Are women being properly warned about the risks of egg donation?

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With assisted reproductive technology (ART) booming across the globe, there is more demand than ever for men and women to become sperm and egg donors. Yet the risks of egg donation have been largely ignored, and one expert is asking why.

Wendy Kramer is the director and co-founder of the Donor Sibling Registry; her son, Ryan, is a donor-conceived person. In a previous interview with Buzzfeed, she explained why she and her son became advocates for the rights of donor-conceived people. “I think for so many of us when we had to use a donor in order to have a child we all thought, ‘Oh, it’s the medical industry. These are medical professionals, so there’s going to be the same ethics and morals and responsibilities and record-keeping,’” she said. “What many of us have come to realize over the years is this isn’t the medical profession. These are sperm-sellers, and that’s very different, and their ethics and responsibilities are very different.”

She recently wrote an article questioning why women are frequently led to believe that the risks involved with egg donation are low… despite evidence showing otherwise. Despite the fact that multiple studies have shown a substantial risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) occurring during an egg donation cycle, women are often told the risk is low, according to Kramer.

READ: New Scotland campaign recruits sperm and egg donors, but ignores the risks

OHSS is a response to the excess hormones women are administered during the process. The ovaries swell and become painful, and in severe cases, this can be life-threatening. Yet women are assured that there is only a 1% risk of getting OHSS when donating eggs. Kramer disagrees.

“[O]ur research paints a different picture. In our first published study of 155 egg donors, we found that 30.3% reported Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS),” she wrote. “In our second survey of 176 egg donors in 2014, we found that 32.4% of egg donors reported complications such as OHSS and infection. In our third Study of 363 egg donors in 2021, 22.4% reported experiencing OHSS.”

She cited a Canadian journalist, who found that fertility doctors don’t often follow up with egg donors after the donation process is completed — meaning some of the fertility clinics genuinely may not realize what women are experiencing.

“Several physicians told me that they simply invite donors to get in touch if there’s a problem,” she wrote. “Some women do so, but others may have already left town, or they’re told by brokers not to contact doctors directly. Health concerns can also turn up weeks, months or even years after the donation. By that point, it’s not clear if they’re related, so some donors don’t mention these issues to their fertility doctors. Without deliberate follow-up, doctors may not be aware of what goes wrong after the fact.”

Time Magazine has also reported that there is no knowledge of long-term effects of egg donation because no studies have been done.

Jennifer Lahl, the founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, recently sat down with Live Action founder and president Lila Rose to discuss the exploitative nature of ART — including the way women are encouraged to become egg donors.

“The marketing is very slick,” Lahl said. “When two of my daughters were students at the University of California Berkeley, their school paper had an ad: $100,000 for an elite donor. So it’s very eugenic, it’s very selective. It’s all flowery, ‘Make dreams come true,’ ‘Help a family.’ You’ll see young girls who have sold their eggs say, ‘Well you have so many eggs, I’m not using them anyway.’ So there’s this lure, and people go, ‘Well I like to help people and, sure, that money sounds great and I’m not using my eggs right now. Why not sell some?’ But, there’s the drugs.”

During an egg donation cycle, women are given drugs to increase egg production, followed by a trigger shot of HCG (Human chorionic gonadotrophin), a hormone produced by the placenta, to release the eggs from the follicles. Eggs are retrieved when a needle punctures the ovaries multiple times.

“[T]wo of the women in ‘Eggsploitation’ [a documentary about the fertility industry] lost their ability to ever have their own children. So their fertility was permanently damaged,” Lahl said, adding that there is no regulation or oversight within the fertility industry. “You don’t count things if they don’t count, and these women don’t count so we don’t count them … the best you can do is CDC data that has an annual report on assisted reproductive technologies in America, and the best you can get is how many IVF cycles were performed, frozen embryos, fresh embryos, but it doesn’t tell you who these women are.”

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