College Students Targeted for Egg Donation

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When she was a film school student several years ago, Carrie Specht spotted an advertisement in a newspaper seeking out women willing to donate their eggs.

It sounded intriguing -- and it was a way to make money.

"I'm not going to kid anybody. The dollar signs were there first and foremost," said Specht, who attended New York University.

Unlike sperm donation, egg donation is not a simple process. It requires six weeks of sometimes painful hormone injections and the egg is retrieved under local anesthetic. And there can be long-term health risks.

But the payout is big -- the going rate for eggs is about $5,000 but can be as high as $20,000, depending on special characteristics such as high SAT scores, athletic or artistic ability.

This large check is especially attractive to cash-strapped college students, who are easy to target with ads in college newspapers.

"For the average 19- to 20-year-old woman, it's relatively easy to make $5,000 to $25,000 for six weeks of discomfort," said Debora Spar, the author of "The Baby Business," one of the first books to investigate the economics of the fertility industry.

As many as 10,000 babies born each year are conceived through egg donation -- and that number is expected to climb. The trend itself is relatively new. Spar said women who donate differ on whether it's a good or bad experience

For example, Specht said she found the experience so positive she has donated four times.

"Knowing that I've helped people, knowing that I've enriched somebody's life," Specht said. "That I've made some people's dreams come true That's a really wonderful feeling."

While Specht enjoyed donating her eggs, donor Shannon Clark had different feelings. She donated her egg at age 19 to her aunt.

"I don't think that I thought about what this would mean for me personally, emotionally, physically, in the future," Clark said.

Now, 10 years later, Clark is married and about to give birth to her first child.

In hindsight, she feels egg donation was the wrong choice for her.

"At 19, I really thought of this egg as DNA, and I didn't really put a huge connection between me and this child," she said.

Clark advises other young girls who are contemplating donating their eggs to "think long and hard" about the consequences of such a big decision.

"These girls are being more lured into this for the moneymaking purpose of it and not really the right reason, which is to help somebody have a baby," she said.

Spar, the Harvard professor who wrote "The Baby Business," agrees that the emotional issues need to be taken into account.

"Women don't think or aren't being counseled on the emotional issues of giving genetic material to create a child, she said. "To get the emotional piece right, you would use the eggs of a 38-year-old, but science runs in the opposite direction.

Spar and other watchdogs of the infertility industry would like to see more oversight. Currently, there are few rules or regulations governing egg donation. There's no limit on how many times a woman can donate.

And, Spar points out, there's also been no medical studies done on what, if any, negative effects multiple egg donations might have on a woman's body.

Spar predicts egg donation will continue to grow and college students will remain the most desirable market because of their age and education.

"Every time we get breakthrough technology," she points out, "science moves first, the market second, and government lags behind."

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