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By Robin von Halle

Donor Agent Provocateur appeared last week in the New York Times Magazine column, The Ethicist, by Ariel Kaminer. The Ethicist responded to a reader’s questions regarding the ethical implications of a situation involving a fertility consultant hired by a Chicago couple interested in finding an egg donor sharing some of their ethnic background. The fertility consultant was ultimately unsuccessful in finding a donor of the particular ethnicity; however, she now refuses to refund their retainer. Did the fertility consultant behave ethically? ARR agrees with The Ethicist’s assertion that, as a professional consultant offering a service, it is unequivocally unethical to charge a fee for a service which, in reality, the fertility consultant did not intend to provide.

As a third party reproductive agency facilitating roughly 130 matches each year, ARR serves as an advocate and support system for donors, surrogates and intended parents alike. Our role is to be a resource,  providing the tools and expertise to help intended parents to make informed decisions and navigate a complex process. As opposed to the fertility consultant, ARR does not ask for a deposit until we have successfully matched a couple and donor. We do not believe it is ethical to accept payment until all parties involved are ready and willing to move forward. Intended parents are under no financial obligations until an official match has been made, and if for some reason a donor is unable to move forward, the couple would be re-matched at no additional fee.

Above all, ARR never promises unrealistic matches. It is not uncommon for intended parents to request a donor that shares some of their own traits or cultural background. We do work with couples seeking a donor of a specific ethnicity. If we do not have a donor in our database matching the particular criteria desired, then we direct the couple to Donor Network Alliance to continue their search. That being said,  in our twenty plus years of experience, an ethnic match is typically not deal a breaker. More importantly is finding a healthy, young, fertile donor with traits similar to that of the intended parents, if so desired. The majority of the time, when working with a reputable agency, a fertility consultant becomes a duplication of services, which add another layer of cost to the intended parents.

by Robin von Halle

A recent New York Times article highlighted the difficulties faced by tennis star Gigi Fernandez after she discovered a long and rigorous tennis career had left her infertile. Her athletic accomplishments are impressive, but she admits that she was selfish as a young athlete, ignoring signs that her body was being affected by her intense training. Excessive exercise can lead to ovulation dysfunction, something most women ignore but a sign that their fertility could be affected.

Compounding the issue was Fernandez’s age. Pro athlete’s most fertile years are often spent focusing solely on their careers, and thoughts of future spouses and families are pushed to the wayside. After retiring at 33 Fernandez finally met the perfect partner, golf star Jane Geddes, but waited five years before deciding to have a child. Now in her late thirties, the odds were against her.

Seven unsuccessful fertility treatments and two failed adoptions later, Fernandez and her partner Geddes felt defeated. Luckily for them, hope came in the form of a friend who offered to donate her eggs. In early 2009, Fernandez and Geddes welcomed twins into their family, but it wasn’t without a struggle.

Fernandez is far from the first women to struggle with infertility after a successful athletic career. Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan was able to give birth to a son after six miscarriages. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres went through IVF and artificial insemination but was unable to conceive and became a spokeswoman for American Infertility Association.

Where many women go wrong is neglecting to realize the effects of age on fertility. After age 35, a woman’s ability to conceive begins to decrease. After 40 it drops severely. More and more women are focusing on their careers, athletic or not, and putting off starting a family. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t wait for a successful career. I hope hearing stories like these will alert more women to the risks of waiting too long to start a family.

Fernandez’s advice to young women is to start planning for motherhood in their 20s, when fertility problems are much more rare. I couldn’t agree more.

by Carin

I guess I should start out with “Hi, my name is Carin and I am infertile”.  That is how I feel I should introduce myself every time I meet someone new. Inevitably, the first question after “what do you do” is “how many kids do you have?” My husband has gotten into the habit of saying “none yet” while I just usually stand there looking sheepish and saying “I don’t have any”. It’s like a stigma. No one knows what to say after that. I have heard everything from complete silence to “oh, well that’s okay,” to, my personal favorite, “take mine”. I want to shout to them that it is not okay!  This is not the life I chose for myself. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. By age 30 I was supposed to have been one of those moms who complains about her kids too. Now I find myself hating those who complain. Don’t they know how lucky they are?

Okay, my little rant is over.

I should point out that after years of trying, we were finally blessed with the birth of our first child via surrogate. I will get into that portion of the story later but wanted to give fair warning to anyone reading this who may be upset by reading about a new baby. I know that I had to stop reading stories, blogs, chats, etc. because too many people were getting their BFP’s (Big Fat Positives…as in pregnancy tests) and I just kept sinking deeper and deeper into the depressing world of the infertile.

My story is not meant to educate or stress one way of life over another. I am just one of you who has finally gotten lucky. Because no matter what any doctor or therapist may tell you, getting pregnant is sheer luck. All the planets and stars have to be aligned during an eclipse, while planting a potato under a full moon or something like that. The fact that some people are luckier than others was always a source of agony for me, but that’s just the way things are.

