An interesting question was posed recently suggesting that virtually all overseas egg donors are being exploited if their home country had limits on egg donor compensation.
Unlike the United States, where donors can set their own compensation (although many clinics and agencies do follow the ASRM Ethic’s Committee report and guidelines for oocyte donor compensation limits), many European countries (like the Czech Republic) have legally set limits on reimbursements to donors to only allow compensation for their time and expenses.
I think the answer to the question of exploitation may lie in how the word “exploit” is defined, and in looking at the typical donor circumstances in a country.
Miriam Webster defines exploit in two very different ways: 1) to make productive use of (as in exploit your own talents); and 2) to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.
In my personal view, a person would be negatively exploited if they were compelled in some way to donate their eggs without full consent or against their will. I would take that one step further and suggest that in impoverished areas where literacy is low and poverty levels are high, I think a case could be made that some egg donors may be unfairly exploited.
However, in the case of egg donation in the Czech Republic, I do not feel the system is exploitive. I base this on several factors:
1) Egg donation is purely voluntary (with large numbers of volunteers – a large marjority coming from local universities). Donors are generally treated fairly and with respect. Normally, they are stimulated with lower levels of medications than in the United States in order to lower the health risks to the donors and keep them more comfortable. Further, as an extra protective measure, many Czech IVF clinics limit the number of donation cycles to 2 unless the donor is done having her own children.
2) Literacy is high – the education system is well respected and education is free to all citizens (including some public universities). The reported literacy rate of the Czech Republic is 99%, which is the same as the United States.
3) Poverty levels are low (as of 2010 data, the Czech Republic has the lowest poverty rate in the entire European Union)
4) Compensation is limited to an amount that generally is not life altering. Financial compensation for egg donation in the Czech Republic is reported to be limited to reimbursement to an egg donor for time and expenses – which in practice is typically similar to a laborer’s monthly wage. As such donors are not being enticed with a windfall amount of money that would be life altering for them or their families.
So if we look at the facts of high literacy and education, low poverty, and limited compensation in Czech, I fail to see how a case can be made that these willing, educated women are being exploited when they voluntarily choose to donate their eggs to help another family realize their dreams of having a baby.
Perhaps the fact that the compensation IS legally limited in some countries actually helps limit the potential for exploitation.
What do you think?