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Egg donors to challenge US payment rules in court

2 November 2015
Appeared in BioNews 826

Egg donors are suing the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) in a class-action lawsuit for setting a 'price cap' on compensation to egg donors.

The claim asserts that the guidelines are based on the reimbursement given to sperm donors and do not reflect what egg donation involves. 'Since the process of donating eggs is far more painful and risky than is the process for donating sperm, a price paid for donor services that does not account for those differences must be artificially low,' the complaint read.

The plaintiffs also argue that the guidelines for compensation are arbitrarily set and do not reflect the market value for donated eggs or the personal health costs involved. It states that the guidelines amount to a 'horizontal price fixing agreement', which is unlawful in the USA. The two defending organisations maintain that the guidelines are only recommendations, whose purpose is only to protect both egg donors and recipients.

'If the compensation became too high, there is a concern that it might be an incentive for donors to lie about their medical history. And it could induce young women to donate without thinking too far down the road,' lawyer Tripp Monts, who is representing the defendants, told the New York Times. 'The guidelines are just that – guidelines,' he continued. 'They're not a cap, as has been portrayed.'

The guidelines, which have not been adjusted since they were first established by the ASRM in 2000, advise that reimbursement above $5000 for egg donation requires 'justification' and that compensation above $10,000 is 'beyond what is appropriate'.

The market of egg donation is largely unregulated in the USA, in contrast to legislation in other countries such as the UK and Canada. Most, but not all, US clinics follow the guidelines, and all clinics that are member clinics of SART must abide to the ASRM recommendations. Despite these guidelines, compensation for donor eggs in the USA regularly goes up to $75,000 dollars and there are even reports of six-figure sums being paid out.

Law professor Kimberly Krawiec from Duke University, North Carolina, argued that the guidelines are a clear violation of the legislation against price-capping, and that if the subject had been anything except human eggs 'we wouldn't be having this conversation'.

In contrast, Professor of Bioethics Arthur Caplan at New York University said: 'Egg sale is not egg donation. Opening a free market in human eggs risks increasing bamboozlement of couples with phony eugenic promises of eggs that will result in beautiful geniuses and the risk of exploiting poor women dazzled by money into ignoring risk.'

The next hearing will take place in December and it is expected that the case will go to trial next year.

Egg Donors Challenge Pay Rates, Saying They Shortchange Women
New York Times |  16 October 2015
Focus on egg donors' health—not what they get paid
Fortune |  26 October 2015
Lawsuit accuses fertility groups of illegal price-fixing of human eggs
Bangor Daily News |  11 October 2015
Op-Ed: Egg Donor Antitrust Suit Exposes Flaws of an Underregulated Business
The National Law Journal |  26 October 2015
Price-Fixing Lawsuit Says Equal Pay Is Not Appropriate For Egg Donation
Annenberg TV News |  21 October 2015
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