Europeans Get Around Sperm And Egg Donor Regulations

December 03, 2006

The booming egg donor market in the United States is pulling in British donors who want to make extra money.

The sale of eggs is illegal in this country, but in America, the industry is worth an estimated $4.5bn (£2.4bn). Donors with the right physical, personal and intellectual attributes can attract fees of up to $35,000 for their eggs, with some in the industry claiming that as much as $50,000 has changed hands. Prices are rising, too: in New York, average eggs are fetching $8,000. About 15 years ago, the comparable figure was closer to $1,000.

The people who are paying only $8000 for eggs are making bad investment decisions. Top quality is worth paying for when it comes to the genetic inheritance of your children.

British women, banned from selling their eggs in Britain, are increasingly offering their eggs for sale in laissez faire America.

Now British women – including 25-year-old Alexandra Saunders of High Wycombe, who this week advertised her eggs on the internet to pay off a £15,000 credit card debt – are following suit.

Though a woman who would run up a nearly $30,000 credit card debt strikes me perhaps lacking in genes that contribute to prudence and the ability to engage in careful financial planning.

The article quotes an an American egg brokerage web site which claims it has experienced a 25% increase in applications by British women who want to sell their eggs. It seems likely British buyers are also travelling to the United States to get eggs and to get them fertilized and implanted while here. That’s a lot more expensive than it need be. If the British government would get over their socialist view that eggs shouldn’t be sold they’d save British buyers and sellers a lot of time, money, and aggravation.

There’s an underground egg trade in Britain where the market participants try to find ways around the regulatory limitations.

Controversially, one of the UK’s leading fertility experts, Dr Mohammed Taranissi, has argued that payment for eggs was already a reality in the UK. Dr Taranissi, director of Britain’s most successful fertility clinic, the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London, said that, via sizeable “expenses” for donors and free IVF treatment for those involved in egg-sharing programmes, payment was being made in different ways by clinics.

Given the risks and impositions of egg donations it seems entirely unfair for a government to tell women they do not have a right to charge what the market will bear for egg donation. The risks involved in use of fertility drugs to cause extra egg production might even include chromosomal damage to eggs in the ovaries. Governments should not limit how much women can charge for running these risks.

Those Danes are doing their manly duty to bring new babies into this world. Limits on sperm donation in many European countries have driven Denmark to the top of the European donor sperm trade.

In the same way that some nations have oil fields or bread mountains, Denmark boasts an ever-growing sperm lake. The vault at Cryos HQ holds around 75,000 straws. It is far too much sperm for a nation where only 65,000 children are born each year, so Denmark is a net exporter. The efforts of the men of Arhus, Odense and Copenhagen have helped to engender an estimated 12,000 children around the world, and each year “the Danish stuff” brings forth some 1,400 more.

An embarrassment of riches in Denmark has corresponded to a scarcity of donor sperm almost everywhere else. In Britain, as in Norway and Sweden, new regulations ending anonymity for sperm donors has decimated the ranks of men once willing to donate, while in April the arrival of the EU Tissue Directive is likely to make sperm banking a harder business to manage on a small scale. Cryos could yet emerge with something of a monopoly on the European market.

The London Bridge centre once supplied donor sperm to most UK fertility clinics. “We now just about meet our own needs,” says Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director. Previously, up to 15 UK clinics relied on semen from Cryos, but such imports are now restricted. “We send our most urgent cases to clinics in Denmark,” says Grudzinskas.

6% of Danish babies are born with the help of assisted reproduction technology (ART). The United States is lagging Denmark in terms of the percentage of women using ART. I suspect that is because Denmark has an older population and so a larger percentage of Danish women who are trying to conceive are in their 30s and 40s. Here’s how fast Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) usage has increased in the United States: (the CDC lags in reporting national results by a few years)

1996: 64,681 ART cycles, 14,507 live-birth deliveries, 20,840 live babies born.
1997: 72,397 ART cycles, 17,186 live-birth deliveries, 24,785 live babies born.
1998: 81,438 ART cycles, 20,126 live-birth deliveries, 28,851 live babies born.
1999: 87,636 ART cycles, 21,746 live-birth deliveries, 30,629 live babies born.
2000: 99,629 ART cycles, 25,228 live-birth deliveries, 35,025 live babies born.
2001: 107,587 ART cycles, 29,344 live-birth deliveries, 40,687 live babies born
2002: 115,392 ART cycles, 33,141 live-birth deliveries, 45,751 live babies born.
2003: 122,872 ART cycles, 35,785 live-birth deliveries, 48,756 live babies born.
Those 48,756 live births represent over 1% of total babies born in the United States in 2003.

Getting back to the second article, since sperm is much easier and less risky to produce the size of the sperm market in monetary terms is very small. Given the decline in the dollar you can almost multiply by 2 to convert these figures to dollars.

The global market for sperm exports has been estimated at between £25 million and £50 million a year. The US market is worth £5 million and £10 million and the European market is of similar size.

These are small amounts in dollars too. The article also reports on British women travelling to Spain to buy eggs. The sale of eggs isn’t legal in Spain but the cost of the effort can be paid. This sounds like in America where technically eggs can’t be sold but women can charge what the market will bear for the time they spend donating the eggs.

If you are in the market for sperm you definitely should go for top quality donors in terms of intellect, health, physical appearance, accomplisments, and desired personality characteristics. Even the best do not cost much. Scrimping on sperm donor costs is very foolish. Go for 140+ IQ donors.

European women are travelling to Denmark, Ireland, Belgium and Finland to buy sperm (often from the supplier Cryos of Denmark) because sperm donation is more difficult in other European countries. In many European countries sperm donation is difficult because donors are not allowed to be anonymous. Guys don’t want junior knocking on the door 15 years later when they are raising their own families.

By Randall Parker at 2006 December 03 05:02 PM Bioethics Reproduction