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Self-Regulation, Compensation, and the Ethical Recruitment of Oocyte Donors

For a variety of reasons, the fertility industry in general and the practice of oocyte donation specifically is not heavily regulated in the United States, particularly compared to other developed countries. The result is that the fertility industry in the United States relies heavily on self-regulation, which generally takes the form of guidelines issued by two professional organizations—the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

The research I report here aims to gauge the effectiveness of self-regulation in the fertility industry, particularly as it pertains to the recruitment of oocyte donors. In it, I examine a novel data set—a collection of oocyte donor recruitment ads published in college newspapers across the country—to assess the extent to which the ASRM guidelines for compensating oocyte donors are honored in advertisements that recruit donors.

In brief, my analysis identifies several concerns with the self-regulatory approach. Nearly half of the advertisements offered compensation exceeding recommended levels. In addition, analysis indicated that average SAT scores at the college or university where an advertisement was published were a strong predictor of the compensation offered. This effect was strong and significant for advertisements placed by donor agencies and individual couples, but absent for advertisements placed by fertility clinics, which suggests that donor agencies and couples valued specific donor characteristics and based compensation on these preferences—a violation of the guidelines. These findings call into question the notion that the current self-regulatory framework provides appropriate ethical protections for oocyte donors.

For a variety of reasons, the fertility industry in general and the practice of oocyte donation specifically is not heavily regulated in the United States, particularly compared to other developed countries. The result is that the fertility industry in the United States relies heavily on self-regulation, which generally takes the form of guidelines issued by two professional organizations—the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

The research I report here aims to gauge the effectiveness of self-regulation in the fertility industry, particularly as it pertains to the recruitment of oocyte donors. In it, I examine a novel data set—a collection of oocyte donor recruitment ads published in college newspapers across the country—to assess the extent to which the ASRM guidelines for compensating oocyte donors are honored in advertisements that recruit donors.

In brief, my analysis identifies several concerns with the self-regulatory approach. Nearly half of the advertisements offered compensation exceeding recommended levels. In addition, analysis indicated that average SAT scores at the college or university where an advertisement was published were a strong predictor of the compensation offered. This effect was strong and significant for advertisements placed by donor agencies and individual couples, but absent for advertisements placed by fertility clinics, which suggests that donor agencies and couples valued specific donor characteristics and based compensation on these preferences—a violation of the guidelines. These findings call into question the notion that the current self-regulatory framework provides appropriate ethical protections for oocyte donors.

Aaron D. Levine, "Self-Regulation, Compensation, and the Ethical Recruitment of Oocyte Donors," Hastings Center Report 40, no 2 (2010): 25-36.
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