention are all also applicable to IVF on a side note.)

There is a weird view in this world that women’s “natural” processes, such as childbirth aren’t deserving of any paid recognition, even thought they are in every sense of the word “labour”. Given the number of women in poverty in this country and abroad I would like to see women being able to reap some reward from their own bodies toil, because lets be honest everyone else in society does. If we could have a quantifiable figure for the value of each future worker in society brought into the world through a woman’s hard work, we might have some idea of what value we are missing out on.

I would also like to point out that there is already a valuable market in tissue and organs. It might have escaped your notice but a few years back the NHS actually contracted with a French cosmetics giant to sell women’s placenta’s for research and development processes, the same is still happening with regards to cord blood. As none of the women that I know who have given birth in an NHS hospital received so much as a penny from this (or consented to allow this), I ask again , why don’t you think that women are already being exploited in this way?

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 15 October 2009 at 9:48 pm

As long as egg donation is reviewed seriously by a board of ethics that determines a just remuneration it might be a morally acceptable way forward.

Almost every transaction in society involves a power imbalance. This is not a black and white area.

Liz // Posted 16 October 2009 at 3:10 am

I dunno, I think I would be tempted to sell my eggs if they offered enough money, but I still want this to stay illegal, so that I don’t have to make that decision, so I don’t make that decision and regret it..

Hannah // Posted 16 October 2009 at 9:49 am

When you take into account how expensive life is for young women, getting onto the housing ladder, university fees etc I’m pretty sure that it will be assumed that we ‘donate’ eggs for a fee in the future, to meet the demands for IVF and any future therapeutic cloning procedures administered to the elderly. I can imagine polititians saying ‘This is a great opportunity for young women to give something to society and pay for their education too!’.

Cloud // Posted 16 October 2009 at 1:49 pm

I give blood and am happy to do this for altruistic reasons (and the free stickers, biscuits etc etc). I don’t think I would give blood if I was paid for it because it removes the ‘moral obligation’ of making a small personal sacrifice for the good of someone else, and turns it into a commercial transaction.

In the case of egg donation the sacrifice is much greater. It’s obviously a much more complex and painful procedure, and you are creating a new human life. I don’t think that people engaged in an ‘egg sharing scheme’ are being sold it on the basis of altruism and are then being exploited – they are being selfish. They both want something another party has (money for cheaper treatment or eggs) and are willing to make the trade, with each having the same ultimate goal – eg having a baby. I think that is probably morally justifiable in a similar way to supporting a donor kidney trade (where family members want to donate, but do not have compatible organs so swap with other people in the same situation.) I don’t think this is a clear case of exploitation, whereas fertility tourism is.

I don’t think I would have a problem in donating eggs for research for therapeutic cloning etc if it was safe, easy, not too painful etc. I give blood, am on the bone marrow register, am on the organ donor list. I think the framing of these issues matters eg the NHS makes it easy to give blood, bone marrow etc. It’s a service which is available to everyone and no-one is personally profiting out of. But in drug trials I don’t see a problem with commercial companies paying volunteers. I think how HFEA presents these important issues at this early stage can make a huge difference, and I don’t think paying for egg donation for fertility treatment is the right path, when the big questions about cloning from eggs are just around the corner.

I think it’s interesting that egg donation for fertility might start the ball rolling on a market in other human body parts, because personally I would feel more able to give up a kidney or a bit of liver, than to help to create a new life

SLW2004 // Posted 16 October 2009 at 6:55 pm

Leaving aside what I feel/think about the subject, because I don’t know, is there any way for people to get involved or be part of the discussion if they are outside of London?

polly // Posted 16 October 2009 at 8:19 pm

Surely the bottom line here is that distressing as infertility is, it’s not a terminal medical condition. And in the past, before IVF existed (not that long ago, the first ‘test tube baby Louise Brown is now 30) infertile people just had to accept their lot.

Now we have IVF, a technology that has huge risks and very low success rates. And costs a fortune, for most people who undertake it. So what is the overall benefit to the human race, really? People are put through a huge amount of trauma and only in a minority of cases do they actually end up with a baby at the end of it.

