New Film Warns Women about “Eggsploitation”

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A new documentary produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (CBCN) reveals the shocking secrets of the infertility industry and how they lure vulnerable young women into the so-called “safe” business of egg donation.

According to Concerned Women for America, the new documentary, entitled Eggsploitation, spotlights three women who went through the egg donation process which included high doses of fertility drugs and egg retrieval surgery via the “highly unregulated, multi-billion dollar” infertility industry. All three of the women nearly died from the “complications associated with their egg donation.” One suffered a stroke that left her brain damaged; another developed breast cancer, and the other developed a health problem associated with ovarian hyper-stimulation.

Their stories highlight everything the industry hides – the “deceptive advertising, large monetary incentives and appeals to altruism” that are commonly used to entice college women to engage in human egg donation.

The infertility industry in the United States is completely unregulated and has grown to a multi-billion dollar business with its main commodity being human eggs. The most recent data for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2007, over 17,000 assisted reproductive technology cycles were performed in the U.S. using donated eggs. This number is expected to rise steadily now that President Barack Obama has approved expansion of embryonic stem cell research, a business that relies on human eggs.

According to the producers of the film, researchers are actively looking for ways to find the eggs they need in a country where paying women for their eggs remains unsettled law.

For instance, the producers attempted to participate in a private June 14 meeting about ways to procure “Human Oocytes [eggs]” at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which is responsible for spending $3 billion in taxpayer funds on human embryonic stem cell and cloning research. 

“Two of my colleagues attended this meeting, but were barred from entering,” writes CBC National Director Jennifer Lahl. “They were told the meeting was private because of the need to protect intellectual property. One has to wonder what intellectual property needs to be protected when the discussion is around the purchasing of human eggs for research, which is prohibited in California.”

Lahl reports that the only state that can pay donors for their eggs for scientific research is New York, and that is now being challenged in the courts.

“Of course, California stem cell researchers are trying to change that law. They argue that since we can pay egg donors to sell their eggs to the IVF industry, they should also be able to compete for human eggs, since they assert their research will ultimately benefit sick people,” she says.

In the meantime, fertility centers typically target vulnerable women who need money – such as college coeds – by promising up to $100,000 for their eggs and promising that the procedure is safe.

However, hyper-stimulation of the ovaries is a procedure that requires many weeks of injecting powerful hormones followed by anesthesia and surgery to remove the eggs. To date, little is known about the short- or long-term effects of using these powerful drugs on women in order to make their bodies produce so many more eggs than normal.

“Today’s college coeds are told that the procedure is safe, when the reality is decidedly unsafe,” says Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, Director and Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s (CWA) Beverly LaHaye Institute.  “No young woman should be used in procedures that jeopardize her own fertility — indeed her own life — in order to line the pockets of those who promote the infertility industry’s human egg trade.”

Dr. Crouse also condemns the industry’s practice of using vanity to lure young women to donate eggs, such as telling them their physical or mental qualities are in demand by parents who want the “perfect baby.”

“The human egg donation industry is shameless in claiming safety for the procedure as they solicit young college women through appeals to their vanity, claiming that the girls’ attractiveness, IQ, or genetic traits warrant a high payment for participation in what they call a ‘humanitarian’ act,” Dr. Crouse said. “CWA appeals to the public to protect the nation’s young women from such exploitation.”

The documentary is being released on college campuses and in Asian countries today.

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