Eggs of young Asian women are highly sought in US

Updated: 2012-12-07 12:56

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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The benevolent act of donating human eggs for in vitro fertilization can also mean large sums of money for attractive young Chinese women with math or law degrees in the United States.

"I seek a warm-hearted, beautiful Asian woman to donate an embryo and help make my dreams come true," reads an ad placed by a law firm owner in the San Francisco Bay Area. The ad, on a Chinese Web forum, is written in both Mandarin and English.

"I am offering $15,000, and preference is given to students or graduates from universities ranked among America's top 50," it states.

The ad requires that candidates be in good health, beautiful and intelligent, aged 19 to 26, of a height between 165 and 173 centimeters (5 feet, 5 inches to 5 feet, 9 inches), and with no history of congenital disease.

"There is an interesting trend of couples and single men from China who are coming to California to get donors and surrogates," said Shelley Smith, director of the Los Angeles-based Egg Donor Program, which describes itself as "the premier egg-donation agency in the United States for solving female infertility by IVF donor egg treatment".

Asian women can get $10,000 to $20,000 for their eggs, while women of other ethnic groups typically earn about $6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in May.

The egg-seeker in the ad, who declined to be identified by name, quoted guidelines set by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that standard compensation for egg donors is between $5,000 and $10,000.

The higher amount listed in the Bay Area ad, according to the man who placed it, was due to the fact that "almost all donors of embryos in donation organizations are Caucasian, with very few Chinese or Asian donors available".

The selling of unfertilized eggs in any commercialized form is banned in China, according to the Ministry of Health. However, strict regulations haven't prevented infertile Chinese couples from seeking their ideal egg donor overseas, often in hopes of avoiding a domestic black market controlled by illegal brokers and agencies.

In 2012, over 40 million Chinese are dealing with infertility, according to a report by the China Population Association.

In the United States, a donor of 100 percent Chinese descent with a degree in math can command higher fees. That's because "there are fewer [candidates] of Chinese origin wanting to donate, and there are many Asian couples who would like to match with donors of the same ethnic background," Smith said.

"Usually, patients seek egg donors who resemble themselves, so it would be couples or individuals with Chinese ancestry who would seek out a Chinese egg donor in the United States," Eleanor Nicoll, spokeswoman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, told China Daily.

However, according to a report on financial compensation for donors of oocytes (eggs that haven't yet matured through cell division) by the ASRM's ethics committee, fees shouldn't vary according to the planned use of the oocytes, the number or quality of oocytes retrieved, the number or outcome of prior donation cycles, or the donor's ethnic or other personal characteristics.

The report also specified that payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate.

After a candidate is selected, the egg-seeker usually promises to make medical arrangements for the donor and assume responsibility for all medical expenses incurred. The donor receives half the total fee upon passing a physical examination; the second half is delivered once the donation is completed.

"I never knew my eggs could be priced so high until I was approached on a social network by someone who knew my nationality and education level," said a University of Southern California who requested anonymity.

"But it is not easy money as so many factors can figure in the selection, including blood type, place of birth, and even whether your eyelids are single- or double-lidded," she said.

Most donation agencies and fertility clinics in the US are reluctant to admit that there are higher compensation levels for donors from certain ethnic groups.

Laurie Zoloth, a professor of bioethics at Northwestern University, told China Daily that although there is currently no federal or state agency that directly regulates the practice of egg donation, she doesn't think eggs should be exchanged for money.

Zoloth said she has seen ads offering "up to $100,000 for well-educated, ethically specific egg donors".

"We should not really call women who receive money for their services 'donors'. They are exchangers, or sellers, of eggs, really," she said.

The ASRM ethics committee states that "compensation should be structured to acknowledge the time, inconvenience and discomfort associated with screening, ovarian stimulation and oocyte retrieval".

"Donors get paid an amount depending on their qualifications, and any donor with exceptional qualifications can command a higher fee," Smith said. "Educational degrees and previous successful cycles would be some of those qualifications."

"I believe that donors who are more qualified because of their education, talents, occupation or fertility should command a higher fee, especially if they are previous donors."