Surely the mere existence of ever more baroque reproductive technologies is benefiting no-one, least of all women. Meanwhile, third world women die for lack of basic medical assistance in childbirth.

Helen // Posted 16 October 2009 at 8:35 pm

I must say I totally agree with Shea. I have considered egg donation in the past, for altruistic reasons, but the paltry ‘costs’ put me off, when you looked at how much was involved. I would have lost money if I’d gone ahead with it, what with time off work and all that jazz. I think it’s pretty pragmatic, as long as it’s properly thought through.

Also, poor/=victim. Being poor, from a very poor family, this constantly annoys me. Seriously.

Liz // Posted 17 October 2009 at 1:41 pm

Just wanted to point to a trial in Edinburgh for male contraceptive injection. They are looking for participant couples.

I’ve blogged it here too,

dsking // Posted 18 October 2009 at 1:47 pm

I am a member of the No2Eggsploitation campaign, and I’ve been asked by the group to respond to the posts by JDZamir and Shea.

Both JDZamir and Shea make one fundamental mistake in their arguments: they point to other examples of exploitation and commodification and say, “well if that’s happening, then why are you making such a fuss about this?” Didn’t anyone tell you that two wrongs don’t make a right? Contrary to what JDZamir says, there are many people who care about these other problems, including me. Shea’s rhetorical strategy is more offensive: because we did not have space in our 600 words to detail our position on all these many other issues, she accuses us of being naïve or ignorant, or even so stupid to think that ‘poverty is synonymous with human dignity’. Likewise, there wasn’t space to properly talk about the feminist arguments for and against egg donation per se and we do not have a fixed position on that in our group. (See for feminist arguments against reproductive technology and egg donation.)

To be clear: the point of focussing on this issue, at this point in time, is that there is a specific attack by the HFEA on what we consider to be a correct policy, which prevents a particular form of exploitation, so it makes sense to defend that policy. In general, capitalism expands by a relentless process of commodification of what was previously non-commodified, the accompanying privatisation of common resources, and the subjection of every aspect of human life to the market. It always makes sense to fight that, and the proposal to allow the selling of eggs is just the latest example, which happens to have a palpable bad effect on women’s health.

Firstly, it is important to clear up one point about commodification of the body. There is an important difference between conventional paid employment, and even prostitution, and the actual selling of human body parts. Unlike labour, it has traditionally been seen as ethically important to keep human body parts outside of the domain of the free market. Once you change that, a whole new set of possibilities for oppression and exploitation, open up. This is not the place to detail all of these, but you could look at Andrew Kimbrell’s “The Human Body Shop” or Donna Dickenson’s “Body Shopping” for some examples. In the case of eggs, one example of the consequences of letting market principles apply is that you start to get higher prices for “superior quality” products. Thus, in the USA, women at Ivy League Universities can get tens of thousands of dollars for their eggs, whereas poor women only get a few hundred dollars, and free market eugenics begins to operate.

Both JDZamir and Shea say that, ‘surely it’s my choice about how I use my body’. Actually, that’s beside the point here – this is not a campaign against egg-donation per se, and we are not telling you not to be an egg donor. This is about not letting market principles run the show. That is a question of social policy, which has to start from what’s best for society at large, including the protection of women’s health. A simple assertion of individual liberty is not an adequate response to that question: as Polly rightly points out, that is why we have health and safety at work legislation, for example. There is now an avalanche of this sort of libertarianism in bioethics, which has largely been imported from the USA. Working in that field, I can tell you that the people who argue against allowing any other considerations than individual choice and liberty are the same people who are saying that we should allow reproductive cloning and genetic engineering of children and who see no problem with the free-market eugenics that this would create. Anyway, they say, nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of parental free choice.

One valid issue that Shea raises is that, at present whilst the IVF clinics are making money, the donors don’t get paid. I agree this is unfair, but the real source of this problem is privatised medicine. The solution is not to do more of the same, follow neo-liberal dogma and turn eggs into commodities.

