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Can You Sell a Human Egg?
It seemed like a simple question, and one that we asked our guests this morning on our Ethics of Egg Donation show. But they weren't sure — "We're not lawyers!" they said — so we decided to look into it.
This article from the Western Journal of Medicine explains why the issue is actually pretty confusing:
Public policy regarding tissue donation and use is confused. Trafficking of vital organs for profit is illegal and is specifically proscribed under the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984. When it comes to other tissues, however, the rules are hazy. Officially, sales of other tissues are also illegal, but tissue banking is big business and the law is readily side-stepped by invoking “processing and handling fees” so that the tissue itself is not officially sold.
Here are the relevant chunks from the National Organ Transplant Act, which was amended in 1998:
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation if the transfer affects interstate commerce. The preceding sentence does not apply with respect to human organ paired donation.
How are organs defined by the law?
The term ‘‘human organ’’ means the human (including fetal) kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, bone marrow, cornea, eye, bone, and skin or any subpart thereof and any other human organ (or any subpart thereof, including that derived from a fetus) specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services by regulation.
So are eggs organs? And can they be sold? Sean Tipton, the director of public affairs for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, was refreshingly clear: No, eggs are not considered organs by the federal government. And so yes, they can be sold. But as our guests pointed out, the money that donors normally receive isn't technically compensation for their eggs. It's for their pain, time, and trouble.
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