Buying and selling human eggs: infertility providers’ ethical and other concerns regarding egg donor agencies

Klitzman, Robert L.

Background: Egg donor agencies are increasingly being used as part of IVF in the US, but are essentially unregulated, posing critical ethical and policy questions concerning how providers view and use them, and what the implications might be.

Methods: Thirty-seven in-depth interviews of approximately 1 h were conducted – with 27 IVF providers and 10 patients.

Results: Clinicians vary in their views and interactions concerning egg donor agencies, ranging widely in whether and how often they use agencies. Agencies may offer egg recipients increased choices, but raise ethical and other concerns regarding respect for donors as individuals (e.g., adequacy of informed consent), potential harms, justice (e.g., concerns about possible eugenics – by encouraging and facilitating selection and marketing of facts for offspring), and donors constituting a vulnerable group. The quality of agencies appears to vary considerably, from acceptable to problematic. Agencies’ medical and psychological screenings of donors can range, and be minimal. Not all agencies adequately track donors’ prior numbers of donations, or share the relevant records with clinics. Clinics may find that potential donors have genetic mutations and medical problems about which they were unaware. Yet agencies and clinics do not provide care for such donors, generating stress. Dissemination of donors’ personal data can potentially threaten confidentiality. Questions emerge of whether increased monitoring/oversight of agencies may be beneficial.

Conclusions: These data, the first to examine providers’ views and interactions regarding egg donor agencies, suggest wide variations in quality and use of agencies, and have critical implications for practice, policy, education and research. Given the potential limitations of the current model of self-regulation of agencies, the present data suggest needs to consider stronger professional guidelines or possible governmental regulations to establish, require and enforce higher standards for agencies to follow, regarding advertising to potential donors and recipients, arranging for appropriate informed consent concerning risks and benefits involved, and for quality control. Appropriate informed consent should be obtained from potential egg donors, including the fact that they may learn about mutations or medical problems about which they were unaware, but for which they will not receive treatment as part of this process. Enhancing understanding among the public-at-large about what egg donation entails may also be helpful.


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BMC Medical Ethics

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July 15, 2020