Shea’s naïve swallowing of free market dogma is very evident in her assertion that the few women who donate eggs would “…be in greater demand and hopefully in a better position to demand higher prices…”. In fact, as the experience in Eastern Europe has shown, the donors are at the mercy of the IVF clinics, and often suffer severe health problems as a result of the hormone treatments.

It might sound nice to say, ‘I’ve got no right to tell those women what to do’ (whilst at the same time making a case for why it would be a perfectly good idea). But actually, although it claims to be on the side of poor women, all it is saying to them is, ‘well, if you’ve got a problem, here’s a new and even more dangerous way to be exploited’. That’s not my idea of being on their side.

Speaking personally now, and not on behalf of our campaign group, I also want to point to something that I find particularly troubling and deceptive about the kind of argument that Shea is making. I have already mentioned the kind of individualism that insists that, “…no-one has any rights to interfere with my choices”. It shouldn’t be any surprise that this always points in the direction that industry and capitalism in general want to go. What’s interesting though, is the combination of this sort of politics with a kind of reformist trade unionism that insists on understanding exploitation purely as an issue of people not being fairly paid for their labour. That kind of ‘materialism’ has always lacked a larger moral and political critique of capitalism, which means that it has concentrated on workers’ pay and conditions issues, but has nothing to say about whether there might be a problem with the factories that produce weapons, police riot control gear and tobacco. Of course the issues of workers pay and rights are important, but they are not the whole picture, and the insistence on not going beyond them, has always meant that that type of union is fundamentally part of the system. That type of politics is deceptive: it loves to portray itself, as Shea does, as very radical and gritty and wise to the wicked ways of the world. And it loves to portray its opponents, as Shea does here, as naïve and ignorant. Oh, the naivety of those who think themselves worldly wise! I find it sad that they cannot see that while claiming to be so radical, their politics actually works in the interests of the exploiters.

baby2mom // Posted 19 October 2009 at 12:11 pm

South African egg donation encourages woman to donate their eggs to help infertile people. They are offered a small donation for the inconvenience.

Working with this topic on a professional level, egg donation is safe and giving deed. All egg donors are counselled and have through check-ups and medicals during the course of the egg donor program.

So the flip side of the coin is that egg donation makes egg donors feel wonderful and special – they are angels that help create families. Fo recipients of donor eggs, they receive a gift to have a baby.

Jane // Posted 19 October 2009 at 12:24 pm

HFEA want to be able to do to women all the things which have been done to cows and other animals. And more.

Kez // Posted 19 October 2009 at 2:46 pm

“Before IVF existed, infertile people just had to accept their lot.”

Well, surely that applies to any medical condition (which infertility absolutely IS) before the technology existed to treat it. Polly’s argument above is one which is constantly trotted out on this topic, usually by people who either don’t want children or have had no difficulty in conceiving. Nobody in this situation can possibly imagine the heartache and emotional trauma

caused by infertility. Yes, IVF is an uncomfortable procedure to undergo, but that is nothing compared to the pain already experienced by those who are unable to conceive naturally.

Most iVF does not involve donor eggs, by the way, not that you would know that from reading the comments on this post, and the success rates aren’t that low, nor are the risks that high, although admittedly it does cost a fortune and some risks do exist. (Yes, I’ve had it. Using my own eggs. And it worked. But it’s nice to know that Polly, and many others like her, think I should just have accepted my lot and not taken advantage of methods which now exist to overcome the problems which prevented me conceiving naturally.)

Melanie // Posted 19 October 2009 at 3:02 pm

At the risk of sounding creepy, this is an excellently argued and informative article about an issue I knew very little about.

@ polly

“Surely the bottom line here is that distressing as infertility is, it’s not a terminal medical condition.”

