Egg ‘donation’ empowering? Really?

A young woman recently sent us a screenshot of an advert that had popped up on her Facebook newsfeed. It was from ‘London Egg Bank’ and said:

“We need amazing, caring and committed women like you to help others. Make a real difference to another woman’s life. Become an egg donor.”

And it had a lovely photo of two attractive young women smiling and drinking tea, and a button saying ‘Apply Now.’ Here it is:

UK egg harvesting advert

Conspicuously absent was any mention of the risks involved in the procedure or that it can lead to health problems, possibly infertility, and even death.

We shared the image on social media the next day and within hours we received reports from other young women in the UK that they were seeing similar adverts, also from London Egg Bank, on their social media feeds. Several women sent us screenshots. Here are a couple more:

Two more UK egg harvesting adverts

One of them said “Be amazing: be an egg donor! You can help another woman fulfil her dreams. #womenempowerment. £750 compensation.” And this time there was a ‘Learn More’ button.

Women reported that when they clicked the button, they were taken to the London Egg Bank website, which had lots of fluff but very little hard information. The Egg Donor FAQs page says categorically that donating your eggs will not affect your fertility:

“Donating your eggs will not affect your fertility. As with any surgical procedure, there may be some short term risks involved which may include Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). Studies show that OHSS can happen in 0.5% to 3% of all IVF cycles. However, only 1-2% are severe. This will be discussed with your consultant, and you will be carefully monitored to avoid any risk of overstimulation.”

In the social media discussion that ensued, two separate women said that they had friends who’d become infertile after undergoing the procedure and now bitterly regret it. Another woman said her friend had ended up in hospital with Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome soon after the procedure. All of which suggests that negative consequences aren’t as rare as London Egg Bank makes out.

And London Egg Bank doesn’t mention the potential long-term effects at all.

Even though egg harvesting has been practiced in quite large numbers for the last 30 years, there have been no studies on the long-term impact. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

“‘There is a total lack of information about the long-term [effects],’ said Timothy R. B. Johnson, the longtime chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School.” – Health Effects Of Egg Donation Not Well Studied

This means that young women are being seduced into submitting to what is in effect a medical experiment for someone else’s benefit.

How can this be ethical?

Some of the known risks of egg harvesting were set out in one of the talks at our What’s Wrong with Surrogacy? webinar.

UK egg harvesting advert

Payments and compensation

In the UK ‘compensation’ for egg ‘donation’ is capped at £750 per cycle and there’s a limit on the number of cycles you can undergo.

The UK is an extremely unequal society. Before the Covid-19 crisis, 14 million people were living in poverty while the rich were getting ever richer. In 2019 we were the fourth most unequal country in Europe. After nearly a year of lockdown and Brexit beginning to bite, inequality and the economic situation are now even worse and are likely to continue getting worse for some time.

We know that women are turning to prostitution as a last resort simply to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. The possibility of a few egg ‘donation’ cycles at £750 a throw might seem like a godsend to women struggling to survive under extremely difficult circumstances.

Any pretense that egg ‘donation’ is a purely altruistic act is delusion. The reality is intrinsically coercive. And to make it worse, there’s a whole industry getting rich off the risks that these young women are taking. A cannibalistic industry feeding off the financial desperation of young women and the anguish of infertile people.

How is this ethical?

Who gets to see the ads?

While many young women said they were seeing the ads on their social media feeds, none of the older women did. In fact, some older women said they’d never seen them.

The big technology companies harvest our data. Even if you don’t declare your age and birthday on Facebook, they are still likely to know roughly how old you are by your browsing and online shopping habits. They know our location. They probably even know our annual income.

These adverts aren’t just sitting on some advertising site waiting for people to seek them out. No. The big technology companies use the knowledge they have about us to deliberately target us with adverts that they think will appeal to us. They push the egg harvesting ads onto the social media feeds of young women, possibly those with particular characteristics.

And because the ads are ‘promoted’ (i.e. paid for), you have limited room for manoeuvre in getting rid of them. It’s not like an annoying acquaintance you can simply unfollow.

So, just because you’re not personally seeing these ads, it doesn’t mean your niece or teenage daughter isn’t.

How can this be ethical?

Egg harvesting ads in the US

It’s even worse in the US, where there’s no cap on what egg ‘donors’ can be paid.

This next ad showed up on a teenager’s social media feed in the US telling her she could make $7,000. She’s under 18 years old.

US egg harvesting advert

Here are two more. The one on the left is offering between $7,000 and $14,000. The one on the right doesn’t say what the payment is but it reveals something else equally sinister.

