The Politics of Egg Donation / by Rachel Eva Lim

Why are increasing numbers of women choosing to sell their eggs?

Why should men have all the fun? While biologically male individuals have been hawking their swimmers to sperm banks since the 1950s, women have only recently been given the legal rights to sell their eggs for profit. 

The regulations surrounding egg donation differ from state to state, but American women can make up to $10,000 for a single egg (compared to around $100 per sperm sample). Eggs are harvested from a woman’s uterus after an intense period of genetic testing, medical screening, and self-administered hormone injections to stimulate egg production. 

Clearly this raises a host of questions—some economic, some ethical. Does this scheme take advantage of cash-strapped women with student loans or financial struggles? And isn’t it a tad difficult to stomach the fact that you could have a handful of genetically linked children running around somewhere? Perhaps there’s no better way to get to the root of these issues by speaking to someone who’s well acquainted with the process.

Simone Larson*, a queer graduate student living New York, began the egg donor procedure in early 2015 after signing up and matching with a Jewish couple looking for a donor with Larson’s traits. Other than the standard interviews, blood work, and extensive genetic screening, Larson also had to prove her Jewish heritage through a rabbinic court. School and work commitments have forced her pause the process for the time being, but Larson’s had ample time to work through her feelings about egg donation.

It was in a college class about reproductive technologies that Larson began unpacking the idea of consanguinity [biological relatedness], which allowed her to embark on the egg donation process in the first place. “I began to understand the ways that queerness deconstructs the traditional family structure and instead creates families based on choice, intention, and care,” she says. “I realized that the family I might have one day would likely not be consanguineous and would require the support of others, and I liked the idea of paying it forward by helping to create someone else's family.”

Egg donation also gave Larson a way to reclaim her physicality during a period of frustration about how her body was being used, objectified, and understood by those close to her and society in general. “I wanted to put myself back in charge of what my body meant and what it provided,” Larson reveals. “Donating eggs—literally transforming part of my body into a commodity that had value to someone else—was transgressive and radical to me.” She wasn't using her eggs for herself, so why not give them to someone in return for cash to pay off her student loans?

While Larson firmly believes that women should have the right to do as they please with their bodies, she has some pretty complicated feelings about egg donation in general. “I wouldn't do it if I wasn't compensated,” she admits. There are times when she feels fine with this decision, and moments when she feels uncomfortable about “selling her body parts.” “That's what it is—selling,” Larson asserts. “I don't think there should be so much stigma about that word.”

Many of her complicated feelings have to do with the fact that—as a healthy, white, college-educated woman—she possesses stereotypically desirable traits that place her in a plum position to profit from egg donation. “Donating eggs is like cashing in on my privilege,” she says. “But it’s also an act of queering the family unit as we know it and expanding the possible permutations of families, which I'm into.” 

Larson isn’t too affected by the thought that, if she restarts the process, there could be a bunch of children that share her genetic material out there in the world. “I don't think I'll feel connected to humans who share my DNA but have been carried and raised by other people,” she reveals. “I think I'd feel weirder about being a surrogate—I imagine there's way more bonding between a woman and a child she carries in her womb than one whose DNA she shares.”

*Name has been changed.

Commissioned by Ui CULTURE