I totally agree with you, although I rarely voice my opinion on this subject, as I’ve found it’s an unpopular view. I’m appalled at how often documentaries and news items on IVF promote a very, narrow view of female identity (e.g. featuring a woman saying “I don’t feel like I’m a real woman because I don’t have a baby”, with this view either going completely unchallenged or actually being reinforced by the commentary) and I think that the way IVF is handled in the media often increases feelings of distress and worthlessness in people who would otherwise be reasonably well accommodated to their childlessness.

gadgetgal // Posted 19 October 2009 at 3:32 pm

@Kez – I think what polly was referring to was the fact that it’s not a TERMINAL medical condition – in leaving out that one word you’ve changed the entire tenor of her post, which had nothing to do with saying it’s not a medical condition. It clearly is, just not one that will generally kill you.

And I have to say although it’s great you and others have had successful treatment I can see where polly’s coming from – on a wider view it’s not really good for everyone. As I said, personally it makes people happier, but when you think about all the other consequences, from the overpopulation problems we already have, to allocation of NHS resources, to the unfairness of who can receive the treatment and who can’t and how many times, you should be aware that there are two sides to this argument, and no easy right or wrong.

I also a little offended that you’ve decided in order to have this viewpoint you must either not want children or have no problems conceiving – I’m neither one of those things but I happen to agree with polly. It’s been gutting to me that for the past few years it hasn’t happened, and when it ever has in the past it’s been just as quickly gone, but there are some things that I feel are just bigger than me and my own personal happiness, and I make no apologies for that.

As to the original topic of whether a trade in buying and selling eggs should be banned I’d have to go with yes – it may carry more risks than giving blood, for example, but I think we already have enough problems surrounding body parts becoming commodities. Just ask someone who’s albino in Tanzania – it’s not good to place a monetary value on part of your body, other people will nearly always take advantage of it!

Robin // Posted 19 October 2009 at 3:40 pm

“Surely the mere existence of ever more baroque reproductive technologies is benefiting no-one, least of all women?”

Without the existance of such ‘baroque’ reproductive techniques, I would never have been conceived, neither would my little brother, and neither would many other young women and men of my generation. (And the proportion, though small, is increasing all the time.) I think that’s a benefit.

The ethics of egg donation is complicated, but the ethics of fertility treatment itself is, I think, more clear-cut: it gives people the chance to exist. It seems even less fair to deny anyone that chance than it does to deny infertile people the chance to conceive.

The overall benefit of fertility treatments to the human race may be questionable, but the benefit to the individuals whom it affects is infinite.

thebeardedlady // Posted 19 October 2009 at 3:56 pm

I also agree with Polly. Whilst not wanting to diminish any individual’s sense of pain and loss, I do think that we as a society push the idea of motherhood as central to femaleness, to the detriment of many women, both fertile and infertile. I do think that we should do everything possible to overcome infertility, but at the same time, it’s worth questioning how much of the pain and sadness of infertility is due to society’s idea of what a woman should be, and infertility equalling FAIL as a woman.

I don’t think that dsking has really countered Shea’s points about egg donation. I thought Shea made a really good point, that if we want to stop egg donors being exploited, we should pay them a fair rate for what they do. Saying that women should be paid doesn’t mean that free market economics have to decide the price, does it?

Men are paid to donate sperm, so why shouldn’t women be paid for the far more risky and arduous task of donating their eggs?

Kez // Posted 19 October 2009 at 4:32 pm

Well, lots of medical conditions aren’t terminal. It doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s appropriate to treat them.

Kez // Posted 19 October 2009 at 4:47 pm

Well, I don’t really think I did change the tenor of Polly’s post, which seemed to me to be that because infertility is not a (terminal) medical condition, the infertile should accept their lot./.

Also, I did say the point of view was “usually” (I carefully did not say always) put forward by the groups of people I mentioned – that’s just my personal experience of listening to countless opinions on this subject. But I do think it is hard to understand where people who experience infertility problems are coming from until you have been there. Of course, not every woman who struggles to conceive wants or needs IVF. I never thought I would be in the position to need it, but when I did I was bloody glad it was there.

There are many, many otherwise healthy women who for various reasons physically cannot conceive without the use of technology like IVF, IUI or ICSI. No, the fact that the technology exists does not mean we have to use it. But we need a better reason not to use it than “the infertile should accept their lot like they had to in the past”.

