The Great Egg Raffle – Why Everyone’s a Winner If We Price Life and Body Parts

By: Julian Savulescu

Imagine someone offered you £1 000 000 to cross a busy road. There is a small chance you might lose your life or a limb. But most people would accept the chance. I certainly would. We do that kind of thing every day for trivial reasons, such as to buy a packet of cigarettes or a pint of beer that might also kill us.

Would you be exploited if you crossed the road for a million dollars? Hardly. You were lucky to get such an offer that you judged made it worth crossing the busy road. After all, you could have stayed put or even crossed the road for nothing.

Why then do so many people have such revulsion to proposals to take risks involving one’s body when it comes to selling eggs for infertility treatment? Such revulsion is behind the opposition to the egg raffle put up by the Bridge Clinic to give away a cycle of IVF in the US using a paid egg donor of your choice (see here). The risks of donating eggs are no greater than (or not much greater than) crossing a busy road. So what’s the fuss?

One of the arguments is that this exploits the women who donate the eggs. But these risks are reasonable: woman in the UK are allowed to donate for no money or in exchange for cycles of IVF (a payment in kind). If the concern is exploitation, the solution is simple. Raise the price. Someone who crosses the road for a million dollars does so because he or she judges risk to be worth the money, or rather the goods and improvement in life that it could buy.

The solution to concerns about the sale of body parts is pure and simple: set a minimum fair price, just as we set a minimum price for labour and we adjust that price according to the risk of health that the labour entails.

The objection to selling eggs cannot be about the removal of eggs to benefit another person: that can already been done for free or in exchange for goods in kind (IVF treatment). It has to be about doing it in exchange for cash. But the exchange is only wrong if it exploits someone – and that is easily prevented by setting a fair minimum price.

If we can risk our lives and health in our jobs (to make money) or in life in general, we should be able to risk them by at least selling bits of our body that are not necessary for our survival, like eggs and sperm.

It is time to allow the sale of eggs for infertility treatment. The key will be to set a high fair minimum price. Afterall, people will be prepared to pay a lot to have a child. And that money will benefit the donor. Moreover, it will remove a potential egg recipient from the altruistic pool of eggs and there will be more eggs to go around to those who can’t afford to buy them. Everyone is a winner from pricing life and body parts, if we price them ethically.

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