Body Parts for Sale

Jennifer Lahl

A recent 9th Circuit case legalized the selling of bone marrow, fueling interest, again, in expanding what body parts people can buy and sell.  The sale of human eggs and sperm are already legal – what is next?  Does the creation of a class of persons who generate income by sale (or rental) of their body parts represent advancement for humanity?  ‘We don’t allow people to buy and sell human beings, that’s slavery,’ says Dr. Robert Klitzman, director of the bioethics program at Columbia University. ‘Should we allow people to buy and sell human body parts?'”   

Jennifer Lahl’s personal interview with a young woman who sold her eggs to make money offers one “seller’s” perspective. (Editor’s note.)

Lahl: You saw an ad in a local paper looking for African-American egg donors.  The ad offered $6,000 for selling your eggs.  Why did you decide to do this?

Shavonne:* The clinic stated that if my cycle completed, I would receive the total sum of $6,000.  I thought it was a harmless way to make extra money, according to the minimal side effects that they presented during my orientation.  I was 28 years old, and the money motivated me to do this.

 Lahl: When you went to the clinic for the initial screening, you told me that you were one of the only young women there who asked a lot of questions about the risks and the procedure.  How were your questions received?

Shavonne: I was surprised that no one else had any questions at all and that I was the only one asking questions.  I think the clinic personnel felt a little annoyed with me, since I asked so many questions.

Lahl: After you had agreed to sell your eggs, the couple wanting your eggs changed their mind and no longer wanted your eggs.  What did the clinic ask you?

Shavonne: They asked me if I’d be willing to donate my eggs to embryonic stem cell research, and I agreed to that because I didn’t mind them being used for that.

Lahl: So you went ahead with the egg donation procedure, and you had your eggs retrieved on Thanksgiving Day, 2006!  Why that day?  And tell me about how you were feeling at this time.

Shavonne: I took a drug called Follistim to super ovulate me.  The retrieval went fine, but not too long after that my stomach started to swell, and every time I leaned over I could feel my ovaries “plop.”  I went to see the doctor, and he told me I had OHSS, and he then said, “We see girls like you all the time.”  I looked 4 months pregnant.  They told me to go home and eat a lot of protein.  My mother was staying with me at the time, and one night my stomach was so swollen and I could hardly breathe.  My mother said, “That’s enough,” and took me to the emergency room.  The nurse stuck a needle in my stomach, and it was a loud pop I could feel, like a balloon was popped.  She stuck a bag on the end of the needle to drain the fluid, and the bag filled with 2 quarts in about 5 minutes.  She had to quickly put another bag on and some of the fluid spilled on the floor.  She filled the next bag too—in all, 4 quarts were drained out of my stomach.  I stayed in the hospital for 2 1/2 more days while they drained more fluid.  I had a lot of pain in my abdomen.  The staff at the hospital would shake their head at me and took pity on me, because I was an egg donor and they said they saw this a lot.

Lahl: How are things for you now and how is your health?

Shavonne: It took a year and a half to clear up the medical bills.  My menstrual cycles are few and far between.  I was pregnant in 2008, but I lost the baby.  I hope to have children some day, and every time I do have a period, I get really excited because I rarely have them anymore.

Lahl: You told me about your girlfriend, who donated her eggs to her sister, but her sister never used the eggs.  Can you tell me any more of her story? Did she have the same health complications and end up in the hospital with OHSS, too?

Shavonne: Yes, she wants to tell you her story too, so please call her.  Her sister never used the eggs and never offered to pay her medical bills after the OHSS.  She had the exact same symptoms as I had, but the difference was, instead of admitting her to the hospital and draining the fluid, the doctors turned her away.  She had to let the fluid naturally drain from her abdomen.  She said that it took a few months to move around with ease and no pain.  She also stated that she looked 4 months pregnant and had severe lower abdominal pain.  She is currently unable to claim the eggs that she donated and was never compensated monetarily because of her relationship to the receiver.  She also has had a miscarriage since her donor complication.

Lahl: You contacted my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Schneider, because you found her article written about her daughter’s death.  Why did you want to tell your story?

Shavonne: I wanted to share my story because I am still confused and hurt by the situation.  It was a helpless, humiliating experience for me, and I had a hard time finding any information regarding complications from OHSS on the Internet.  I have read many stories regarding young women developing cancers and becoming infertile, and think that this information should be available to the public.  Even after I asked the questions, in the back of my mind I kept thinking that I would be in that small percentage of women, and I was.

Lahl: What would you say to a young woman thinking about donating/selling her eggs?

Shavonne: I would tell these young women that the money is not worth the health risk.  Should they proceed, I would explain the process and my story, and then tell them to do their own research.

Lahl: What do you hope will happen when others hear your story?

Shavonne: I hope that my story and all others will give these women a great depth and detail as to what really happens when you donate, and the causes and risks associated with the medication and procedure in general. My research had gaps in it because the stories of the complications were just not available.

*name changed to protect identity

This article first appeared as “Market Competition Collision: Eggs Needed for Research” in the online newsletter of the Center for Bioethics and Culture.   

2 thoughts on “Body Parts for Sale

  1. ‘We don’t allow people to buy and sell human beings, that’s slavery,’ says Dr. Robert Klitzman,
    Actually you can, it’s called ADOPTION

  2. Thank you for sharing this interview. I had no idea about the severe health risks of egg donation/selling. It’s important for women to be fully informed before considering such things. Sadly, legislators and medical facilities don’t consider the consequences of selling eggs or sperm on the resulting children. Does anyone think about how those children will feel when they grow up? Many have come of age and are now blogging about what it means to them. Does anyone think about the fact that there may be siblings out there who have no idea that they’re dating their brother or sister? It becomes a possibility when one person can donate many times.

    ‘We don’t allow people to buy and sell human beings, that’s slavery,’ says Dr. Robert Klitzman, director of the bioethics program at Columbia University. ‘Should we allow people to buy and sell human body parts?’”

    I have to disagree with the first part of this statement. We do allow the selling of humans in this country, it’s called infant adoption. Some adoption agency websites actually have price lists, they spend millions a year on “birthmother” outreach and adoption is a multi-billion dollar a year industry.

    I can only hope that someday humans learn compassion and stop using each other for financial gain.