Aug 10 A sizable share of the U.S. organizations
recruiting egg donors online don't adhere to ethical guidelines,
including failing to warn of the risks of the procedure and
offering extra payment for traits like good looks, according to
a U.S. study.
Women are recruited to donate eggs to fulfill a growing
demand by couples seeking in-vitro fertilization (IVF), but a
number of websites seeking to recruit them ignore standards set
by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
"I would argue that there needs to be more attention from
ASRM about these agencies, because you don't want these women
exploited," said Robert Klitzman, a professor of clinical
psychiatry at Columbia University and lead author of the study
that appeared in the journal Fertility & Sterility.
Ethical standards set forth by the ASRM specify that donors
should be at least 21 years old, and those between ages 18 and
20 should receive a psychiatric evaluation first.
Also, women are not to be paid for their eggs but
compensated, equally, for their time. Donor traits such as
college grades or previous successful donations should not
result in higher payment.
But abiding by the recommendations is voluntary, and the
guidelines carry no legal authority, though ASRM will sanction
members who do not adhere to the guidelines. But that doesn't
cover non-member organizations.
"Our ability to influence the behavior of non-members is
pretty limited," said Sean Tipton, a spokesperson for ASRM.
To see how well recruiters follow the guidelines, Klitzman
and his colleagues visited 102 websites recruiting egg donors.
Some represented IVF clinics run by a physician, and others were
agencies that connect women with clinics but don't actually
provide any of the medical services.
Some 34 percent of the websites offered higher payment for
certain traits, most commonly having previously donated
successfully. Some also offered higher payments for educational
achievement, athletic skills and good looks.
More than 40 percent of the sites also recruited women
between the ages of 18 and 20.
Klitzman told Reuters Health the findings are a concern.
"We're not paying for the eggs... but we're compensating
people for their time and effort. So, therefore, we shouldn't
pay for the quality of eggs," said Klitzman, who directs
Columbia's Masters in Bioethics program.
About 26 percent of ASRM approved agencies or clinics paid
more for certain traits, versus 63 percent of non-approved
sites. Clinics, which have a physician on staff, were more
likely to adhere to the recommendations than egg-donor agencies.
"There's no question that there are some agencies that don't
seem particularly interested in what our guidelines are, and we
don't know how to impact their behavior," said Tipton.
He said the best way to avoid ethical problems is for both
potential donors and patients seeking donor eggs to be aware of
the ASRM recommendations, and ask if the clinic or agency
Klitzman said potential donors also need to be aware of the
potential risks of donating eggs.
"To donate eggs is not an entirely benign procedure. It's
not high, high risk, but you're taking very high doses of
hormones, having needles stuck in your ovaries.
"The idea is to help people. The problem is, you want to
make sure it's done appropriately and that people are not being
exploited or taken advantage of."
(Reporting from New York by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)