April 29, 2007

Good Eggs: Fertility Clinics and Egg Donation Centers Are Looking to Colleges and Universities to Find

By Jim Killackey, The Daily Oklahoman

Apr. 29--Wanting to help infertile couples and needing some cash, a University of Oklahoma junior recently traveled to the Tulsa Fertility Center, spent less than an hour in the final phase of donating her fertile eggs and walked out the door with $5,500.

Women who donate their eggs can be compensated with thousands of dollars at fertility clinics in such cities as Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Dallas.

Numbers are increasing from year to year at many clinics, with college-age women the most sought-after donors.

Many fertility clinics are particularly interested in college women with top test scores, high achievement levels and picture-perfect looks.

A student newspaper at the University of Oklahoma in Norman regularly advertises for egg sellers through the Egg Donation Center in Dallas.

The minimum pay is $3,500, the maximum $5,000; but each case is handled individually, officials said.

Some egg donor centers have had a dramatic increase of college-age donors, said Dr. Gilbert Haas, an Oklahoma City reproductive endocrinologist and founder of the Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Donors in their late teens and early 20s are sought after because that's when they are the most fertile and their eggs are healthiest, physicians said. They also have an abundance of eggs.

There are risks The practice, though, has created controversy in some circles.

"Producing a child by picking out characteristics such as beauty, intelligence or musical talent is designing a product or an object," said Susan Lepak, associate director of Family Life for the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

"Women are seduced by the financial allure of fertility clinics to allow their bodies to be pumped full of potentially dangerous hormones ... in order to reap the biggest harvest possible," Lepak said. "When science advances without the benefit of moral or ethical parameters, we should not be surprised at the repercussions that might come not only spiritually and emotionally, but also physically and socially."

Haas, though, said all egg sellers are fully informed of benefits and risks. He compared egg donation to people who donate a kidney.

In addition, Haas said, "there's no evidence" of long-term damage to women who donate their eggs.

"They still can conceive," the physician said.

Donor requirements Apparently not everyone is a candidate for egg donation.

An egg-donor advertisement in The OU Daily newspaper says woman must be ages 19 to 29 and nonsmokers.

They must have a minimum 1,100 score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test; at least a 24 on the American College Test; and at least a 3.0 grade point average.

"We are looking for people with understanding and above-normal intelligence," said Dr. Eli Reshef medical director of the Bennett Fertility Institute at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

A couple receiving the eggs can request an IQ test of the donor, the physician said.

"We pay what is reasonable, but not excessive," Reshef said. "We compensate fairly. Very few of our donors don't want compensation."

The Bennett clinic, which does not advertise, had 25 egg donors in 2006.

Those who are paid for their eggs also should have altruistic reasons for donating, health care workers said.

"We recruit egg donors whose aspirations are to help couples build a family ... that they aren't able to build right now," said nurse Joan Reese spokeswoman for the Egg Donation Center of Dallas.

Arsenal of eggs The donated eggs, Reshef said, "are part of a normal arsenal" for fertility clinics. That's where couples typically try to find an answer for why women's eggs or men's sperm cannot unite to conceive a child.

The Bennett clinic has a fixed fee for egg donors of $3,500, paid by the recipient. The fee is not negotiable and is not contingent on the number of eggs donated.

There's a limit of three egg donations by one individual, Reshef said. Donors and recipients who pay for the eggs do not meet, he said.

The age range for donors at the Bennett Fertility Institute is 21 to 35, as recommended by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Typical experience The OU student who donated is a graduate of a northwest Oklahoma City high school. At OU, she is a debater who first heard about egg donations from a woman in one of her classes. She also saw an ad in the student newspaper.

While the 21-year-old student asked that her name not be used, her experience seems to be typical of college-age egg donors.

She did extensive Internet research and decided on a California-based egg donation service -- www.eggdonor.com -- with a nearby clinic in Tulsa.

"My initial reasons for wanting to donate actually involve health issues that I personally have," she said in an interview with The Oklahoman.

She was diagnosed with a syndrome that someday may make her unable to conceive.

"I realized that I might need a surrogate mother or a fertility clinic in the future," the OU student said.

She applied to be a donor and submitted a detailed profile, a photograph and high school and college transcripts with high ACT and SAT scores.

"If a recipient couple is interested in you, the agency contacts you and confirms you are still available. You then receive a profile of the couple detailing why they chose you," she said.

If details are approved, both parties meet with independent attorneys and sign paperwork after the donor and recipient have passed medical checkups, blood tests and psychological screenings.

The OU student admitted the $5,500 payout was a major incentive.

She looked at the money as compensation for time and trouble. She spent several weeks preparing for the donation with hormone injections and checkups with a gynecologist at the Tulsa Fertility Center.

"The younger you are with any desirable genes and good grades or test scores, the more they offer," she said. "There also was a bonus if you are a recipient who has previously donated and your donation resulted in a successful pregnancy."

At what cost? The OU student said she knows she was very well compensated.

"That amount is a lot. But I also think it's important that other people realize that the amount -- thanks to skyrocketing college expenses -- does not translate to very much when the person receiving it is going to school," she said.

The student went through a seven-week preparation period for donating her eggs. She had to inject herself daily with fertility medications. Drugs were designed to increase the size and number of follicles that produce eggs during a normal cycle in her ovaries.

She also had to make frequent trips to the Tulsa Fertility Center for ultrasounds and blood tests. A spokeswoman for the Tulsa Fertility Center, Amy Rojeski, said she couldn't comment on any individual cases.

"While it was nice to be compensated, the time you have to take off from school and work, along with all of the medical procedures you have to administer to yourself and have administered to you by a doctor really make you feel like you're coming out about even when all is said and done," the OU student said.

The OU student said she didn't experience pain when her eggs were harvested, but did develop a mild case of ovarian hyperstimulation in which fluid built up on her ovaries. She was prescribed painkillers, and the pain went away in a few days.


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