‘We simply don’t know’: Egg donors face uncertain long-term risks
We found this article to be a very interesting look at the ethics of egg donation. It’s good food for thought, particularly in light of the fact that there has been very little scientific research on the long-term outcomes for egg donors, nor has there been systematic follow up with the women.
Last year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention did begin requiring that fertility clinics report information on their donors. The CDC collected data on the short-term consequences of egg donation, and the expanded data set will give insight to issues like increased risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. But the long-term effects are still not being addressed.
Most of the research conducted on egg stimulation and extraction has focused on women undergoing in vitro fertilization, or IVF. It’s the same procedure as an egg donation. But the populations are different. Most women undergo IVF because they are infertile. Often, that infertility is a symptom of other health problems.
Donors, by contrast, are chosen precisely because they don’t have such health problems.
“I think it’s fair to say that they’re not the same population,” said Dr. Richard J. Paulson, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and a specialist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “I think that it is a valid point that we do not have very good long-term follow-up,” he said.
There was one study done in 2005 that surveyed 80 women who had done egg donation as much as 20 years previously. But the sampling was too small and the study was far from scientifically sound, with its lack of medical records to document the respondents claims. It’s that “dearth of solid data [that] frustrates and enrages” Dr. Wendy Chavkin, who is a professor of public health and obstetrics and gynecology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a co-founder of Global Doctors for Choice, a reproductive health advocacy group.
Egg donation nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, when there were more than 18,000 donor cycles in the US, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The CDC reported that the number of donor cycles was 20,481 in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available. Experts predict the number will continue to rise as more women decide later in life to have children.
Chavkin argues that it’s not responsible to do so many procedures without more data.
“To be going out there and using these procedures in a widespread manner violates every aspect of public health policy. You’re supposed to have proof of efficacy, ethicality, proof of no other route,” she said. “Maybe donating is great, and a big boon, and consequences are minimal. But we don’t know.”