Over the last few years, human gamete commerce had been a rapidly increasing and serious business. In the United States, approximately 5, 000 women were impregnated with donor eggs in the year 1999. Many of those eggs were drawn from college students. College campuses are potential prospects for gamete or egg brokers. Advertisements for egg donors are common in student newspapers.
Some ads go as far as promising thousands of dollars in exchange for eggs from athletic and tall women with high IQs. A large sum of money may also be given to donors of Caucasian origin who are tall and with blue eyes (Erickson, 2010). The United States and other countries such as Denmark have embraced the concept of human gamete commerce. However, others like Ireland have almost totally ignored the practice. The positive and negative aspects of human gamete commerce will be presented.
Proponents of the practice have asserted on the benefits that it has for both recipients and donors. There are some individuals who are permanently barren and unable to bear children. Such people can benefit from human gamete commerce. This means that fertile oocytes or sperms are given to recipients to produce the human progeny. On the other hand, financial benefits are derived by donors. With the ever-increasing population, the gap between the rich and the poor is rapidly widening. There are many people who fall in the low socioeconomic class, and can barely afford financial resources to meet the basic needs. For such people, selling gametes is one easy way of generating income or money for sustenance (Daniels, 2000).
There are millions of couples who experience distress because of infertility. Such couples have gone through countless procedures in an attempt to conceive but have been unsuccessful. The demand for gametes, especially sperms, is extremely high. Out of desperation to have a child, majority of the couples offer monetary resources to students and other men in exchange for gamete donation.
Gynecologists have noted that human gamete commerce is the only means of relieving distress in such desperate couples. Prior to 1998, it was the sole responsibility of gynecologists to give or not to give financial incentives to gamete donors. Gametes were donated on a voluntary basis. However, it was later concluded that failure to pay donors could lead to jeopardizing of gamete supply. This means that the increasing demand for gamete necessitates legalization of the practice (Erickson, 2010).
It is clearly evident that human gamete commerce is the key solution to the current shortage of donated eggs experienced globally. The practice is considered ethical as long as the focus remains solely on the needs of patients who are infertile. In this context, the practice can be viewed as an act of altruism. The principle of showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others is what is referred to as altruism. Donating a sperm or egg to an infertile couple is showing concern and devotion towards the couple. It is also a way of relieving the immense pain and suffering that such a couple as gone through in an effort to conceive. Proponents of the practice have therefore, argued that instead of condemning the people who sell or buy sperms, the practice should be perceive as an act of compassion (Daniels, 2000).
Another positive aspect concerning human gamete trade is its help in diagnosis. In this case, donors can be diagnosed of any infertility or other genetic problems that may be present. For instance, in the case of donating sperms, the gametes are thoroughly examined. In this way, donors with low sperm count or any infertility issues are informed. A sperm bank can also tell donors if the sperm has abnormal characteristics that can negatively affect the chance for fertilization or achieving conception. The same case is also applicable to women who donate eggs because they can be diagnosed of any genetic or infertility issues (Erickson, 2010).
On the negative side, the practice may raise health concerns. Hereditary or genetic disorders can be passed to the child. Though the gametes undergo rigorous tests, the accuracy of such tests is not guaranteed. This means that some genetic conditions may be undetected and consequently passed on to the recipient or expected child. Doctors have reported that an uncommon blood disorder, severe congenital neutropenia (SCN), is transmitted through sperm donation (Gynecology news, May, 2006).
A single sperm can transmit the condition to up to five children conceived via in vitro fertilization. This case clearly shows that sperm genetic disorders can be transferred to children conceived through fertility procedures, even with careful screening. Currently, screening for all possible genetic disorders is extremely difficult. Doctors have thus emphasized on the importance of extensive preconception counseling to couples opting for fertility procedures (Gynecology news, May, 2006).
In addition to health concerns, several ethical considerations have been raised by payments for human gametes. Some opponents have claimed that respect for the human body and human procreation diminishes following commercialization of reproductive tissues. It has been argued that there is a tendency of introducing a commercial character into human reproduction when the seeds for the next generation are up for sale. The human meaning of giving rise to the next generation may be undermined or obscured when essential materials of human procreation are bought and sold on a regular basis according to market valuation. Human life is valuable and should not be traded with monetary incentives (Schenker, 2011).
Proponents of the practice have shunned the concerns claiming that there is no difference between human gamete commerce and commerce in other activities such as paying for medical services received. They further assert that laboratories and clinics are generating money from helping in reproduction. They therefore, argue that excluding the donor from financial gain is unfair. Additionally, they claim that the ability to sell and buy gametes assists infertile couples to enjoy fulfilling activities of human procreation and rearing of a child (Daniels, 2000). However, this same point can be argued from a negative perspective in that, the infertile couples from low economic backgrounds may be left out. This is because they may not afford to buy gametes, even if they wanted to do so. This clearly shows that fertilization procedures may only benefit the rich in the long run.
Additional ethical concerns have been raised by ovum sales. The process of extracting the egg is not only onerous, but it is also risky for donors. Pressure to undergo such invasive procedures is created by the high fees paid to ovum donors, majority of whom are from populations that are economically vulnerable. This is especially the case with full-time students. Sharing of oocytes may lower the probability of successful pregnancy for donors undergoing fertility treatment. It has also been claimed that free market in ova could result to greater discrimination and inequality. This is mainly because the interested recipients may choose donors with specific traits such as high IQ, tallness and other physical traits (Erickson, 2010).
Speculations from the National Institutes of Health in 1994 indicated that high payments would be given to wealthy white ovum donors, while women from poor minority groups would receive significantly low payments. This is because ova from White donors were primary used by IN Vitro fertilization patients while ova from minority women were mainly used for research purposes. This is a clear demonstration of discrimination and inequality (Schenker, 2011). It is also essential to note that individuals are encouraged to become biological parents of children they will never know, owed to financial incentives for donation. Such donors may become involved in the lives of these children regardless of their wish to maintain anonymity, with the advent of laws that provide children with the right to know their biological parentage. This is thus, a negative aspect to the donors, since this is against their will, to remain anonymous (Daniels, 2000).
In conclusion, human gamete commerce is a practice that has gained popularity in many countries. While several ethical concerned may be raised by the practice. Failure to compensate donors may also raise ethical concerns. Monetary incentives are known to increase market supply, and the same cases can be applied to human gamete market. This means that compensating sperm or ovum donors will increase the supply of gametes needed to for fertility procedures. Additionally, many argue that it would be unfair not to compensate ovum donors, given the sacrifice that they make. It is therefore a win-win situation. While willing donors receive the compensation desired, those willing to provide monetary incentives for such gametes get the reproductive tissues needed for assisted reproduction.
Daniels, K. (2000) to give or sell human gametes-the interplay between pragmatics,
Policy and ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics, 26, 206-211
Erickson, T. (2010) Surrogacy and Embryo, Sperm & Egg Donation. Bloomington, IN:
Gynecology news (May, 2006) Rare blood disorder transmitted via sperm donation.
Retrieved on July 26, 2012 from http://www.health.am/gyneco/more/blood-disorder-transmitted-via-sperm/
Schenker, J. (2011) Ethics and Dilemma in Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Walter