Blue Devilled Eggs

Every month or so, there is an ad in The Chronicle. Way in the back with the ads looking for bartenders and care for the elderly. The ad has been placed by a loving couple. They'd like you to be tall. Maybe athletic. Your SAT scores should be at least 1400. Maybe they want brown hair, green eyes and Anglo-Saxon descent. Or maybe they want blonde hair and Scandinavian descent. They prefer there be no messy medical history: no psychotic aunt or history of cancer.

These couples want college students' eggs. And they're willing to pay a hell of a lot of money for them. Sometimes it's around $5,000, but other times it can top $15,000 or $20,000. There have been cases where the price offered for these eggs has reached $50,000.

It's a lot of money for what they're asking for, considering what the procedure for extracting eggs is. The donor must take fertility drugs so that they produce excess eggs, submit to an ultrasound or two and then go under anesthesia while a doctor extracts the eggs with a needle.

The whole process takes some time, and does involve a big needle going somewhere less than fun, but it's hardly overly-invasive or traumatic.

The ads these would-be parents place raise many questions, mostly about the ethics of shopping for an egg, of defining the donor to such a degree that it seems they might, in fact, be designing a baby. One also wonders if they realize that having an attractive Harvard-educated woman provide the egg for their baby does not guarantee that their baby will be attractive and smart.

What I'm wondering, though, is do we, women from elite universities who may or may not meet the requirements these couples put forth, have the right to charge such exorbitant fees for something that is essentially useless to us? And what are the repercussions of this exchange?

In 1999, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine came to the conclusion that a woman should be compensated for donating her eggs to a couple, but that compensation over $5,000 requires justification, and anything over $10,000 is inappropriate. This announcement hasn't seemed to influence anybody greatly, but it makes sense. As women deeply entrenched in our education, some with years and years to go before we even consider having children, we barely think about our eggs, much less assign any great value to them.

The question arises: If something is worth nothing to me, but it's worth $20,000 to someone else, do I have a right to sell it to them for that much? A friend of mine insists that something is worth what people will pay for it. I disagree. Women should be compensated for the trouble they go through, but nothing more.

These ads also tend to appear in newspapers of Ivy League colleges and the like. They show up elsewhere, but more money tends to be offered to the top-tier college students. It seems that my ova are worth more than someone from N.C. State. While part of me is secretly pleased by this new prestige, I also find it a little disturbing. Because these ads begin to look like they're assigning reproductive value to college-educated women, making them into commodities.

In 1985, Margaret Atwood wrote a book called The Handmaid's Tale. In it, a nuclear explosion renders most of the world's women barren and the few fertile women become highly valued. Despite this value they are basically enslaved and awarded to rich and powerful men. These "Handmaids" are commodities. Their reproductive fitness elevates their value but also reduces them as people.

Don't worry. I'm not insane enough to say that we're anywhere near Atwood's dystopia. But it does make you think, in a country where my ova are considered by some to be more valuable than my friend's because I'm taller and my SAT scores are higher, and I can ask ridiculous amounts of money for them, something is wrong.

Obviously, couples still want these "valuable" eggs, and college students still need money, so this reproductive trade will continue. As long as there is someone willing to sell and someone willing to pay. I'm lucky enough not to worry about how I'm going to pay for my education, so I don't have to make decisions like this. It's probably a pretty tempting proposition when you're looking at paying off student loans years after you've graduated. But, when you engage in this kind of exchange, I think you have to consider what kind of value you are being assigned, and whether how you value yourself matches up.

Lindsay White is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Tuesday.


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