Concerned, confounded or clueless: Are women considering the risks involved in egg donation?

In a recent study published in the July edition of the Ethics, Bioscience and Life journal* Dr Satvinder Purewal investigated the attitudes of non IVF patients towards oocyte (egg) donation. Those results indicated that age, education and the importance of a genetic link between parents and children each indirectly influenced the attitudes of women towards egg donation. Opinions about parenthood were seen as a particularly important factor in determining a potential donor’s motivation.

Although these findings may appear unremarkable, what is extraordinary about this study is the fundamental omission made by its author. This research casually ignores the significance of potential health risks, which donors are systematically exposed to, in the decision-making process of egg donation.

The side-effects of this procedure can range from bloating, cramps and headaches to kidney disease, blood clots, infertility and in extreme cases, death. Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which occurs in around 2% of cases, can give rise to any of the more serious side-effects. OHSS occurs where the ovaries react badly to the fertility drugs used to cultivate abnormally large numbers of eggs for donation.

In an attempt to yield the greatest number of eggs possible, women’s ovaries are first ‘turned off’, a process which can induce premature menopause and hence infertility. They are then rigorously stimulated to produce as many as 30 to 50 eggs. During natural fertility processes, only one egg would fully ripen for ovulation but if the eggs are removed before ovulation, many of them can be matured in the laboratory.

The invasive nature of the egg donating procedure has been totally overlooked in Dr. Purewal’s research. Such a critical exclusion completely undermines the impact of this study. It may also be indicative of how worryingly uninformed potential donors are to the risks involved. When considering whether to embark on any medical procedure, particularly one which cannot be justified as a necessity, serious health implications should undoubtedly underpin the final decision-making process.

*Purewal, S. Attitudes and intentions towards volunteer oocyte donation. Ethics, BioScience and Life. 19, 19-26 (2009)
Reproductive BioMedicine Online: on web May 2009.

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