Acquiring Eggs: $5,000 - $50,000 and a few weeks
Single and gay men need to arrange to use another woman’s eggs to become fathers through surrogacy. The choice of who will be the genetic mother of the child clearly has lasting implications, and it can be a daunting decision. There are two ways for men to secure donor eggs:
About 5 - 10% of men decide to use the eggs of someone they know. This could be a friend, the sister of the partner who is not contributing sperm, or someone else. This will cut down on the agency fee ($3,000 - $15,000), as well as possibly the donor’s fee ($5,000 - $30,000), but should not diminish the legal or psychological work that needs to be done. Such circumstances may carry more psychological, and legal risk, and so each party needs to take the steps to ensure the process runs smoothly.
Through an Agency
90 - 95% of men find find their egg donor through an agency or a third party. Note: the word “donation” is a misnomer - everyone is getting paid. The agency serves two purposes. The first is to match supply (donor eggs) with demand (intended parents). The second is to ensure the egg donor follows the required medical steps to fulfill the commitment. Egg donation agencies are typically mom-and-pop operations and the field is very much a cottage industry. There are no standards for excellence, there is no meaningful regulation, and no industry self-policing. In many regards, intended parents are on their own.
Clinic-Run vs. Standalone
A fair number of fertility clinics run their own egg donation agencies, and there are certainly trade-offs to working with a clinic-run agency versus a stand-alone agency. The positives of working with a clinic-run agency is that they typically do a better job vetting the donors medically and psychologically up front, so there is less risk that the donor you select will be unfit to cycle.
As a proxy for selectivity, nearly every clinic-run agency touts that they only accept 2 – 10% of all egg donor applicants. If a clinic profiles a donor who has cycled with this clinic in the past, that clinic knows how she responds to various protocols, so they can theoretically optimize results. In many cases, working through a clinic-run agency is cheaper. We have seen clinic-run agencies cut their agency fee by about 50% in comparison to stand-alone agencies. Finally, a clinic-run agency represents a one-stop shop and patients likely have to exert less energy coordinating yet another party.
The drawback to working with a clinic-run agency is that their pool of egg donors is often smaller. But, several larger clinics in cities like Seattle, Atlanta, and Boston, have banded together to pool their respective supply to address this. Also, the level of service is typically worse than what you would receive at a stand-alone agency. At a stand-alone agency, you will often work directly with the owner, who will do most of the search work themselves. At a clinic-run agency, many intended parents come to the realization this is an ancillary effort for the clinic.
Agencies are eager to “lock you in,” and so they may not start sharing information about egg donors until they receive a deposit. Agencies typically collect a $3,000 - $15,000 fee for their services. Naturally, you may not be prepared to place a deposit until you know that agency will provide you with eggs from a donor you like. This can create a logjam, so you may want to include in your contract that if the agency cannot provide you with eggs that you are satisfied with, the agency is only entitled to a portion of their fee, which should amount to no more than a thousand dollars or so.
For many couples, the process of selecting an egg donor takes weeks, though it can stretch out much longer. Thereafter, the eggs may be available instantaneously if they were frozen. Otherwise, the egg donor will prepare to do an egg retrieval cycle – if you’re planning on freezing embryos before transfer this timing is flexible, and if you’re planning on a fresh embryo transfer then the donor and carrier will need to sync up, which could take a few months to get right.
A major issue in the process is often that the donor you want is not available to you. Either her frozen eggs have been bought by someone else, or she is in the midst of cycling for another family. Some clinics have earned a reputation for luring intended parents in with profiles of women whom they know are not available. As we mentioned, it is important to know you can get your deposit back (depending on what you negotiated in advance) if you are not satisfied with who is actually available.
Selecting A Donor From an Agency or Egg Bank
The screening criteria to select an egg donor looks generally the same for most intended parents: they want a donor who (1) is young and healthy; (2) has demonstrated academic achievement from a first-rate university; (3) is of a certain ethnic make-up; and (4) is of a certain physical profile. In many ways, intended parents are looking for the same thing, and there is an enormous supply-demand imbalance when it comes to the sought-after donors. Don’t be surprised if you look through the catalogues of five agencies, each with 30 candidates, and of the 150 profiles, only one or two truly interest you. When an agency makes a suggestion for you, be prepared to hear three things:
- “We really think she is a fantastic match for you (given what is out there)”
- “There are multiple other motivated couples looking at her as we speak”
- “If you’re interested, act fast, place a $500 deposit, and take her off the market”
Along those lines, responsiveness is key. Most agencies will tell you to plan your donor search around a period when you can review new information, be decisive, and place a deposit. That often means assigning one member of the couple (normally whoever has a more predictable schedule, and travels less) to oversee the process. For many, this can turn into a part-time job.
Another consideration is whether the donor is willing to be an “open donor,” which is to say she is willing to meet the intended parents, or have the child know her identity when the child turns 18 years old. It’s becoming more common for open donor relationships to get put into place. One reason is that many intended parents want to hear from the donor if any health issues arise in her family that could have meaning for the child. More often than not, an egg donor found via a third party does not have an ongoing relationship with the child.
Typically, donors are paid on average $5,000 - $30,000, though that number is steadily creeping upwards. Expect the ballroom dancer with a degree from Yale to be at the higher-end of this scale. Donors who have cycled before typically command a 2x premium. Similarly, open donors often can command a premium, as can donors who possess a specific ethnic heritage (e.g. Jewish or Japanese) where there is a supply-demand imbalance. There is more debate as to whether the payment egg donors receive is “income” (taxable) or “reimbursement” (non-taxable), and many donors use the ambiguity to push up their pricing.
The donor will need to pass a number of hurdles before she is cleared to cycle. Psychologists will want to ensure both that she is emotionally stable enough to carry forward with treatment and that her intentions aren’t so payment focused that she’s undergoing treatment as a form of financial coercion. Her OB/GYN will need to sign off that the treatment is safe for her to undertake, and your reproductive endocrinologist will want to make sure she is not a carrier of any infectious diseases (e.g. HIV), genetic abnormalities (e.g. a recessive carrier for cystic fibrosis), and that she is a good candidate to respond well to hormone therapy (as tested by an AMH, AFC, and FSH).