Opinion | Op-eds

Egg donors should be wary of side effects

Egg donation organizations know that the price tag of a Barnard or Columbia degree threatens students’ financial futures. They advertise all over campus—on bulletin boards in Hamilton and Butler, and frequently in the classifieds section of Spectator.

Their ads seek to draw in student donors with alluring sums of money and the chance to give another woman a child, invoking a sense of altruistic sisterhood. But unlike drug advertisements, which are legally required to list side effects, ads in this largely unregulated industry omit the wide array of possible medical dangers of donating eggs. 

What the posters plastered across campus fail to advertise is the physically taxing, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous process egg donors undergo. Should you answer an advertisement, you go through a rigorous selection process with a psychological evaluation, and if chosen, you receive an intense series of hormone injections to stimulate your ovaries to release a surplus of eggs. A woman normally ovulates only one matured egg per cycle, but with these hormones, her ovary will release about a dozen. The resultant surfeit of eggs is then surgically extracted by inserting a needle through the vaginal wall. 

The whole process lasts about two months, according to MyDonor.net (the website to which the ad in Spec’s Feb. 14 classifieds section directs you) but may take longer, especially if you require recovery time from complications. Unpleasant side effects may arise during or after the procedure. The heavy hormone doses are likely to take a physical and psychological toll—much like extreme PMS—on many donors. Some women will suffer from Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which in its mildest form may cause abdominal fluid buildup and nausea. In its severest form, it can lead to difficulty breathing, kidney failure, and severe blood clotting. Like other surgical procedures, the extraction of the eggs also poses a small but undeniable risk of reaction to anesthesia or bleeding out.

A poster is only a poster, but even the information given at a clinic is not necessarily reliable, objective, or comprehensive. Clinics are trying to draw donors in, and thus have a financial incentive to downplay the risks of side effects like OHSS. For example, the advertisement in Spec’s classifieds for MyDonor.net assesses OHSS as “relatively rare (1-3% of IVF cases).” This statistic, however, is an oversimplification and underestimation. While severe OHSS is estimated to have a frequency of 0.1 to 2 percent, moderate cases occur in 3 to 6 percent and mild in 20 to 33 percent of IVF cycles. Out of 155 respondents to a survey organized by the Donor Sibling Registry, “30.3% of egg donors reported some degree of OHSS, which in 11.6% required hospitalization.”

MyDonor.net brushes OHSS off as an insignificant rarity, and denies the possibility of future infertility, despite the fact that the Donor Sibling Registry report had 9.6 percent of respondents reporting an infertility problem. And MyDonor.net never mentions the uncertainties regarding cancer, which, as a long-term risk of egg donation, has yet to be fully researched. Egg donation has only existed for about 30 years, and while the short-term effects are being researched, it’s difficult to gauge the long-term danger of something that is fairly new on the medical scene. 

Although there have been only isolated reports suggesting a connection to cancer, no large-scale, long-term study has been attempted. This is partly due to the absence of official routes for systematically following up on donors for decades. Without government regulation and research, these waters will probably remain uncharted for some time to come, and therefore risky for Columbia students to navigate. 

None of this is to say that egg donors will be hospitalized for OHSS, get ovarian cancer 30 years from now, or be unable to bear children. But clinics have a financial interest in underplaying potential risks, and no incentive to follow up with their donors to track their health. This is not limited to websites like MyDonor.net; others, like RMA of New York and New England Egg Donor also provide incomplete health risk information. We just do not know all of the medical ramifications of this relatively new technology, and the field of knowledge is a lot murkier and messier than an advertisement to a cash-strapped Columbia student might suggest. 

The prescription: Get second opinions. Read as much on the subject as you can. Speak to OB-GYNs who have no financial involvement in the field of egg donation. Should you answer one of the advertisements around campus, don’t rely on the information the clinic gives you, but find sources you trust and realize that even their information, without the backup of significant long-term epidemiological studies, is limited. Carefully consider it: Is $8,000 worth risking your health and your own future fertility?

Rachel Hainline is a Columbia College junior majoring in biology. Rebecca Meyer is a Columbia College junior majoring in biology and history. 

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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Anonymous posted on

"alluring sums of money and the chance to give another woman a child"

I help people find family using DSR, FTDNA and a variety of other websites. Women that agree to give up their children in this manner will very likely be identified if their children submit their DNA to these match websites because they are mothers of their own offspring, their relatives are still kin to their offspring and any cousin or uncle that happens to join one of these family history websites could match with a child looking for them and because that cousin happens to submit their family tree the identity of the mother is traceable as close as her or one of her sisters. Then you just look at proximity to where the female that gave birth was treated and the whole family will know that she abandoned her children before her kid even makes a phone call to her. Anyone born to a woman older than 37 is joining these websites especially if that woman who gave birth was married and established with some money in the bank before she gave birth. They will have a pretty good idea that they are another woman's child. People don't remember being born or in the womb, so the fact the woman who raised them was pregnant with them is of little consequence if she is not their biological mother. They are not related to that woman or her relatives and so they have falsified medical records and don't know who their family is and are inclined to feel abandoned since they were. Egg donors don't just donate eggs. Read the contracts they sign. Nobody would want their eggs if they did not also agree to abandon their parental responsibilities for their children when they are born. Their absence from their child's life is a term to be fulfilled after their children are born and it is the essence of the contract because it is the only reason why they want to harvest her eggs. No baby no dice (eggs).

Don't let the hype about it being the intended mother's baby - she wanted the baby its her idea to conceive with her husband - fool you. Egg donors decide to have their children this way long before anyone shows up to make babies with them. Their profiles are already sitting in a binder waiting to be selected to conceive children to be carried and delivered and raised by others. The medical consent form says that they are desirous of receiving fertility treatment to maximize their chances of conception by harvesting their eggs and having them fertilized outside their body in a laboratory. It has to say it's all her idea or it would not be informed consent. She also has to agree to the disposition of her embryos to allow them to be frozen and stored etc. They are her embryos and she gets to decide whether she wants to gestate them or not. In fact someone else can pay for that entire process and get as far as having those embryos already made up and she can change her mind and not allow anyone to have them implanted for gestation. A man's wife could even have had one of her babies and have the remaining embryos stored and she could call the clinic up and say I don't want to reproduce any more I don't want to have any more children that I don't myself gestate deliver and raise and the people who paid could not do a damn thing about it because its her body and she does not have to reproduce herself if she does not want to even if she was paid. Too bad. In reality you cannot buy the right to control another person's reproductive freedom.

Their kids will at some point get to read these agreements where their mothers agreed to give them up in exchange for valuable consideration. Sadly, painfully they will overlook that they were sold by their mothers to play the roll of someone else's child because they long for her acceptance and will often forgive that deep rejection just for a chance to meet her. It does not matter if it is altruistic and no money is received because our children are not objects to be sold. This is not a pro life stance that embryos and eggs are people far from it. Once their offspring are born they become biological mothers and if they make good on the agreements signed prior to the birth of their children they are following through on a promise to abandon their children, not their eggs, not their embryos but their children. So really the health effects of egg harvesting are the least of the damage caused with this effort. Don't do this to your your kids. Just raise the ones you make and avoid making ones you don't want to raise if you can.