Inside the quietly lucrative business of donating human eggs

Paris Martineau in Wired:

IT WAS A Facebook ad that propelled Ashleigh Griffin to act. She had heard about egg donation from her mother, a nurse, but never thought of it as anything more than an esoteric medical procedure. The ad in her Facebook feed in 2011 told a different story. It intrigued Griffin, promising her thousands of dollars for something her body produced on its own, with the bonus of helping another family. It even specified that the opportunity was tailor-made for young cash-strapped women in college, as she was. She clicked through, and only grew more curious. She tried to sign up, but quickly hit a wall. Griffin was 18, and the agency required donors be at least 21. Just before her 21st birthday, she typed “egg donation” into Google, and off she went. Over the next four years, Griffin donated her eggs six times at three different clinics. Four of those times, her ovaries became painfully swollen and she experienced weight gain, abdominal pain, severe nausea, and had trouble urinating; once she was hospitalized. For her efforts, she was paid $61,000.

Egg donation is designed to help families who are having trouble conceiving. The process involves taking eggs from one woman, fertilizing the viable ones, and then transferring them either to the aspiring mother, or a surrogate, in the hope of achieving pregnancy. In practice, it’s often more complicated. The first US child conceived from a donated egg was born in 1984. Since then, the procedure has grown into a thriving industry. Demand from aspiring parents, and a dearth of regulations, have spawned matchmaking agencies that offer to help parents find the perfect young woman whose eggs will result in the equally perfect child. Donating eggs can be lucrative, with agencies paying as much as $50,000 per cycle in some cases.

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