Donor eggs are a whole other issue and I appreciate and apologise for the fact that I have derailed the discussion slightly.

By the way, I have never said “I don’t feel like a real woman unless I have a baby” as Melanie suggests above. Feeling like a “real woman” or buying into social roles has absolutely nothing to do with it. Infertility is as painful for feminists as it is for anyone else.

Melanie // Posted 19 October 2009 at 5:09 pm

@ Kez

I didn’t mean to imply that all or even most women who have IVF voice the “real woman” line, merely that that line (or similar) is often cited in media coverage of the topic. I don’t have a problem with IVF itself, which I know has transformed many people’s lives, but with media representations of IVF and childlessness, which often stigmatise childless women and promote one lifestyle only for women .

I would also have some issues if, in the distribution of limited NHS funding, infertility treatment were prioritised over cancer, Alzheimer’s schizophrenia etc , but that’s another debate.

Kez // Posted 19 October 2009 at 5:35 pm

Well, obviously the distribution of NHS resources is always a difficult and contentious issue. In my experience, few women/couples do qualify for IVF on the NHS (I didn’t). But I think that’s a slightly separate issue – though still clearly an important one – from the question of whether the treatments should be available at all, which is what some people are questioning.

Sorry if I seem overly defensive. It’s just that, as in so many other areas of women’s lives, there seem to be so many people on all sides willing to throw rocks at you for the decisions you take. And I certainly don’t think IVF or the people who use it are given an easy ride in the media… they love to present an image of “selfish career women” leaving it to the last possible moment before gaily swanning into a fertility clinic and walking out 9 months later with a baby, all at the taxpayer’s expense of course. It’s either that or “desperate infertiles” who squander their life savings on ever more ludicrous treatments. As ever, the truth is far more complex and diverse.

thebeardedlady // Posted 19 October 2009 at 5:38 pm

I’m sorry that it sounds like I’m being really insensitive in my previous comment. I just wanted to point out that there is a social expectation here too, about not being a ‘real’ woman if you can’t have babies / have babies ‘naturally’. In a very real sense, historically, women’s worth was tied up with the ability to produce children (esp. sons), and was a big part of what it was we were sold/trafficked for. So it’s interesting now that the media do push this line about ‘real women’ and what a fail it is not to be able to conceive easily.

At the same time, we are also told it’s our fault if we have fertility problems, because we left it too long to conceive, drank too much alcohol, were too fat, too skinny, etc. etc.

None of this is meant to imply that women don’t have genuine sadness about fertility issues. I’m sorry if I upset anyone with my previous comment, which could have been a lot better worded.

Anyway, I’m off topic, sorry about that.

I would sell my eggs for a reasonable price / donation. But I wouldn’t go through the hassle and spend all that time for free. It takes a long time to get eggs ready for donation, and there are some possible health risks, so why shouldn’t I be fairly paid for it? I give blood freely – that’s because it doesn’t cost me anything to do so. But donating eggs would take a lot of time, and effort, and involve risks – I know, because I’ve considered doing it before. So yes, I think we should be paid for doing it.

Melanie // Posted 19 October 2009 at 6:10 pm


Sorry I was insensitive.

Yes, you are, of course, right that the stereotype of the “selfish” career woman who “chose to ignore her biological clock” and then called upon “Frankenstein science” to make “a baby to order” is another vile myth that the press like to peddle. I suppose I notice the stigma against childlessness more, because I’m childless. But women do seem to be vilified whatever choice they make.

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 19 October 2009 at 6:35 pm


The issue I have with your stance here is that you are taking a very absolutist view on what is morally a grey area. Whilst most of your points are valid and true to a certain degree, the crux of the matter in most ethical debate (and feminism) is how far we are prepared to take a certain argument.

For example, your point about the undesirability of the human body being commodified is valid. However, many people would consider that the medical risks associated with egg donation are tolerable, and there are certainly mainstream occupations that involve more risk than donating an egg. Although a woman’s supply of eggs is limited we do get quite a decent reserve and the reduction in one’s own fertility after egg donation is presumably not that great (any data on this please?)

