Egg donation involves, first, the synchronizing of the egg donor and egg recipient's menstrual cycles, the stimulation of multiple egg production in the donor, and the stimulation of endometrial lining development in the recipient through hormone injections. Then, the donor's eggs are removed with a small needle, fertilized in vitro, and several days later successfully fertilized eggs are transferred to the recipient's uterus. A successful birth from a donated egg was first reported in Australia in 1984. By 1994, it was estimated that there had been at least 750 births from donated eggs in the United States. Egg donation has generally been used in cases in which the recipient is infertile but wants to experience pregnancy and give birth to a child who is genetically related to the recipient's (male) partner, or in cases in which the recipient is a surrogate, carrying the fetus of a donor who has fertile eggs but who cannot sustain a pregnancy.
Despite there being many fewer births from donated eggs than from donated sperm, egg donation has attracted more criticism and regulation in Europe and the United States than has sperm donation. While sperm donors are generally paid for their donations, in Great Britain, payment for egg donors beyond compensation for time and expense has been banned out of fear that women's reproductive capacities will be exploited, either by themselves or by others. In contrast, in some poorer countries, such as Brazil, women can receive access to reproductive technologies in return for egg donation. While it is not clear that refusing women compensation for their donated eggs constitutes a nonexploitative policy, it is true that health risks and discomfort are much greater for egg donors than for sperm donors. Complications from the procedure can cause infection and possible infertility, and hormone injections put women at greater risk for various cancers. Donors are also asked to undergo a battery of tests before donating, and the hormone injections and surgery can have extremely uncomfortable side effects.
Egg donation has also attracted particularly widespread controversy in cases where nonwhite recipients have chosen to receive eggs from white donors. While many are uncritical of the eugenic implications of white recipients examining elaborate donor dossiers and paying tens of thousands of dollars in order to choose the eggs of white, blond, blue-eyed, athletic donors with graduate degrees, the apparently eugenic choice by a nonwhite woman of a white donor raises popular ire to a much greater degree. Controversy has also erupted around the donation of eggs to postmenopausal women, and it has been made illegal in some countries. For example, in 2000, the donation of eggs to postmenopausal women was banned in Italy by the self-regulatory body of the medical profession, and in the Netherlands eggs could be donated only to women up to age 44, which is well under the average age of menopause. While egg donation provides opportunities to challenge some norms of motherhood and kinship, legal and popular censure often stem those opportunities, and the norm of women as mothers is inevitably promoted.
Typically, egg donors, unlike sperm donors, have not remained anonymous, and have often been recruited by egg recipients and their partners through personal connections with family and friends, as well as less personal methods such as newspaper ads and e-mails. Anthropologist Gay Becker points out the extensive work recipients and their partners do to define egg donors' relationships to, and within, the family, trying to include donors in some way as family members while refusing them any status as "mothers." Becker also describes recipients' efforts to "naturalize" egg donation, claiming kinship to their children though the biological link of pregnancy and birth rather than that of genetics. Like other new reproductive technologies, egg donation highlights, sometimes challenges, and in some ways reinforces cultural ideas about kinship, motherhood, and gender.
See also: Adoption; Artificial Insemination; Conception and Birth; Fertility Drugs; Obstetrics and Midwifery; Surrogacy.
Becker, Gaylene. 2000. The Elusive Embryo: How Women and Men Approach New Reproductive Technologies. Berkeley: University of California Press.