Bioethics Blogs

Is Cross-border Egg Donation Exploitative?

Monique Deveaux highlights some ethical concerns with cross-border egg ‘donation’.

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While international surrogacy grabs more headlines than paid transnational egg ‘donation’, the latter is far more common. Donor eggs are often used in contract surrogacy when the intending mother’s eggs are nonviable, or when the commissioning parents are both male. Some countries, like India and Thailand specifically prohibit surrogates from using their own eggs, chiefly to avoid conflicting claims of maternity. Aside from their use in contract surrogacy, the use of eggs from paid providers in what is called “donor-egg in vitro fertilization (IVF)” has become increasingly widespread. There are over 20,000 donor-egg IVF cycles annually in Europe, and nearly that number in the United States.

The laws regarding donor-egg IVF vary widely, as do the guidelines on compensation for egg providers. Consequently, individuals or couples seeking donor-egg IVF are increasingly crossing borders to gain access: Canadians typically go to the U.S., Italians and Britons go to Spain, Germans go to the Czech Republic, Australians go to Thailand or India, and so on. Indeed, donor-egg for IVF is now a leading cause of cross-border travel for reproductive care.

world map

Egg providers also travel to commercial IVF clinics, where their eggs are extracted and used in treatments for pre-arranged clients from abroad. Egg brokers sometimes pay egg providers to travel to clinics in Asian assisted reproductive technology (ART) hubs such as Bangkok and Mumbai, where foreign clients avail themselves of Asia’s more economical IVF treatment. In the case of both donor-egg IVF, commissioning parents typically prefer the eggs of providers that are phenotypically similar to them.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.