As we noted last week, couples are willing to pay big bucks for the eggs of women with high SAT scores. But as many a former college girl knows, they'll shell out for race, height, and soccer skills too.
William Saletan describes a study by one Prof. Aaron Levine of Georgia Tech:
Levine analyzed more than 100 ads placed in 63 college newspapers to recruit egg donors. Of these ads, 21 specified a minimum requisite SAT score. Half offered more than $5,000, and among this group, 27 percent specified an "appearance requirement." The bigger the money, the choosier the client: Above the $10,000 level, most ads "contained appearance or ethnicity requirements."
Reading college newspapers is also where I got my reaction: no shit. By the time I went to college, the web was already eclipsing print news, but the school newspaper was one big exception. It was free, it was everywhere, and you could easily pick up a copy and take it along to places where you might not want to lug a laptop (yes, okay, I am old enough that we could not read shit on our phones). Result: I was exposed to lots and lots of ads for egg donation. At a certain point, I started playing a little game with each ad: "would these people buy my eggs?"
Usually, the answer was no. My SAT score wasn't the problem — almost always, it was my height. I recall a surprising number of requests for the eggs of ladies 5'6" or taller, which put me a couple inches shy of genetic desirability. Sometimes advertisers also wanted donors who were "athletic" or "musical," both of which automatically disqualified me.
As far as "appearance and ethnicity requirements" went, my hair color occasionally counted me out (nobody wants ginger babies), but my race almost never did. While a few asked for Asian or South Asian donors, I got the sense that white eggs were in the highest demand (a sense borne out by some research).
The joke behind this game — shared by several other female undergraduates I knew — was that the ads evinced a somewhat creepy desire for designer offspring. Athletic? Musical? These prospective parents seemed to want genetic material that would guarantee their children's success in every area of life, and at the time, I found this distasteful. But I'm no longer sure I was being entirely fair. Anyone who offers thousands of dollars for someone else's eggs is both lucky and unlucky: unfortunate enough to want a child but be unable to conceive one, yet fortunate enough to be able to afford costly medical help. It's easy to sniff at the couple (or woman) who wants a perfect baby, and yet this sniffing comes with the implicit message that those who can't get pregnant on their own should take whatever they can get. Those who make babies biologically get to pick a partner they'd like to procreate with, and it seems a little unfair to deny infertile couples at least this level of choice — especially when all the money in the world won't buy you a way out of the high failure rates and difficult medical interventions of IVF. I'm still creeped out by the use of SAT scores as a measure of genetic fitness (Saletan quotes Levine: "an increase of one hundred SAT points in the score of a typical incoming student increased the compensation offered to oocyte donors at that college or university by $2,350"). But aside from the liberalization of adoption, which would have the double effect of helping kids find homes and improving some infertile couples' options, I'm not sure what the answer is.
What's missing from a lot of coverage of the issue — which typically focuses on the need for or impossibility of further regulation — is the experience of women and couples who've been involved. We'd love to hear from readers who have donated or used donor eggs, especially if you have thoughts on some of the "requirements" above. And if you've got a longer story you'd like to tell for a followup post, feel free to get in touch by email. We can't offer you $10,000, but on the plus side, we won't stick any needles in you either.
The Egg Market [Slate]