One was given a car, another money for college tuition, others cold hard cash.
Most Canadian women who donate eggs for fertility treatment receive payment above their expenses, even though this violates the country’s controversial fertility law, suggests a new study.
The survey of “intended parents” and egg donors who meet on the Internet — originally scheduled to be presented at a major fertility-medicine conference next month — found most donations involved bonuses worth thousands of dollars.
The findings underscore anecdotal evidence that the law designed to prevent commercialization of egg and sperm donation and surrogacy motherhood is routinely ignored.
The people interviewed for the study expressed no qualms about doing so, said Cambridge University researcher Kathleen Hammond.
“The intended parents in particular — those that did pay — were fine with breaking the law, because they felt the donor had done this enormous thing for them and given up a lot of time and it was only fair,” she said. “They were always very willing.” Hammond, an Ottawa native who is studying for her doctorate at the British university, said the study indicates Canada’s confusing regulation of the process needs to change.
She does not advocate an openly commercial system, as in much of the United States, but says the law ought to allow egg donors — who can miss work and face health risks — to be better compensated.
“I do think that we should be considering being a little bit more permissive,” said Hammond.
Another expert says the research shows again the 11-yearold Assisted Human Reproduction Act has never been given a chance to work because the federal government all but refuses to enforce it.
Only one company has ever been prosecuted for violating the law’s ban on profiting from trade in human eggs, sperm or surrogates — and that was after a tip from U.S. police.
No one argues that donors of blood, organs or bone-marrow be paid — despite shortages — yet the government is effectively allowing it for people giving away their eggs or sperm, says Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“Why are you treating this differently from all other (donated) tissues?” said Baylis, a former director of the federal agency set up to regulate the industry, before being closed down. “As I have said for more than 10 years now, Health Canada should do its job.”
A Vancouver-based fertility doctor said he is not overly surprised by the study’s findings, but emphasized his clinic tries to avoid using donors who might be getting paid.
If an in-vitro fertilization patient brings an egg donor who is not a friend or relative, the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine declines to treat her, says Dr. Jeff Roberts.
On the other hand, many patients do order eggs from banks in the United States, where it is legal to compensate the women, said Dr. Roberts, spokesman for the Canadian Fertility & Andrology Society.
Meanwhile, evidence of an active market in donated eggs was apparent Wednesday, with requests for egg donors on the classified-ad website Craigslist and the IVF.ca discussion forum, would-be parents often making heartfelt pleas for help.
None directly mention financial compensation.
Hammond conducted indepth interviews with 20 intended parents seeking egg donors and 15 donors, who used various websites to find each other.
For all the parents and twothirds of the donors involved in an actual egg transfer, donors were paid the equivalent of $3,000-$5,000 on top of the costs considered acceptable under the act, she said.
One woman was given a car, which she said she needed to get to and from medical appointments, but kept afterward. Another received help with education costs, others cash.
Still, Hammond concluded most of the donors were motivated by more than earning a few dollars, even when money was the main consideration initially.
“When the donors met the intended parents … their perception of the whole experience changed,” she said. “It suddenly became about trying to help these intended parents have a baby.”
She also found most of the egg donors she interviewed had ovarian hypersensitivity syndrome, a complication of fertility drugs that can be lethal in extreme cases.
Another presenter at the fertility society’s conference next month in Halifax will argue more needs to be done to protect against such dangers.
Vanessa Gruben, a University of Ottawa law professor who studies the area, advocates rules limiting the number of eggs clinics can retrieve from a donor, and requiring different doctors treat the donor and the recipient to avoid conflicts of interest.
Hammond’s study, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, was supposed to be presented at the fertility-society conference next month, but she is now unable to attend.