Bioethics Blogs

Gatekeepers of ethical egg donation

Kathleen Hammond calls for greater ethical attention to the regulation and oversight of Canadian fertility clinics.

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Last month I successfully defended my PhD dissertation, a study on egg donation in Canada, for which I spent the past four years interviewing Canadian egg donors, intended parents, and fertility professionals, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, counselors and lawyers.

The focus of debate when it comes to egg donation is whether egg donors should be paid. In Canada the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, 2004 prohibits the payment of egg donors beyond their receiptable expenses. Reasons for prohibiting payment include concerns about the commodification of eggs and the potential exploitation of egg donors. Specifically, there is a concern about the possibility that women, lured by payment, will not, or cannot, fully evaluate the risks of egg donation. This might be particularly true for women of lower socio-economic status, such as students, who have greater need for the money. Despite the ban on payment, I found that egg donors and intended parents are buying and selling eggs in Canada, or are seeking egg donation in countries, like the United States, where payment is permitted.

The topic of payment is an important one, and given my findings, it is certainly one that deserves attention. It should not, however, dominate ethics discussions about egg donation. Equally (if not more) deserving of attention are the practices of fertility clinic staff, who play a crucial role in the physical and emotional experiences of donation for both egg donors and intended parents.

Amidst the examples of superb care that were shared with me during my interviews, were an alarming number of stories from egg donors and intended parents who had received inadequate care from fertility clinics.

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.