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TV Review: What's My Body Worth?

28 August 2012
Appeared in BioNews 670

What's My Body Worth?

More4, Monday 13 August 2012

Presented by Storm Theunissen

'What's My Body Worth?', More4, Monday 13 August 2012 (presented by Storm Theunissen)

In this documentary of extremes, freelance journalist and documentary producer Storm Theunissen finds out how cash-strapped Britons can make money using their bodies. On one side, you have Storm's outlandish plans to make money by selling urine and earwax for medical testing. On the other, there is an altogether more interesting and insightful look at egg donation in both the UK and USA.

Storm visits Dr Peter Bowen-Simpkins, medical director of the London Women's Clinic, to see if she would make a viable egg donor. He explains that as a healthy 32-year-old she would be ideal. Storm asks what's in it for the donor; Dr Bowen–Simpkins explains under the current law only reasonable out-of-pocket expenses of up to £750 per cycle of donation can be paid. She questions him as to whether this is really a competitive market, with the UK paying £750 and the US paying up to $15,000, but Dr Bowen–Simpkins responds by raising the ethical issue of inducing (a polite word for bribing) young women - particularly those with debts from university - to donate their eggs. Storm concludes that the UK law is 'well meaning' but asks whether 'if we have a shortage [of donors] and payment increases willing donors, surely the USA markets a good thing?'

So Storm decides to go to USA and explore what her body's worth across the pond. Armed with professionally done photos, Storm launches herself on Los Angeles - the 'Egg Donor Capital of the World'. It seems that US parents want it all - Miss World with brains and the virtue of a nun.

Storm meets Shana, an egg donor and part-time actress who gushes platitudes about how great egg donation makes her feel - and that it's not about the money. Seemingly convinced by Shana's testimony, Storm then meets Shelly Smith, a thin, blond-haired and clearly botoxed egg broker, who runs a 'top' egg donor program. Donors are ranked and on her books are elite athletes, actresses and PhD students. Shelly says that only two percent of applicants are successful in becoming donors with her and her explanation that no-one comes in wanting a five-foot-five egg donor weighing 160 lbs, left an awkward sense of eugenics in the selection of donors.

Having been turned away by Shelly (at 32, Storm is too old to be a donor for most doctors, apparently), Storm turns to PlanetHospital - who take on egg donors that other agencies won't. She meets the bumbling co-founder and former movie producer, Rudy Rupak. At $5,500 plus travel and accommodations costs, PlanetHospital offers much lower compensation then other agencies. Rudy openly admits that the reason why most donors come to them is because they need the money now. 'No-one wakes up one morning and decides I am going to be this benevolent', he says.

In no time at all Storm is being examined by a US doctor. The juxtaposition of this examination, compared with Dr Bowen-Simpkin's, needs to be seen to be believed. Dr Freinman does not like answering Storm's quiet, routine post-examination questions and does not appear to explain any risks to her - Dr Freinman states that it's not normal to have these types of conversations. Storm is then shown how to inject herself with the relevant hormone to stimulate her egg follicles, with the treatment expected to start the next day.

It then becomes clear that Rudy has already promised Storm's eggs to an infertile couple in Texas, who are getting tickets to fly to Los Angeles to meet her. Storm is concerned by the pace things are developing, including video chats with the couple, and after a long, difficult conversation Storm decides not to donate her eggs. For her, it would be too much like 'giving up her baby'.

I found this latter half of the documentary extremely enlightening and thought-provoking. It was very interesting to see the somewhat naïve Storm wrestle with the complex medical, legal, social and ethical issues of egg donation. My biggest criticism is that the documentary was only 30 minutes long and the speed with which the issues were dealt made it superficial in areas. My advice is to miss the first eight to ten minutes of the documentary on fetish websites and the selling of urine, as what's left is a compelling, if brief, look at egg donation in the UK and USA.

5 May 2015 - by Daniel Malynn 
Annie Caulfield's play has some truly touching moments and clever insights into egg donation...
15 October 2012 - by Daniel Malynn 
'Win a Baby' follows the trials and tribulations of Camille Strachan, a former City worker and model, who plans to launch the UK's first IVF lottery. Unlike many documentaries where the maker's own thoughts are thrust in front of anyone else's, the commentary is fairly neutral, allowing viewers space to form their own opinions...
16 April 2012 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a new strategy to increase awareness of egg and sperm donation and to improve the care of donors. It aims to address perceived obstacles to donor recruitment aired during its consultation on gamete donation last year....
5 December 2011 - by Dr Mary Yarwood 
A ruling from a US federal appeals court means that blood stem cell donors may now receive a form of payment for their donation. A federal law that prohibits payment for organs does not apply to stem cells taken from bone marrow using a new method which avoids the extraction of bone marrow itself, the court said....
24 October 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
It was the recommendations to pay for the funeral expenses of organ donors and to remove the cap on compensation for gamete donors that made the headlines. But it is not the specific recommendations of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report 'Human bodies: donation for medicine and research' that it will be remembered for...
17 October 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A report on the donation of human bodily material for medicine and research has made several recommendations including removing the current cap on egg and sperm donor expenses in the UK...
17 October 2011 - by Professor Eric Blyth, Jennie Hunt and Professor Olga van den Akker 
We welcome much of what Kamal Ahuja wrote in his recent BioNews Commentary 'If it ain't broke don't fix it'. Like him, we believe there is no good evidence to demonstrate that paying 'donors' would increase the supply of donated sperm or oocytes. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that properly constructed donor recruitment programmes – such as the one pioneered at the London Women's Clinic – are capable of recruiting a good supply of altruistic donors...
Kiran Infertility Centre terminates relationship with PlanetHospitalComment ( - 12/11/2012)
We would like to inform you that Kiran Infertility Centre has decided to terminate its relationship with PlanetHospital.  the reason for the same was because of all the irregularities and fraud and money laundering  committed by Mr. Rudy Rupak Acharya during his time with PlanetHospital as CEO of PlanetHospital.  He has committed acts to de-fame Kiran Infertility Centre by spreading wrong information, creating false web-sites and e-mail IDs of Kiran Infertility Centre and its associates and providing false information to clients.
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