US egg harvesting adverts

Here’s some of the text from the right-hand one in case it’s too small for you to see:

“Hoping for a donor with blond/light brown hair, green/blue eyes, active/athletic, at least some college and/or degree. Sweet personality is important to them! […]

General requirements include BMI 28 or under, ages 21-28, no heritable disease.”

So, they’re not just looking for any old baby. They want a perfect, slim, clever, baby, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a sweet personality! Rich people paying for a superior child.

If this doesn’t send chills down your spine, it probably means we’re already lost as a human community – because it is clearly eugenics – the selective breeding of human beings. This was very popular in Nazi Germany, but after the Second World War it was roundly rejected as abhorrent. And yet, here it is again.

How can this be ethical?

Playing on women’s vulnerabilities

You may have noticed that common themes in the ads are “empowerment,” giving others the “gift of life,” and similar.

Here are a few more examples from the US.

This one says: “I Donated 33 of My Eggs to Complete Strangers for $10K – and I Have Zero Regrets. It was actually more empowering than I ever imagined.”

US egg harvesting advert

This one says: #BeTheChange – Egg donation changes lives!”

US egg harvesting advert

This one says: “Egg Donors – Finding Empowerment in Helping Intended Parents,” and, curiously, is followed by a photo of a woman holding up a sign saying “Women.”

US egg harvesting advert

So, if the lure of money doesn’t work – whether for a holiday or new house (like the next advert promises), or to pay your university tuition, or to feed your kids and pay your rent – they appeal to women’s generosity and kindness.

Girls tend to be socialised to be good and helpful and kind. Many girls are never taught to take care of themselves, to look out for their own interests, or to be wary of predators. And as women, don’t we all long for connection, for meaning, and indeed, for empowerment?

Is having your eggs harvested (at significant personal risk) for the benefit of strangers and a multibillion-dollar industry empowerment? Really?

And what about the children who might result from the eggs? What does it mean for them? Is it as smooth and easy as the big fertility industry makes out?

For a brief insight into what some adult donor-conceived and surrogacy-born children have to say, we recommend these presentations given at the UN in 2019.

What does it mean for society if we treat our eggs as if they are commodities?

Judging by how often big fertility use the #womenempowerment and #giftoflife lines, it would seem that this approach is successful. But it’s trickery and, surely, a violation of the most basic advertising standards.

Here’s the ad I mentioned above. It says: “Be an egg donor today. You benefit financially… Take a vacation, buy a home, pay for a wedding, pay off student loans…”

US egg harvesting advert

Do we really want our young women to sell their eggs, risk their wellbeing and perhaps even their life, simply to have a home, a holiday, a wedding or a college degree?

Would the big fertility industry get away with this if it were men who were being asked to take such risks?

Surrogacy adverts coming to the UK soon

In the UK, the Law Commissioners are working on proposals to make surrogacy ‘easier.’ One of their proposals is to remove all restrictions on surrogacy-related advertising.

If this is implemented, it is likely that we will soon see adverts similar to the egg harvesting ones, but for young women to become ‘surrogate’ mothers. And this time, the fee she can be paid won’t be £750. It will almost certainly be much more.

Currently she can only be paid so-called expenses, but these are in the region of £15,000 on average – which is more than a lot of women are paid in a year. But it is likely the fees will rise if the Law Commissioners’ proposals are implemented.

Here is a US advert. It says: “Can you help create a family? Be a Surrogate Mother. Compensation up to $50,000 + benefits. $1,000 signing bonus. ‘I cannot believe how wonderful and rewarding being a surrogate can really be.’ Call or apply today and learn how you can Give the Gift of Life!”

US surrogacy advert

This is what we can expect to see in the UK if the Law Commission gets its way. Well not all of us will see it. Older women won’t see it and nor will men. But young women will see it, whether they want to or not.

As one woman said on Twitter:

“As a working-class mother, I have experienced targeted advertisements from egg harvesting “donation” & womb rental “surrogacy” businesses. It is exploitative. When you are skint these adverts following you around social media is utterly vile…”

And of course, surrogacy carries even more health risks for women than egg harvesting. But you wouldn’t know that from the advert either.

How is this ethical?

Is this what we want for young women struggling in poverty in the UK? That they have to rent out their wombs and sell their eggs simply to survive? That they are continually tempted with the idea that if only they would, they could solve their financial problems?

Women, we need to resist this.

Late addition

17 March 2021

Since publishing this piece we have been sent more adverts that young women in the UK are getting on their social media feeds. Here is another example from a different company.

Further reading

Share your story

If you are suffering in silence after having had an unhappy, damaging or traumatic experience of ‘donating’ your eggs or being a ‘surrogate’ mother, please consider sharing your story so that other women can understand the risks and the reality. You can do this anonymously on our Share Your Surrogacy or Eggsploitation Story page.

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