1. Health
Rachel Gurevich

Is It Wrong to Raffle Off an Egg Donor IVF Cycle?

By April 1, 2010

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For the past few weeks, the big controversy in the fertility world has focused on the ethics of giving away fertility treatment, specifically an egg donor IVF cycle. Fertility clinics in the United States have been holding raffles like these for years, where couples can "win" either part of a fertility treatment cycle, or a full cycle, including egg or sperm provided by a donor.

Typically, it's done as a publicity stunt by the clinic. In other words, "Come to our informational meeting, and maybe you'll be the lucky winner of an IVF cycle." Or, "Write us an essay that moves our heart on why you should receive a free IVF cycle."

Fertility treatment is extremely costly, and when egg donation is involved, one cycle can cost up to $25,000 (and sometimes a bit more). I understand the temptation to enter raffles like these, especially for those who could not afford treatment otherwise.

But as for the clinics doing the raffles, it all feels a bit icky to me. I understand that treatment doesn't always lead to a baby (and perhaps that is one of the many reasons it feels icky), but when I see these raffles being offered, I read them as saying, "Win a chance to have a child! Luck has not been on your side yet, but perhaps through our marketing-inspired lottery, you'll finally get lucky and win a baby!"

And no, I'm not getting into the entire debate on when life begins. However, when I see these raffles, that's what it feels like to me.

Plus, you're not even guaranteeing the winner a baby. You're winning the chance to take another chance, really. IVF is not guaranteed, no matter how great a clinic's success rate is. If the treatment doesn't work, will the clinic also pay for adoption costs (also typically high) if that's the couple's wish?

I also have to concur with Pamela Madsen's point, which she wrote about on her blog The Fertility Advocate, that we must also consider the donor's feelings. How would we feel if we knew our eggs or sperm or embryo, something that was part of us, were being raffled off? Especially as part of a marketing plan by some clinic?

Like I said -- icky. It feels icky.

That said, I do know that the cost of fertility treatment is high, and I do like the idea of couples getting a break in some way. But how about instead of a clinic raffling off treatment or donor gametes to one couple, they instead gave everyone in the clinic a few hundred dollars -- or a couple thousand dollars -- break.

The clinic gets to market themselves ("Every year, we choose one month randomly to give our clients a big break in price!"), and lots of couples who were already going through treatment get a deal. That feels less icky to me.

What are your thoughts? Do you think raffling off IVF treatment or donor gametes should be allowed? How would you feel if it were your eggs or sperm or embryos being raffled off? (Yes, even if you agreed, how would you feel about it?)

Share your thoughts in the comments, I'd love to hear from you.

April 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm
(1) Evelina W. Sterling says:

Nicely said Rachel! This has been an issue I have been struggling with since I started conducting the research for my most recent book Budgeting for Infertility a few years ago. We interviewed many people with regard to these types of infertility give-away programs from patients to clinics and everyone in between. What we learned the most about this was the great variability that existed. There is no consistency as to how these programs are put together, advertised, managed, or even called (raffle, give-away, grant, scholarship, gift, you name it!). Despite any good intentions, everyone has vastly different ways of doing things, including promotions/advertisements; requirements with regard to who is qualified to participate; the application and notification processes; any restrictions or time limitations; patient responsibilities; and privacy issues, just to name a few of the complicated issues that arise. As you can imagine, some were better run than others. In fact, we unfortunately even uncovered some real scams which we promptly reported to the Better Business Bureau and the necessary governmental agencies within the appropriate states.

While I am a big advocate of improving access to appropriate fertility care, I am afraid that these types of infertility “give-away” programs do more harm than good. If the true motivation is to help people build their families and help them overcome the financial barriers, can’t we think of a better way (including some of the suggestions you mentioned Rachel)? Also, while I was conducting my research, I could not find any other aspects of health care or medical disciplines that does something similar. Why do you think this is? Could it be that infertility (like all other major health issues) should be viewed as a serious medical condition that can be effectively treated with skilled providers, potent medications, and invasive surgical techniques which also bring with very real risks and the potential for complications (both physical and emotional) and should never be taken lightly? That said, what is this saying about the infertility field and infertility as a diagnosis? I think we should stop, re-group, get together, and thoroughly discuss this topic in an open and honest environment in order to determine the “best practices” for helping families receive the best fertility care in the most cost-effective manner before we go any further down this slippery slope.

April 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm
(2) Marna Gatlin - Parents Via Egg Donation says:

Great article Rachel – I shared with The AFA my feelings about give aways and such. I see nothing wrong with perhaps grants — but scholarships, giveaways, raffles are all kind of demeaning I think, the ick factor is present.

And my question was about the egg donor — does she know her genetics are being raffled off?

This is a marketing tool for clinics — that’s really what it is.

December 11, 2010 at 10:58 am
(3) Jennifer O'Brien says:

While this article is well written, I have to say that I disagree with the concept of infertility as a whole. Lets face it, there are hundreds of thousands of children in foster homes and adoption agencies that NEED homes. NEED being the absolute important word here. Noone NEEDS a child that has their own DNA, they just WANT one.
While going through the “miracle” of birth and the whole life cycle thing is amazing to those involved, these couples never stop to think about one thing: maybe their bodies are trying to tell them something. Much like when you are getting shooting pains in your left arm prior to a heart attack, your body is trying to tell you that you shouldn’t be having a child for some reason or another. Maybe because you have bad health problems that you will now be passing off to your offspring, maybe a penchant for obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, among a multitude of other possibilities.

If you need a child so badly, rescue one from a lifetime of loneliness and fear, take them out of foster care and make them your own. Don’t be selfish and self serving.

Maybe God is trying to tell you something. Maybe you are supposed to serve his will. You know you want a child, you feel that you have a lot of love to give and yet your body has “betrayed you.” Well, to all your God fearing Christians, I offer up this: God made you the way you are supposed to be, and to alter that design goes against His will. If God doesn’t want you to give birth, don’t try to side-step His plan. Maybe He is trying to tell you that you need to find another NATURAL way to get a child in your home and safely under your wing. ADOPT a CHILD…don’t go against nature!

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