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Study Finds Rampant Ethical Problems in Egg Donor Industry

A new study has found that a large number of U.S. fertility organizations who recruit online for egg donors do not adhere to ethical guidelines such as warning patients of the risks involved and paying extra for desirable traits.

Reuters Health is reporting that the study, appearing in the journal Fertility and Sterility, was conducted by Robert Klitzman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. Klitzman's team visited 102 websites in the business of recruiting egg donors. Some were IVF clinics run by a physician, while others were agencies that connect women with clinics.

They found that a large percentage were violating the voluntary guidelines set down by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

These guidelines, which are put in place to protect women from exploitation, specify that donors must be at least 21 years old with younger women receiving a psychiatric evaluation first. Women are not to be paid for their eggs, only compensated for their time. Clinics are not to charge extra for desirable traits, such as specific college grades or physical features. Women are also to be told about the health risks associated with donating eggs.

The organizations Klitzman reviewed came up short in many of these areas. For instance, 34 percent of the sites offered higher payment for certain traits and more than 40 percent recruited women younger than 21.

His team also found that 26 percent of ASRM approved agencies or clinics violated the guidelines versus 63 percent of non-approved sites, meaning physician-run organizations have more ethical standards than independent operators.

Klitzman is concerned about the findings. 

"I would argue that there needs to be more attention from ASRM about these agencies, because you don't want these women exploited," he told Reuters Health.

The problem is that the industry is unregulated, which means the ASRM has no legal authority to impose its guidelines on clinics and agencies who are in the human egg-gathering market.

"Our ability to influence the behavior of non-members is pretty limited," said Sean Tipton, a spokesperson for ASRM. "There's no question that there are some agencies that don't seem particularly interested in what our guidelines are, and we don't know how to impact their behavior."

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