by Liz Scheier
We are always heartened to receive messages from concerned intended parents, or recipients of donor eggs, who want to make sure that their egg donor is treated with the utmost respect and highest standard of care. Because of the lack of oversight and regularity with which egg donation is globally practiced, that is not always the case.
We have learned a lot after forming a community of thousands of egg donors worldwide. We’ve asked our private community to share their insight. To all intended parents who consider themselves allies in protecting the wellbeing of egg donors, thank you.
This letter is for you.
Dear We Are Egg Donors,
Speaking as someone whose family was made possible with the help of an egg donor, I can't imagine treating my donor badly. I will forever be indebted to her! It’s terrible that some donors have had a nasty experience with their clinics/agencies. How can I make sure my egg donor is not mistreated?
Person Who Cares About Egg Donor Health
Dear Person Who Cares About Egg Donor Health,
This is a sensitive topic, so the first thing we want to say is: thank you for asking. Even if you are considering using donor eggs from an unknown or anonymous donor, you are in a unique position to ensure that the young woman donating her eggs to you receives respectful medical care during her cycle and retrieval. Below you’ll find observations from our donor community that could help you advocate for the best standard of care for egg donors.
Make sure your egg donor has insurance
Your agreement should cover an insurance rider for donation-related hospitalizations and follow up care. The cost of these riders are minimal, but having to self-pay for medical care can be financially catastrophic for a donor - or physically catastrophic, if she decides not to get care because of the cost.
Speak up against common risks faced by egg donors, like OHSS
Women who are doing own-egg IVF usually aim to retrieve about 10-15 eggs. However, it is no longer unusual for doctors to overstimulate donors to produce 60, 70, even 80+ eggs. Keep tabs on her progress, and ask your doctor how many follicles are developing. If it's higher than 30, ask why. The practice of cycle splitting (splitting the eggs from a single retrieval among multiple recipients) may bring down costs for recipients, but it results in a much higher risk to the donor’s health by highly incentivizing doctors to overstimulate donors to produce many times a safe number of eggs.
Work towards a non-coercive contract
ART is expensive, and it’s natural to want to keep your costs down - and to try to account for every possible outcome. Usually for medical reasons, a donor may need to cancel a cycle before it begins, or to stop it once she has begun taking stimulation hormones. Contracts that require an egg donor to pay all of the recipient’s own expenses in this unlikely circumstance can -- and have -- been used against egg donors to pressure them to continue. These clauses are coercive, and may result in a young woman continuing in a cycle she can’t complete safely to avoid paying incurring penalties which she does not have the means to pay.
Make sure she is adequately represented
It is a breach of ethics for an attorney to represent both sides of a contract. Not only is this common in donor agreements, but some WAED members have been asked to sign agreements which state outright that in the case of a conflict, the shared attorney will automatically act in the interests of the recipient. As tempting as this may be, remember that this is a breach of industry-standard ethics and that many egg donors are, by definition, young; they need an advocate to make sure they are protected by an attorney.
Be an advocate
At We Are Egg Donors, we have observed that women whose donors are in contact with their doctors - usually women who are donating to a known recipient, a family member or a friend - have a much lower rate of developing OHSS or other medical complications, are less likely to experience threatening or disrespectful treatment from their doctors and coordinators, and are less likely to be coerced into signing contracts which put them at risk.
By helping to advocate for your donor’s health and respectful treatment, even if she is unknown to you, you can make a huge positive difference in the life of the young woman who is helping to complete your family.
This is an important ongoing conversation, and we thank you for being a part of it.
We Are Egg Donors