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Students Sell Sperm, Eggs to Pay Bills

Published: Monday, October 13, 2003

Updated: Saturday, March 14, 2009 18:03


(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES - Advertisements offering up to $5,000 for human egg donations caught the eye of one junior majoring in political science at the University of Southern California.

After meeting with the counselors at the Manhattan Beach Center for Egg Options, Christina Carrdellio decided to become a donor.

"It's hard to miss the ads in the paper," Carrdellio said. "The money tempted me at first, but the more I looked into it and researched it, I realized there was more to it than that. Some people want to give birth so badly, but simply can't without help."

Carrdellio has not yet donated, but has been on the donor list since July and is waiting for the agency to match her with a recipient.

Because couples are paying to receive donated eggs and sperm, they carefully review profiles of the donors. Agencies even keep donors' baby photos on file.

"Most of our donors are college students," said Marla Eby, vice president of marketing at the California Cryobank, a sperm bank in Westwood. "We try to recruit students because they're young and healthier."

Couples often spend up to $30,000 to find eggs of a certain ethnicity or eye color.

Donating sperm is a convenient job for college students, involving little time commitment, the freedom to make your own hours, and reimbursement of $75 per visit or up to $900 per month, Eby said.

To help find the most desirable donors, the cryobank has other locations in Palo Alto, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass., to attract volunteers from Stanford and Harvard, Eby said.

The decision to donate sperm or eggs to infertile couples is not easy to make. "Before a woman can donate her eggs, she meets with us to discuss all any questions she may have," said Dr. David Tourgeman, an assistant professor at the USC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and private practitioner.

"In the initial consultation we need to complete a physical examination, review the donor's medical history, and take a look at their family's medical past," said Tourgeman, who also works with USC Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown Los Angeles. "We also offer psychological counseling. We then match the donor with a recipient and begin the actual donation process."

For a man to qualify as a sperm donor, he must take a physical examination, offer his medical history and attend or be a graduate of a four-year university. Once the bank accepts him, a donor visits the center two to three times per week and submits to a blood test every three months to ensure the health of the sperm, Eby said.

"Natural pregnancies always have risks," Eby said. "We don't want to create any more risks with the donated sperm."

The requirements are not hard to meet, but only 3 to 5 percent of the people who call in response to advertisements become sperm donors, Eby said. Most men decide that donating is simply not for them.

"It's similar to hiring for part-time work," said Elizabeth Kime of California Cryobank. It takes up to three months to qualify as a donor and requires a long-term commitment of one to two years.

"If all bodily fluids were worth this much money, I'd sell them all," said Dylan Shell, a graduate student studying robotics who has never donated. "I'm surprised more people aren't doing it. What's the phone number to call?"

Not all students are as enthusiastic about giving up their semen and eggs to infertile couples.

"The money definitely tempts me to find out more," said Justin Porter, a junior majoring in cinema-television. "But I don't think I would actually do it. I don't like the idea of someone else using my DNA."

Luis Barrios, a third year architecture student cites "morals" as a major reason he would never donate his sperm.

"If a couple is infertile, well, that's life," Barrios said.

Some students fear meeting the product of their sperm or eggs, though laws are now on the books in many states relieving donors of any obligations to the child.

Others would only donate if provided they could form a relationship with the child.

"It would be nice to help someone out," said Cheyenne Huang, a sophomore majoring in business. "But I would rather give my eggs to someone I know. It would be better to be part of the child's life than not at all."

To prepare for egg donation, the donor must take hormones to synchronize her menstrual cycle with the recipient's. She also receives an injection to stimulate the ovaries, Tourgeman said.

"We're not asking the ovaries to do anything unnatural. Twenty to 40 eggs are normally produced each month, and if they aren't used, they're lost," said Tourgeman.

Eggs are retrieved from the ovaries in a small procedure. The egg recovery takes up to an hour with the donor under either anesthetic to relieve any pain. The eggs are collected by inserting a needle through the vagina and into the ovary. The eggs are aspirated out and the donor can leave the hospital within four to eight hours. After the eggs are examined, an embryo is created using the father's sperm and transferred to the uterus of the recipient, said Tourgeman.

"People assume it's more harmful than it actually is," Carrdellio said.

The worst side affects, which are explained in the consultation, are infection and bleeding, Tourgeman said, though both are minimal and rare.

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome can occur if the ovaries are overstimulated, and the abdomen retains a small amount of fluid. The bloating is slight and goes away quickly.

"Donating eggs should not have any long-term adverse affects," Tourgeman said. "If a woman later on in life has difficulties with childbirth, in all likelihood it is not related to the egg donation in the past."

Men have more ease in sperm donation that women do donating their eggs. Sperm donors must go to their bank at least two times per week and provide semen samples.

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