Egg donor files a lawsuit about compensation by Andras Szell, Ph.D.

An egg donor, Lindsay Kamakahi, filed a class action lawsuit in April 2011 against the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), and the Pacific Fertility Center (PFC) in San Francisco. She claims that the defendants have conspired to fix the compensation paid to egg donors in order to “reap anti-competitive profits for themselves”.

The first defendant, ASRM is a non-profit professional organization dedicated to the advancement of reproductive medicine. SART is an affiliate organization of ASRM. More than 85% of clinics that perform IVF and related procedures in the USA are members of SART.

The ASRM guidelines for the compensation of oocyte donors state that the “total payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate”. Members of SART are expected to follow those guidelines or face possible loss of membership. The complaint states that the amounts in the guidelines have not been raised since their publication in 2000.

According to the complaint, egg donors receive an “average hourly compensation of between roughly $75 and $93 for time spent in a medical setting, about the same as hourly sperm donor rates.” The complaint concludes that since “the process of donating eggs is far more painful and risky than is the process for donating sperm, a price paid for donor services that does not account for those differences must be artificially low.” The inconveniences suffered by eggs donors include painful hormone injections, frequent blood tests and ultrasound exams and surgical retrieval of eggs which “may require several days of restricted activity to recover.”

The ASRM guidelines were created in response to reports of payments of up $100,000 to donors considered uniquely desirable. Since ASRM and SART are non-profit organizations, their finances are not affected by the amount of compensation paid to donors. The donors’ compensation is paid indirectly by the recipients through agencies and clinics which act as intermediaries. Physicians and fertility clinics aim to balance their responsibility towards the donors with their commitment to recipients both of whom are considered patients. Clearly, high donor compensation may render the entire procedure unaffordable for many recipients.

Proponents of regulation argue that excessive compensation may induce women to take on undue health risks which could amount to exploitation. In the absence of federal regulation, the ASRM guidelines fill a legal vacuum. Indiana is the only state with statutory caps on payments to egg donors while Spain is the only country in western Europe where donor compensation, albeit in much smaller amount of about 1,000 euros, is permitted.

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