“Saying that women should be paid doesn’t mean that free market economics have to decide the price, does it? ” I give top marks to thebearded lady for this point. Whilst the free market has a role in incentivising wealth creation in the wider economy, egg donation is a delicate issue in which most people would agree that a fixed adequate remuneration should be set by a board of ethics. Nobody wants to see an “egg auction” as you alluded in your post, and there is no reason why this should inevitably be allowed.

Continuing on that cue I am somewhat sceptical about the “slippery slope” argument that if we start liberalising a contentious activity this will necessarily lead to further liberalisation in the future. I believe we should center our current legislation on what we believe to be morally acceptable here and now. We should then trust future generations to legislate according to their own ideas and values. I certainly don’t see why fairly remunerating egg donations today will result in poor people auctioning their eyes for £50,000 in fifty years’ time.

Congratulations to Kez for the success she had in her treatment. I share her happiness and wish her the most wonderful motherhood.

polly // Posted 19 October 2009 at 7:01 pm

Shea’s argument about clinics profiting from donated eggs is a good one, however I don’t think it’s necessarily an argument for paying egg donors (and sperm donors get paid £15 I understand, which basically just covers expenses). The point is that these women who donate eggs in exchange for reduced price treatment are undergoing the process because they want to have fertility treatment themselves, so they would have undergone it anyway. The eggs they donate would simply be unused if they didn’t donate them, so they’re not being put in any more dangerous a position than they would be in any case.

Donating eggs is dangerous, donating a kidney is dangerous. Sometimes there are people who do both voluntarily for altruistic reasons.

The difference between that and someone being paid to do it, is that, if they’re not doing something for altruistic reasons, only people who are desperate for money are going to do something dangerous just because they’re paid. In other words, we’re exploiting poor people.

As I’ve already pointed out, paying someone to work in an environment which the employer hasn’t made as safe as practically possible is illegal. So why should we pay people to do the ‘work’ of undergoing dangerous medical procedures? It’s exploitation.

There’s a world of difference between organ transplantation from volunteer donors, and organ transplantation from people who are paid to do it. And there’s a world of difference between voluntary egg donation and paid for egg donation.

And Kez and Robin, I take your point, but what about the majority of women who have IVF who DON’T end up with a baby?

butterflea // Posted 19 October 2009 at 8:13 pm

thebeardedlady said men are paid to donate their sperm.

This is not true, man are not paid to donate their sperm. Sperm donors can only claim for the “reasonable expenses” and compensation for loss of earnings incurred when donating. The rules are the same for men donating sperm and women donating eggs.

Kez // Posted 20 October 2009 at 10:30 am

@Polly – yes, of course IVF and other treatments are not always successful. Success rates depend on various factors, age being a primary one (I was 38 and succeeded on my second attempt after the first resulted in an early miscarriage. I know I was lucky.) and clinics have to make information about their success rates readily available. In my experience, clinics certainly make no secret of what the success rates are and what this means for you as an individual/couple – you are made very well aware of both the risks and the likelihood of success/failure, and I believe most women go into it with no illusions about their chances. (All clinics are also required to offer counselling.) Of course, there may be unscrupulous private clinics out there who misrepresent their success rates and an individual’s likelihood of success, but in my experience (and having chatted in person and on internet forums to many other women in the same situation) this is not usually the case. Nobody is forced to have fertility treatment – it’s a choice you make, hoping for success but being only too well aware of the possibility of failure. It’s not an easy choice, it’s not something anyone would ideally want to do – who wouldn’t prefer to conceive naturally, given a choice? – and it was certainly something that we agonised over – my second attempt was always going to be my last, for financial and emotional reasons.

