In an effort to help match parents struggling with fertility with prospective egg donors, Shelley Smith says that she actively recruits healthy and beautiful women — often actresses and models — in hopes that they would be willing to donate their eggs, according to Today. “We’re people who search high and low for women who have qualities that other people would desire,” said Smith.
Nicknamed “egg agents,” Smith and her team at The Egg Donor Program in Studio City, California search for young, healthy, attractive women who are willing to donate their eggs to couples in need. In testimonials accompanied by headshot-like photos on the program’s site, women who have donated in the past describe the experience as “meaningful” and “wonderful.” But the egg donation industry, which has been booming in recent years, has been criticized for taking advantage of young women who are in need of money. The procedure takes quite some time and requires many different steps, but because each egg donation pays $8,000 to $10,000 dollars, some women feel like it’s worth it. Repeatedly donating one’s eggs, however, carries with it some serious risks, one doctor told ABC News.
"You're playing Russian roulette with your future fertility and your future health," Dr. Robert Stillman, director of the Shady Grove Fertility Center in Maryland, told ABC News. "The more you ovulate, the greater the risk of ovarian cancer. So if these stimulated cycles are more risk, then there may be more potential as [these donors] age in their seventies and eighties to get cancer."
According to Stanford University, egg donation happens in two phases. First, donors receive hormonal drugs that cause their ovaries to produce a lot of mature eggs during their menstrual cycle. Most donors are encouraged not to have sex during this time due to an increased likelihood of becoming pregnant. Then, in the second phase, the eggs are removed from the donor during a transvaginal ultrasound aspiration, which is a surgical procedure.
Robyn Marie Young, a 28-year-old actress, told the New York Post that she has been chosen to donate her eggs three times. Since actresses and models tend to be considered attractive, many times couples and egg agents seek them out to donate. Young says she has been informed of the risks of continuing to donate, but feels as if she’s giving a gift to families in need.
“I’m a hot commodity because I’m athletic and have green eyes. I find it flattering that people would want to actually use my genes and have a kid that looks like me,” she said. “[The doctors] tell you all the things that can go wrong but not the long-term effects because they don’t know them. They say there are none, but you lose eggs, and it increases your risks of getting cysts. And you can only take so much…
Knowing you’re giving life is what gets me through it.”