The promise of hundreds of dollars for just a short amount of work sounds like one out of an infomercial, but it’s a reality for egg and sperm donors. Campus newspapers across the nation (including this one) are filled with advertisements seeking egg and sperm donors.
This is no surprise to Dr. Andrea Braverman, a psychologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates, or RMANJ, in New Jersey.
“It’s a young population,” Braverman said. “They’re motivated and they’re a diverse population.”
With average compensations of about $150 for men and $5,000 for women, the temptation can be irresistible. But for students considering donating, there are more issues to think about besides the money.
“People need to search their heart of hearts as to why they are doing this,” Braverman said. “Is it a decision not just for right now but a good decision for the rest of their life, because they have to live with that decision.”
While most agencies and local clinics accept applicants as young as 18-years-old, some won’t recruit donors less than 21 years of age.
“I would say to a 21 [or] 22 year old ‘You really need to think this one out. Eight thousand dollars or even $5,000 is very tempting, but is this the right decision forever?'” Braverman said. “If you’re a college senior or are 21 years old and can’t think beyond next semester, you should really not be doing this.”
The procedure for egg donors is very intensive and time consuming, taking as much as four months.
First, potential donors must fill out an application that includes family history, medical records, interests and a questionnaire.
“We just want to know who they are,” said Kelly Graves, a nurse at Women’s Institute for Fertility, Endocrinology and Menopause.
Once the applications are viewed, about 10 percent of the applicants are asked to come in for an interview and to undergo psychological testing. Donors are made aware of all the risks and benefits of “giving up a part of their body,” Graves said. “Later it might be a big deal.”
Some risks include bleeding or twisting of the ovary, having an infection, damage to the bowel and getting Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which can be life threatening. While any of these medical side effects occur five to 10 percent of the time, Graves said she has not known any of donors to have problems.
Graves said that there are some mental issues that some donors battle. Not knowing if they produced a child, and if the child will look for them are some of the concerns.
What if a child does look for his/her biological parent?
“Think about how you will feel. Will you be able to handle it?” Braverman said. “There’s no guarantee that it’s going to be wonderful. It can be challenging. If you don’t want to take on the unknown, then it is not a good idea for you to be a donor. If this isn’t good for you, then it isn’t good for anyone.”
“The experience in general is very rewarding,” Braverman said. “Studies have shown that close to 90 percent found it satisfying and rewarding.”
But not all college students are so sure.
“If you can live with the fact that illegitimate kids are running around, then more power to you,” said senior Christina Dibbs, an economics major. “I couldn’t [donate]. I couldn’t live with not knowing who my children are.”
Even if Dibbs gave permission to be contacted by her child[ren], she still finds psychological problems.
“Adopted kids already have it bad enough,” Dibbs said. “What if in 20 years some kid knocks on my door and say they’re my kid? ‘Sorry, I was just a poor college student who needed the money?'”
Like egg donors, sperm donors must also fill out an application that includes family and medical history. If they are called in, their semen and blood are tested. The whole procedure can take several weeks.
“There are two reasons [that men donate],” said Bill Gager of Fairfax Cryobank. “One: money. Once you qualify as a donor, it’s easy money. Two: many of our donors just want to help infertile couples.”
Gager said besides infertile couples, sperm donors would also be helping lesbian couples, single women, and police-lab workers who purchase them at a discounted price to perfect their DNA analysis.
As of today, there haven’t been studies conducted to see if there are any medical or psychological side effects of being a sperm donor. Gager confidently said that there are no risks.
“We’ve been in business for 20 years and if there were [side effects] we would have heard something by now,” Gager said.
As with many sperm banks, Fairfax attracts a large number of college and graduate students.
“Typically, college and graduate students are the ones who have the time,” Gager said. Donors can be asked over a period of six months to produce samples.
“It involves a certain commitment in order to be a donor.
“People who are working full time don’t have the flexibility to [come in].”
Victor Otusanya, a junior computer science major, said he wouldn’t donate “on my own initiative, but if someone really needed it, I wouldn’t be against it.”
“Yeah, I would donate just for the money,” said a freshman majoring in electrical engineering, who wished to remain anonymous.
“But I don’t expect some kid to come up to me saying he’s my son. I would totally deny him.”
Gager assures that there are no chances of that happening. At Fairfax Cryobank they are careful to keep the identity of the donor from any outsiders.
Even when the donor submits a childhood photo, an option at Fairfax Cryobank, it is made sure that “he’s not wearing a T-shirt that says Temple University on it, for example. We take out all identify information,” Gager said. “We have not had any case of a donor being contacted.”
If donors do want to be contacted, it’s not impossible. The donor can enter another program that would give his child, at the age of 18, his name and contact information.
Anne Ha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.