It certainly isn’t just a case of wandering into a clinic and coming out half an hour later with a carrier bag full of stimulatory drugs. There are a LOT of hoops to jump through before you get anywhere near that point.

thebeardedlady // Posted 20 October 2009 at 1:13 pm

Butterflea – my bad. But not sure it negates the point. Polly’s argument is quite convincing, that only poor people would donate eggs for money, therefore offering financial recompense leads to exploitation. But then, only poor people would work for money. And yes, it’s exploitation, but it’s better than working for nothing. I love my job, but I wouldn’t do it for free. I’d love to donate eggs to help another woman, but because of the time and effort involved, I wouldn’t do it for free. I may be being exploited in both cases, but less exploited than if I were doing it for nothing. (Aren’t women always supposed to be working for nothing and doing things out of the goodness of our hearts? funny that!)

Shea // Posted 20 October 2009 at 11:42 pm

@ dsking

I have had time to consider your arguments and the read the English introduction and some of the articles on the German website you directed me to ( I would like to point out that I find it interesting that the group you endorse is against narrow embryo-centric discourses but the overwhelming impression from your post is of restricting the choice for women. Are you aware that the UK position is not identical to the German one and we actually have PGD and embryo research going on in the UK at the moment? Both of which have had huge research benefits and were the result of women donating their oocytes (whether intentionally for research or not). Therapeutic cloning is also a reality in the UK.

You can make me out to be the most amoral free marketer, red in tooth and claw, that has ever existed, but you still haven’t answered my question, that is if it isn’t wrong to donate your eggs, then why does paying someone suddenly make it so?

Consider the ridiculousness of the scenario: a young woman with debts of £15K is struggling with two minimum wage jobs and walks into a south London fertility clinic to donate her eggs, the clinic pays her £200 “expenses” for this, and tells her “sorry we can’t give you the £3,000 you would have got on the open market, because that would be exploiting you”. It is a complete absurdity.

You still haven’t demonstrated that not paying women for donating eggs would stop the practice from existing or reduce it. In actual fact what you are endorsing is a continuation of the present status quo which allows fertility tourism to prosper and a moral relativism whereby it is too risky for UK women to donate but poor, less educated and less informed foreign women are asked to do so.

You say “Shea’s naïve swallowing of free market dogma is very evident in her assertion that the few women who donate eggs would “…be in greater demand and hopefully in a better position to demand higher prices…”” but you actually prove my point when you state “thus, in the USA, women at Ivy League Universities can get tens of thousands of dollars for their eggs, whereas poor women only get a few hundred dollars”. Showing that those women who have desirable characteristics: youth, intelligence, good health etc are able to command higher prices for their eggs (as do male sperm donors in the USA). How exactly this is “free market eugenics” you don’t explain, but presumably you oppose this. But actually the reverse of eugenics is created – poorer women are inadvertently protected because the demand for their eggs is much less, and the rewards fewer. Women who have the highest motivation are the women in the best position to refuse (those with the highest potential earning capacity) and the most likely to be well informed about the risks.

You say it is not about individual choice, but about a communitarian good for society, but society is demanding egg donations whether paid or not and given the research potential this will continue and increase. In fact this is your determination of what is beneficial for society. I disagree, it may be that through embryo research that requires donated ova we find the cures for infertility, cancer etc which will herald enormous benefits for society especially women. That is without arguing for a moral duty to participate in scientific research that Harris, Chadwick, Berg and many others have proposed exists

You say it is about not letting “market principles run the show. That is a question of social policy, which has to start from what’s best for society at large, including the protection of women’s health”. But if this were really about women’s health you would be banning IVF completely as the risk are the same and this suggested on the website you gave – “ women undergoing IVF treatment should be considered as egg-cell donors, because it would not be justifiable to expose healthy women to this risk for the benefit of third parties.” It is for the women involved to make that informed choice. In the same way that it is for them to make the informed choice to have children or have an abortion and therefore expose themselves to a risk for the benefit of a third party. It is an arrogant assumption that you can make this choice for them on the pretext of concern for their health. (It is also a tactic used by pro-life supporters).

I also find it disingenuous to make a distinction between selling your eggs and employment and then to try and curtail individual liberty by bringing in health and safety legislation. This was brought about because of the huge power differentials between employer and employee. That power imbalance is witnessed at the moment between the poorer women of every society and the medical establishment which is profiting. The practical response is to stop the alienation of women from their own bodies and their own natural labour by allowing them to profit from this.

