Hide and Seek: The Attempt to Find Asian Egg Donors
In November 2006 the Washington Post published an article on the relative lack of Asian egg donors to the demand of recipients. The article follows Regina and Dennis Joyner, a couple who eventually gave up looking for an Asian egg donor after an 18 month grueling search. Another couple found success using donated eggs and a surrogate mother from Cambodia. Lastly, the article interviews Serena, a 28 year old student from China, who eventually decided to donate her eggs.
Fast forward to November 2011, almost exactly five years later, and the Asian egg donors are still lagging behind recipients, only this time the recipients are willing to pay more, much more, than five years ago. Currently, the average price of an egg donor is around 5,000 – 7,000 dollars. Yet an article and report from the San Francisco Bay Area’s local CBS affiliate showed that recipients would be willing to pay upwards of $100,000 for the perfect Asian egg donor match.
The tactics for recruitment have changed as well in these past five years. The Washington Post article states that the local Asian newspaper frequently runs advertisements for Asian egg donors. Advertising in ethnically specific areas is not uncommon:
Some area agencies post fliers in ethnic marketplaces. If they find one Asian donor, they might ask her to ask her friends. Still, some Indians and Asians may resist; there’s a desire to keep bloodlines pure, particularly among immigrant groups trying to remain true to their heritage.’We tried advertising in an Asian newspaper,’ says Michele Purcell, a nurse at Shady Grove. ‘No response.'(Washingtonian, 2007).
While the San Francisco Chronicle article shows that fertility clinics have started targeting college campuses, especially elite, prestigious universities like UC Berkeley, Stanford and UCLA. Linh, 21, is one such student:
‘Basically they said, they chose me because they thought I was pretty, tall and a Berkeley graduate,’ she said … They are designer genes that can command unbelievable fees in the egg donation market, especially when the fertile hunting grounds include elite schools such as Stanford University. The school paper regularly runs ads for Asian eggs. (The San Francisco Chronicle, 2011).
Clearly the trend is that Asian donors are in most places, nearly impossible to find. (The San Francisco Bay Area in California reports not having as many issues finding donor-recipient matches, likely due to the relatively high Asian American populations.) But why are ethnic donors so hard to find? Perhaps one of the biggest reasons is just that the Asian American population is smaller than that of the Caucasian American population. And while Asian egg donors are sought after with ferocity, Jewish, Middle Eastern and Indian egg donors are equally difficult to find. Many articles, doctors and even donor websites point to cultural beliefs and practices surrounding pregnancy, kinship and blood ties.
‘Chinese people pay very much attention to the blood relationship,’ Serena said. ‘They think that’s a very, almost sacred thing. So they cannot allow that their blood is somewhere else.’ (The Washington Post, 2006).
Cultures that place heavy weight and belief upon sacred familial relationships and blood purity are less likely to become donors. It is interesting that there are so few Asian egg donors, yet so many Asian recipients because it would seem that the cultural implications that prevent donorship would also prevent families from wanting an egg donor – they are two sides of the same coin.
Cultural and religious beliefs seem to be the biggest reasons why many individuals do not donate, but they are not the only reasons. Health risks and the treatment of donors (by the fertility clinics and doctors) also scare away many potential donors. Donors undergo at least a month of daily hormone injections to spur ovaries into producing multiple eggs. In some cases, the ovaries can become overstimulated and the donor can get severely ill.
Shady Grove’s Levy says such dangerous complications from hyperstimulation occur in 1 to 3 percent of the population or less. ‘We’ve had about 1,000 donors over the years,” he says; ‘fewer than five required hospitalization.’ (Washingtonian, 2007).
Then come the surgical risks from the egg removal which can render the donor infertile or even worse. The medical treatment that both the donor’s and recipient’s body endure is abundant. One of the biggest turnoffs for potential donors is the way doctors and even fertility clinics treat the entire egg donation process.
“The first time that Jessica  went to a fertility clinic to donate her eggs, she left uneasy. The doctor there made ‘me feel like my organs were nothing to them but a business transaction.’ She’d nearly walked away from egg donation.” (Washingtonian, 2007).
Though there are many circumstances preventing numerous egg donors from stepping forward, it looks like ample, truthful, and well thought marketing and advertising could help draw donors. For instance, Serena, the 28 year old Chinese student, decided to donate her eggs because the fertility clinic she visited had employees that spoke fluent Chinese – making Serena feel more comfortable and well-informed. Fertility clinics tend to cater more towards recipients while relying on the moral and monetary compensations to draw donors. Yet if fertility clinics clearly advertised their health and safety plans for donors, and promoted less business-oriented attitudes, perhaps more donors of all ethnicities would come forward. The health, safety and care of donors should be one of the top priorities for fertility clinics because though they are largely anonymous and unseen, “Egg donors are the unsung heroes of infertility” (Washingtonian, 2007).