Self-Regulation, Compensation, and the Ethical Recruitment of Oocyte Donors

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Levine, Aaron D.
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Although oocyte donation is an increasingly important component of fertility treatment in the United States, few regulations address this ethically-contentious practice. Rather, oversight relies on self-regulation in the form of ethics guidelines published by professional organizations. Among other topics, these guidelines include limits on the appropriate compensation for oocyte donors. Specifically, the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has written that "at this time sums of $5,000 or more require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate." Furthermore, they indicate that compensation should be for the lost time and inconvenience of the donation process and, accordingly not vary with the characteristics of the individual donor. This research aims to test compliance with these guidelines. To do so, it reports the analysis of a novel dataset of oocyte donor recruitment advertisements found in student newspapers. Nearly half of the advertisements offered compensation that the ethical guidelines deem "inappropriate" or "requiring justification." Regression techniques are used to explore the factors that explain differences in the amount of compensation offered to potential oocyte donors. This analysis finds that for advertisements placed by donor agencies or individual couples, the average SAT score of students at schools where the advertisements were placed was an important predictor of compensation, suggesting that donor personal characteristics are influencing compensation. Varying compensation in this manner would be another violation of the ethical guidelines. Further research will explore the effects of regional competition on the amount of compensation offered to potential oocyte donors. These results highlight the challenges associated with relying on self-regulation to ensure oocyte donors are recruited and compensated in an ethical manner and raise questions about the effectiveness of self-regulation as a means to ensure compliance with ethics guidelines.
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