Claire Burns, Raquel Cool and Sierra Falter co-founded We Are Egg Donors, the world’s first self-advocacy group for egg donors, run by egg donors. Here, Claire tells her story and shares her opinions about the egg trade in Canada.
I sold my eggs in 2004, but started the process in 2003. I was 21 years old at the time. At first, I was able to talk openly with the clinic staff about compensation. But, when the Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Act was passed in early 2004, I was told that I could no longer speak about money with my liaisons at the clinic – they could get fired for even discussing it.
I ended up being paid under the table. A friend of mine met the intended recipient in the lobby of the clinic while I was upstairs having the eggs extracted. As arranged – like some espionage film or blind date – my friend wore a blue raincoat, the other woman had a red umbrella. As I was watching my eggs being sucked out of me on a TV monitor hanging above my head, my friend was handed a manila envelope with $4000 cash in 20 dollar bills. Thankfully, I suppose, there was some form of honour system in place. I sold her my eggs and she did indeed pay, but what recourse would I have had if she hadn’t paid?
While the AHR Act makes it illegal to purchase eggs, financial transactions like the one I was involved with do occur in Canada – they just happen in a clandestine way. In fact, I would argue that the AHR Act has contributed to the creation of a black market where both egg providers and recipients are at risk of being taken advantage of – both at home and abroad.
Canada is different from the United States where there are egg brokerages available for buyers and sellers. I didn’t have this experience – I communicated directly with the buyer via email (“sweetbabydreams21”) and (at least initially) with the clinic. Canadians are now being wooed to travel to the US to sell their eggs. A few weeks ago, a Toronto woman flying to Southern California to sell her eggs asked us what she should say to the border guards if asked about the purpose of her trip. She wanted to know the legal ramifications of selling her eggs across the border. Another Canadian woman had extreme adverse effects from the drugs she was taking. She spoke to the American broker about wanting to stop the process. The broker threatened that if she stopped she’d get no money. I find it troubling that the Canadian government is turning a blind eye to the fact that Canadian women are being medically and emotionally compromised in another country. Where is the accountability?
The fertility industry in Canada is mostly privatized. The doctors are paid, the nurses are paid, the other clinic staff are paid, and the pharmaceutical companies are paid. The prospective parents are paying. Why, in this very monetized industry, should the woman who provides the eggs – the person who supplies the commodity without which the doctors, nurses and others could not provide the service for which they are paid – do this for free, especially when she is the one to bear any potential health consequences.
In my case, I didn’t react adversely to the drugs and had no complications post extraction. As for any long-term health effects, no one has ever checked up on me. I mean, honestly, is lupron even legal? About a year ago, I tried for a year-and-a-half to get pregnant and absolutely nothing took. I am scared that maybe my egg donation has contributed to me possibly being infertile.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a more-than-willing participant in the egg trade, but if I had known then what I know now – in terms of the non-existent medical research – I would not have gotten involved in this business. To me, the lack of care for the women who provide the eggs for someone else’s fertility treatment is the single most frightening aspect of the fertility industry. The second is that, for the most part, the prospective egg providers are not made aware of the fact that there is no after-care. If more women egg providers would speak up, “we are people, not merely vendors”, then these processes would have to change to account for our health considerations.
In closing, I want to say that I am really glad I sold my eggs. Somewhere out there, there is a nine-year-old boy named Alexander who might have my eyes. That’s amazing.
The problem is not with donating or selling eggs, the problem is with the system that manages the transactions. Egg providers should be empowered. They should know their rights – the right to ask for separate legal representation, the right to informed consent, as well as the right to proper medical follow-up and responsible medical care.
Claire Burns is a founding member of We Are Egg Donors (WEAD).
For further information on this topic read Alison Motluk’s The Human Egg Trade published in The Walrus, April 2010.