The Business of In Vitro Fertilization

By: Lindsey Ward Email
By: Lindsey Ward Email

May 18, 2007

Until a few years ago, there weren't many choices on eggs couples looking to get pregnant could receive. Now parents can get picky, going as far as deciding eye and hair color of their unborn child, all thanks to a growing business on college campuses.

“There's been this industry that's popped up over the last few years where you can use a service to match you,” said Dr. Chris Williams, Director of the IVF program at Martha Jefferson Hospital.

With a click of a mouse, you can find your perfect match, the egg donor who has all the qualities you want passed to your child. Fertility clinics across the country have taken notice of what traits are appealing to a couple ready to get pregnant.

“The number one thing that the majority of our couples say is healthy. The second thing is intelligence,” said Christie Aderholt, egg donor nurse coordinator at MJH

So where do you go to find healthy, well-educated females?

College. Thanks to advertisements in university newspapers and websites offering thousands of dollars to these young females, couples can now choose from the top of the crop.

However, this booming business has raised ethical concerns over how much an egg is worth.

“Everybody in the United States feels very comfortable about reimbursement, but where the complexity comes in is how much is reasonable,” said Dr. Williams.

Dr. Williams is the only in vitro fertilization doctor in central Virginia. His practice at Martha Jefferson Hospital sees more than 5,000 infertility patients a year. He said there are already more couples looking for eggs than there are donors, and without payment, the egg pool will only get smaller.

“It involves medications and some risks associated, and it's a process where they've really invested some time and effort and so they need to be reimbursed,” said Dr. Williams.

It turns out there is a lot of regional variation in how much donors are paid. Because there is only one IVF program in Charlottesville, local women only receive $3,500 for their time and eggs, as opposed to $10,000.

“In places where there is a lot of competition in big cities, for instance, there is much more pressure on programs to try to attract egg donors, and one of the major ways to do that is to offer higher fees than the other program that you're competing with,” Dr. Williams said.

Along with offering more money, these competing clinics try to get only the most appealing donors, targeting those strapped for cash like college students.

Before someone can be a donor they must complete a screening process which includes a physical and psychological exam. Once they pass both of those, they begin fertilization shots.

Dr. Williams added that no matter who donates, they should understand how important their gift is to couples.

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