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Human Eggs for Sale–the Case of Jen Littlefield

Jen Littlefield’s decision to donate her eggs was, she says, a way of “giving back.” Of course, “donate” in this case does not mean that Ms. Littlefield was not paid. Indeed, the University of Chicago undergraduate was paid $5,000 for her eggs and for undergoing the procedure that secured them for use by another woman. Ms. Littlefield told The Chicago Maroon, the university’s student newspaper, that she was motivated, at least in part, by the knowledge that she was conceived with the use of donor sperm–a fact she did not know until age 19. In her article, reporter Kat Glass described the payment as “nothing for a college student to scoff at” and explained that egg donors can be paid much, much more on the market. As Ms. Littlefield described the process, she had applied to a local agency for the role by filling out a 14-page medical history form and sending in the required pictures of herself and her mother. After psychological screening and legal briefings, followed by hormonal treatments, she underwent the egg-removal surgical procedure. As she sees it, this is simply a business transaction that might help someone have a baby–even if it is with her eggs. “You kind of separate yourself and know that, yes, your genes are going to be there, but it’s not your child because you’re not raising it,” she explained. “And genetics are a crap shoot anyway,” she added. Well, maybe not a crap shoot after all. Ethicist Mary Mahowald of the University of Chicago Hospitals understands that these egg donors are not chosen at random. “A U of C [University of Chicago] student–especially if she’s tall, athletic, attractive, and white–can probably get a fair amount” for her eggs, she told the paper. Tellingly, the only ethical issues raised as significant were related to economic inequality–the fact that only wealthy persons have access to the technology, and can afford to pay for expensive donor eggs. This article, published in the student newspaper of a major American university, reveals a reality unknown to most Americans. This country has become an open market for human gametes. The lack of legislation, combined with technological sophistication and the profit motive, allows would-be egg and sperm customers to advertise for designer genes, and “donors” to sell to the highest bidder. We must all know we are living in a new age when a woman conceived with donor sperm decides to sell her own eggs. What will the next generation sell?