You write “I can tell you that the people who argue against allowing any other considerations than individual choice and liberty are the same people who are saying that we should allow reproductive cloning and genetic engineering of children and who see no problem with the free-market eugenics that this would create. Anyway, they say, nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of parental free choice.”

The irony here is supreme. Firstly there is nothing wrong in eugenics per se, the word is an emotive one, but devoid of its sinister connotations (and this is why you have used it, no doubt) all it signifies is a desire to improve the human gene pool through bioengineering. We are already practising eugenics by allowing the abortion of embryos with Tay-Sachs or Downs syndrome for example (although I readily admit this is problematic). If you oppose the coercive eugenics of the 19th century, which is what I suspect you are alluding to then the very best way to prevent this, and to prevent the kind of atrocities committed by the Nazi’s is to allow for individual parental choice. Permit individual and diverse couples as wide ranging as the human race to have the child that they want rather than what an unelected government body (like the HFEA) decrees.

That said it isn’t an unlimited choice and you must know this. There are two elements to the problem one is parental choice the other is what the doctor treating the couples allows, and what her clinic is licensed to do. The licensing schema in the UK is comprehensive and strictly enforced, this is not the case abroad, and the scarcity of egg donation is forcing women abroad for treatment and so undermining the protection that the licensing laws in the UK offer. This is the whole justification for offering payment in the first place.

You point out “The traditional view is that human body parts have a special ethical status, which should not be reduced to that of commodities.” But you offer no justification of why it has that special status or even if it is deserved. It is entirely contradictory to argue that the human body has a special status (this is again a tactic of the pro-life brigade) but not acknowledge or reconcile this with the fact that there are currently male and female soldiers being sent to die in war or facing the death penalty in the USA as we debate this. There are also millions of women dying daily from maternal malnutrition something of which I am sure you are aware. Claims of a “special status” for the human body where such claims are used to keep women struggling and deprive them (but not everyone else ) of the benefits of their bodies, ring hollow against such facts.

You have also claimed paying for egg donation it “will eventually lead to a market in other human body parts, such as kidneys” but provided no evidence for this. The slippery slope analogy is rarely relevant (incidentally is it an empirical or a logical slippery slope that you argue for?) especially not here. I donate blood, I would donate bone marrow and do so for free because I know that there are shortages which are life threatening and that if payment was offered in these cases it is likely to attract undesirable donors (such as drug addicts) as it has been shown to do in the USA. It is also a relatively quick pain free (in the case of blood donation) and low risk procedure. I would not donate my eggs because it is a non essential medical need (no one dies of infertility). It is also wrong to compare the two, the only way to really stop a trade in organs is to have an opt -out system here, where everyone becomes a donor unless they actively choose not to. But this is not applicable in the case of egg donation.

The current system is not working; women all over the world are being exploited for their ova and putting themselves at risk as donors and patients. You will not stuff the genie back into the bottle by denying them compensation for putting themselves at risk by donating. You have also benefited indirectly from the egg donations of other women, via the research that has arisen from embryos created from their oocytes. The vast majority of these women will have paid to undergo IVF, not received any payment for doing so and will have suffered pain and discomfort (and possibly long term health risks for doing so). I personally find it unconscionable that they have taken all the risk and paid all of the money and not received a dime for doing so- that to me meets the definition of exploitation very neatly.

Shea // Posted 21 October 2009 at 5:58 pm

“already practising eugenics by allowing the abortion of embryos with Tay-Sachs or Downs syndrome for example (although I readily admit this is problematic).”

The pedant in me wants to point out that they aren’t actually embryos that are being aborted but foetuses as they are past the twelve week mark, unless we are talking PGD. I also wanted to point out that I don’t necessarily agree with aborting on the grounds of disability, I still think it is ultimately the woman’s choice and can never be anything else, but I was very impressed by the article on here about disability and abortion a while back. I do think there is serious cause to consider the effect on people with existing disabilities and value that is placed on their lives by doing this.

Sorry about my previous post turning into an essay…….

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