You may have noticed the Life with Love Egg and Sperm Donor Specialists advertisement in last week’s edition. Renee de Winnaar, a director at Life with Love, says, “Students are a segment of our target market because of the criteria of the requirements of a donor, in terms of age, health and being educated.” Life and Love pays R6 000 for egg donation and R2 500 for sperm donation, in compliance with South African legislation.
Perdeby surveyed 117 students (59 female and 58 male) about whether or not they would donate their reproductive cells. Forty-seven percent of those students said they would be willing to donate (28 female and 27 male).
A common question students asked when surveyed was whether or not they would be paid for their donations and some students did change their answer to a “yes” when told that financial compensation was indeed offered. In countries like the United States, though, where laws concerning egg and sperm donation are less rigid, women can be paid $4 000 to $5 000 (roughly between R32 000 – R40 000) for their eggs.
In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Bonnie Steinbock explains: “Any time that we ask people to do things that impose significant burdens and some degree of risk, fairness may require that they be adequately compensated. At the same time, there’s a general consensus that it would be improper to offer enormous sums of money to egg (or sperm) donors that could sway their judgment.”
Some students were only familiar with the concept of sperm donation, but were unaware of egg donation. Egg donation may not be as widely known because of the increased complexity of the procedure used to obtain eggs. The process of retrieving eggs is a surgical procedure and requires anaesthesia in order to retrieve ooctyes (eggs that are not yet fully developed) from the ovaries. Because the process is surgical, there are risks and, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, also some concern that women who undergo multiple cycles of hormone stimulation may increase their risk of having ovarian cancer later in life. But De Winnaar says they see a higher number of female than male donors at their agency and they are less focused on the financial gain and more aware of the emotional compensation of helping someone else to have a child. “We find that women are more emotionally mature and understand the need for being a mother,” she says.
Keamogetswe Mekgwe, a first-year BEd FET in Human Movement Science and Sports Management, says he wouldn’t donate because he doesn’t always want to wonder if there might be a child of his out there. “It would be living with a constant uncertainty. I want to have an influence in my biological child’s life. And I don’t think students should be considering it. At this age, you’re not yet sure about what you want, most of what you do is on an experimental level. Even if it’s anonymous, there’s a chance that the child may grow up and want contact with me as their biological parent which may disrupt my life at that moment.”
Egg Donation South Africa is one of the largest agencies in the country. Founding member Mbali Mkhize says that most of the donors are young, university-educated women aged between 20 and 32. Agencies recruit and screen donors who have to undergo a detailed medical examination and blood tests, as well as a psychological assessment. Multiple agencies state on their sites that a donor can donate their reproductive cells five times, which limits the number of babies born with the genetics of one donor. Agencies record information on donors such as their physical appearance (including a baby picture), likes and dislikes, and academic achievements. No identifying information, such as a name or adult picture, is given to the new parents.This ensures donor anonymity.
Tahira Tarr, a second-year chemical engineering student, says, “If you have the opportunity to help somebody have what they cannot attain by themselves, then you have to do that. I wouldn’t consider it to be my child, it would be the child of [whomever] raises it. It’s just going to be my egg but it isn’t going to be so much of me. There’s only a genetic link but my baby would be the one I carry in my womb. But I wouldn’t mind meeting the child if that was what he or she and her parents wanted later on in life.”
Photo: Hendro Van Der Merwe