It’s a question you don’t often ask yourself, but when you do the internal debate can last a long time. A friend is infertile, they have had nine cycles of IVF, they sold their car to afford the last unsuccessful round, and they’ve been told by doctors the best chance for conception is through a donor egg. You’ve known each other for a long time, she was one of the first at the hospital to visit you when you had a baby, you’ve gotten drunk together over the crappy IVF “implantation failures”.
Would you help? Would you give her one of your eggs?
Donating an egg is a complex and involved procedure. According the an Atlantic investigation into How much a woman should be paid for her eggs? it requires 56 hours of “work” compared to the sperm donor’s one hour. Physical intrusion is required with cycle suppressant injections, daily hormone injections, and the day of “harvesting” the eggs where the donor is put under general anaesthetic. There is also medical risk: ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), whereby the ovaries swell too much and fluid leaks into other internal organs.
But this is an assisted fertility option with positive success rates - particularly in older women. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention 2013 Assisted Reproductive Technology National Summary Report found that the percentage of live births resulting from donor eggs was consistently higher (between 50 and 68 per cent) across all ages groups than non-donor eggs (0-50%). For non-donor eggs the rate of live birth success declines from 38 years but does not for donated eggs. The CDCP report attributes the success rate of donor-egg live births to the age of the woman who produced the egg, which is typically in the 20s and early 30s.
Last week the independent feature film, Ovum, premiered at The Big Apple Film Festival and told the story of a beautiful young actress being drawn into the world of egg donation clinics. It was written after Canadian actress, Sonja O'Hara, noticed that next to casting calls in industry magazine Backstage were ads for egg donors (who would be paid around $10,000) and she became intrigued because she knew aspiring actresses were thought to be beautiful, poor and in the optimum age range for egg donation.
Watch the trailer for Ovum below. Post continues after video.
In Australia most donor eggs (or oocytes) are given by a woman who is emotionally close to another woman. "In most cases our patients come to see us with a family member or friend who is willing to donate her eggs," says IVF Australia. It is very rare for a woman to donate her eggs to a stranger. In Australia a woman can only be compensated for "reasonable expenses", such as travel costs or time off work, incurred during the procedure. She can't be "paid' for her eggs.
At the end of the day, donating your eggs is usually an emotional decision and one based on what that particular cell means to an individual. To some it is just an egg cell, to others it could grow to be a brother or sister to their child.
Your friend, sister, sister-in-law wants to have a child and her best chance is through egg donor IVF. Do you do it?
We asked women of all different ages and backgrounds what they would do. Here are some honest answers.
I would give away my eggs. I’ve not had children. I may never have them. But I am happy to help out other women. I would prefer to know the person I was donating my eggs to – but that’s probably selfish of me: I want to see how happy they are and the joy that a child brings them. I do not believe that a child born from my eggs would be ‘my’ child in any meaningful sense. A parent is someone who raises a child and gives them a loving home. I’d just be offering up some of my genetic material. I have some nervousness about the hormone injections and the harvesting process, but if the recipient was a friend, I’d be happy to do that for them. I’m packing some great genes – come and get them. - Amy, 38, single.
I wouldn't hesitate to give my eggs to a close relative - in fact, my sister and I discussed it at a very young age and agreed to donate to each other if it ever became necessary. I'd feel a bit less comfortable donating to a friend though - I'd prefer to keep it family-only. - Alexis, 29, engaged.
This is such a hard question, one I don't think I can completely answer until I am in that position. But right now, at the age of 27 (and childless) I don't think I would. I have had a lot of trouble with my menstrual cycle growing up. I got my period maybe once a year and now have to stay on the pill to ensure my body doesn't throw away eggs. Therefore, I already fear that I will struggle to get pregnant myself. However, if I was highly fertile and had already had kids of my own then I would absolutely do it for close friends and family. But I want to make my own family first, as selfish as that may sound. - Sarah, 27, single.
I don't fit in the optimum egg donor age range any more, but about 10 years ago I watched a good friend go through countless IVF cycles and she jokingly asked me one night for one of "my eggs". I had three young children and I had one year left before I was probably considered "too old" for egg donation. She asked "jokingly" again later in the evening and I "jokingly" changed the subject. I couldn't stop thinking about it, because, even though it was a joke, my instinct told me no. Straight away. I knew I could never do it. And I felt terrible because she was trying everything to have a baby and I had three and her body was falling apart and she was too, but I knew I couldn't. Not for any physical reasons (I didn't even know about the realities of harvesting eggs then) but I felt that the eggs inside me had sisters already in the world (not particularly logical but I felt it). Having a family made me less able to contemplate the idea of donating my eggs, rather than more. It was a strange feeling being so sure, because most of my life is spent being unsure, seeing both sides, leaving things open, but whenever I've been in conversation late at night with friends and this question is hypothetically asked, my answer was always, and still is, 'no, I couldn't do it' - Jacqueline, married with three children.
Honestly, this isn't something I've thought too much about. At 22, most of my friends are single or in long-term relationships, none even considering having kids for at least another five years. If someone were to ask me at this age, there would be two factors to consider. One, who is the person asking, how close are we and how long have I known them? If they are family or a close friend of many years then the answer would be yes pending factor two. The second thing I would do is get a fertility test, I have ridiculous fear that I am infertile (ridiculous because if I am there's nothing I can do about it), and so I would want to find out if my eggs are plentiful before I go handing them out to other people. - Laura, 22, single.
What would you do? Let us know in the comments.