Friday, October 17, 2008

Infertility - Jewish egg market

Haaretz reports
A small but growing number of Jewish Israeli women are traveling to the United States to donate their eggs to infertile Jewish couples undergoing in vitro fertilization - a trend that some say strengthens Jewish continuity but also raises serious moral questions about the
commercialization of fertility.

There are at least three egg donor companies operating in the United States that deal primarily or entirely with Jewish Israeli donors. These companies offer applications and donor information in Hebrew. They also provide staff in America and Israel who are proficient in Hebrew and claim a familiarity with, and sensitivity to, Jewish law.

"When you have your basic right to reproduce taken away from you, you are always going to want to find the thing closest to you," said Judy Weiss, a registered nurse who is the founder of A Jewish Blessing, a New Jersey-based agency that deals exclusively with Jewish donors and recipients. "It's not really about religion. It's about a genetic group, a family. We have a shared history of suffering, a bond. We are part of the same club."

But while demand for Jewish donors' eggs is growing, infertility doctors say that few American Jewish women are willing to go through the process of donating eggs. There are grueling forms to fill out and weeks of psychological and physical screening, and then there's nearly a month of daily hormone injections and close medical supervision. Finally, there's the egg retrieval - a procedure done under anesthesia in which a needle is inserted into the donor's ovaries to pluck the ripe eggs. These eggs, combined with the sperm of the recipient's partner, produce embryos that are inserted back into the uterus of the recipient or inside a gestational carrier.

"I want to help my people grow," a woman who is an egg donor said in an interview with the Forward. (She and five other egg donors interviewed asked to remain anonymous.) But this is more than an altruistic act: While the sale of eggs is forbidden, "compensation" is allowed. Compensation in New York is about $8,000 for a single cycle, during which the donor takes hormone injections and eggs are extracted. The recipient couple or their insurance pays for the medical costs, including the drugs.

"There's definitely a specialty market for Jewish eggs," notes Debora Spar, the new president of Barnard College and the author of the 2006 book "The Baby Business," which is about the political, economic and social issues surrounding reproductive technology. "This is a market that's growing rapidly, partly because it's becoming more acceptable to use donors' eggs - and because it can be a very good solution for women above a certain age."

Spar is troubled by this new intersection between young Israeli donors and older American Jewish women trying to conceive. "There's a moral hazard that if women do increasingly believe they could put off child bearing for longer, they might choose to do so just because it's medically possible," she said.

Others see the relationship in more spiritual terms. "My mission is to explain that donors are women who are giving the most wonderful thing there is to give, and are doing it from the bottom of their hearts," said Ruth Tavor, who opened NY LifeSpring seven years ago to recruit Israeli egg donors after her own long but eventually successful fertility treatment. She now has 203 Israeli donors on file. [...]

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