|Cover of “Eggsploitation” CNS photo
When 29-year-old Alexandra Fraser applied to be an egg donor through her local fertility clinic in the Kansas City, Kan., area, her motive was clear: money. She needed a couple of thousand dollars to help her complete her doctorate in biology at the University of Kansas.
What she didn’t realize was that her decision would alter her life as she knew it.
“As a result of selling my eggs, I survived a [twisted] ovary, intestinal failure and a body cavity infection. I have also survived breast cancer, including having both of my breasts cut off, and 18 months of harrowing chemotherapy and radiation treatments,” she said in her 2010 testimony to the Kansas State Senate on Senate Bill 509, the Women’s Health and Embryo Monitoring Program Act.
“I realize now how vulnerable I was when I was poor, frustrated, lonely and trying to finish my education. Every day I have to live with the consequences of this stupid, ill-informed decision I made all for only $2,750 dollars,” she said.
Jennifer Lahl, founder of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, is far too familiar with stories such as Fraser’s. Earlier this year, Lahl’s film, “Eggsploitation,” won best documentary in the California Independent Film Festival. The film brings to light an unseen side of the multibillion dollar infertility industry.
According to Lahl, the purpose of the recruitment of egg donors is first and foremost to help people have babies. And the ideal candidates are found at colleges and universities.
“College campuses tend to be a ripe market, if you will, of young girls who need money,” Lahl said. “The girls are enticed by the ads in the college paper that say ‘help somebody.’ So they are helping someone, making thousands of dollars, and it is all done in the privacy of their own dorm room.”
Once Fraser as selected to be a donor, she began to take drugs to prepare her eggs for donation. Her first donor cycle was a success. She and the clinic were already talking about the next donation. However those plans came to a halt as Fraser came crawling back to the clinic in abdominal pain just weeks after her eggs were harvested.
Today, Fraser said that she would have thought twice about going through with donating her eggs if she had better known the risks.
Lack of research
“There are no long-term studies on the risks of this practice. As well this industry is not looking out for your own personal health. The drugs that are used in this such as Lupron have never been FDA approved for this use,” Lahl said. “You do not know where your eggs end up once they leave your body. For instance when we donate our eggs they are not barcoded and labeled like other tissue.”
At the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Father Tad Pacholczyk agreed that much more needs to be done to regulate this practice.
“Science and the medical community have tended to turn a blind eye toward the regulatory point of view on this medical practice because having babies are a good thing,” he said.
He added that the desire to have children is deeply rooted. However, a child is always a gift and never a right. “A baby is never a piece of property which we can lay claim, despite what our society is telling us.”
A moral alternative
In Jefferson City, Mo., nurse practitioner Carolyn Tucker has become convinced that the answer to many of these infertility issues already exist through natural methods.
In 2000, Tucker, a Catholic, was introduced to the medical practice of NaPro or Natural Procreative Technology, which tracks a woman’s fertility in hopes of obtaining optimal reproductive health for her.
While she has not yet had to deal with a medical complication due to an egg donation, Tucker says that she has seen her fair share of hurts and wounds due to IVF. Her advice is clear for any woman who is contemplating any type of IVF treatments — stay away.
Eddie O’Neill writes from Wisconsin.