My story truly begins in 1999 when I met my husband. It was on a disastrous cruise in the Mediterranean. The fact that they were playing “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic was the first omen that something wasn’t right. The ship didn’t sink, luckily, but the only really good thing to come out of that trip was a wonderful relationship. In August of 2000, I started having some “female issues.” It turned out that I had a mucenous cyst (also known as a borderline tumor) on my left ovary. The cyst was removed in February of 2001. I was immediately referred to a Gynecological Oncologist for consults and blood tests. First and second opinions indicated that the ovary should come out. My oncologist said that since I was still young (age 28) he recommended removing only the left ovary and fallopian tube. These types of tumors tend to be unilateral and shouldn’t affect my ability to bear children. I got engaged in March 2001 and had laparoscopic surgery that May. If only I had known what I was in for.

By Robin von Halle

The Hastings Center, a nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and public interest, recently published a study of compensation rates in ads for egg donors in 300 college newspapers.

It found that a quarter of the ads offered more than $10,000 to women for donation of their eggs. Offers in the ads ranged from $10,000 to as much as $50,000. The study also found a compensation increase of $2,350 for each additional 100 SAT points in the average score for a given university.

Clearly, there’s something wrong with this picture. The idea of incremental compensation based on one measure of intelligence lends itself to the idea of “designer babies,” where intended parents pay premiums for certain traits that are deemed socially desirable.

It also flies in the face of guidelines of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine stating that compensation over $10,000 is inappropriate. Should payments to egg donors increase without limits, so would the chances that women will discount the risks of donation. The ASRM also emphasizes that higher payments based on socially desirable traits or measures (like SAT scores) devalue the human life and turn an egg into a commodity.

Under our philosophy of doing business, ARR has made a promise to all intended parents and egg donors that we will compensate egg donors for their time, effort and inconvenience. Each donor’s effort is equally valuable. Intended parents are privy to certain information about egg donors so they can use a donor with characteristics similar to their own, not to pick and choose features like you would a car.

It is crucial that egg donation agencies adhere closely to the ASRM guidelines. There is too much controversy and misunderstanding about what we do to add fuel to the fire by allowing ethics to fall by the wayside.

By: Mike

My beautiful son and daughter.

Surreal: the one word that describes the last year of my life.

In 2007, my partner and I decided it was time to start a family. We are both very family oriented and were ready to take the next step most couples decide to take: kids.

We decided to look into open adoption, since so many children are in need of a family. Unfortunately, it was a very long process and we would consistently get to a certain point only for something to go wrong.  In the end, adoption just wasn’t meant for us.

In March 2009, we contemplated our next steps. (We’re not getting any younger!) Soon after, we attended a party where we met an attorney who works with surrogacy and egg donation agencies. We discussed the idea with her and decided to look into it. She recommended ARR.

ARR was our first and only choice when it came to an agency. They were knowledgeable and helpful and made us feel very comfortable.

As for the egg donation and surrogacy process itself, it all happened very quickly. Most intended parents wait up to a year or longer to be matched with a surrogate. ARR matched us with both a surrogate and egg donor within three months. (It was crazy how fast the process went, having waited months when we were looking into adoption.) ARR matched our personalities and traits with both donor and surrogate to a “t.”

The egg donation process was easy compared to the surrogacy process. Like most parents, we looked for our physical and personal traits in the donor, but most importantly we wanted our donor to have a healthy mental and physical background. ARR was right on the money with their suggestions.

The surrogacy process took longer, and was the most nerve wracking. Because we were matched so fast, I was almost in disbelief. When we were set to meet our potential surrogate, I was scared to death. I wanted her to like us but I also didn’t want to misrepresent ourselves. Thankfully, she liked us, too, and decided she would like to be our surrogate.

The contract process went smoothly. We just wanted a family and were happy she was willing to help. We let her make certain decisions, such as choosing a doctor and the number of embryos she would carry. It was her body and we wanted to make sure she was comfortable. The only thing we asked from her was to deliver in Illinois (she was from a neighboring state). ARR has a special program that arranges for surrogates from other states deliver in Illinois, where the law is friendlier.  We spoke five or six times a week and posted Facebook updates. Facebook really showed us what a great support system she had. Through this awesome experience we made a friend for life and on March 4, 2010 she gave birth to our son and daughter.

A little over a year ago my partner and I started a journey. Today, we are parents.  Surreal, indeed.

Visit our Web site at www.arr1.com.

About Us

Conception Connections is a blog about alternative paths to family creation. It is maintained by Alternative Reproductive Resources. Contributors include intended parents, egg donors and gestational surrogates in addition to ARR staff. Our goal is to facilitate conversations about trends, issues, current events, technology and personal stories surrounding infertility, egg donation and gestational surrogacy. If you'd like to contribute, please e-mail shodge@hodgemediastrategies.com. We also welcome your comments and suggestions. Note: Comments are moderated and posted on approval.

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