Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Calif., believes that if her Assembly Bill 926 passes, researchers will be able to pay egg donors as they develop medical advances that can help all women. To her, the bill is an issue of simple fairness -- gender equity, really.
Since a well-intended 2006 bill banned researchers from paying egg donors more than expense reimbursement, researchers have been at a competitive disadvantage, while affluent couples can offer fertile women top dollar. UCSF Professor Marcelle Cedars lamented at a hearing of the state Senate Health Committee on Wednesday that the status quo robs potential egg donors of "the rewards of contributing to scientific knowledge."
Alice Crisci, a cancer survivor and patient advocate for Fertile Action, testified that the ban on research payments "is discriminatory. It assumes all women are incapable of making their own decisions about their reproductive well-being if fair compensation is allowed." Researchers compensate men for donated sperm, she added, so it's only fair to compensate egg donors.
That sperm-egg parity argument is so bogus. When men donate sperm, they risk second thoughts about unknown, random offspring, but they do not risk serious medical side effects. Egg donation, on the other hand, can be hazardous to your health. The New York Times reports, "Egg donors can suffer serious side effects from the powerful hormones needed to generate multiple eggs." And: "The most significant risk is ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, which can cause bloating, abdominal pain and, rarely, blood clots, kidney failure and other life-threatening ailments."
Let me repeat: Taking hormones to stimulate egg production can result in life-threatening ailments.
Sindy Wei, now an M.D. and Ph.D., was in medical school when she donated eggs. She liked the idea of helping others, and as a cash-strapped student, she liked the $5,000 she was paid. It was a bad deal. After one painful cycle, doctors extracted 60 eggs from her. She got sick and went to the hospital. She was bleeding internally. If she had flown home, as the fertility center told her to do, she believes she would have died.
Years later, Wei developed "unexplained infertility." She endured more hormone treatments and surgery. "The way I was treated as an egg donor was very different from the way I was treated as an infertility patient," Wei testified. As an infertility patient, she had control over her medical care; as a donor, she found that doctors ignored her concerns. They just wanted eggs, the more the better.