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Egg donor, or seller?

At first I am amused by the item. My friend Cara has just shown me an advertisement in our Ivy League college newspaper. It offers $50,000 for an egg donor who is athletic, taller than 5 feet, 10 inches, and has SAT scores higher than 1400.

"That could be me," I joke, offhand. We are amused because we think that someone who wants a baby so desperately would not impose such restrictions on the donor. We think the couple must be vain to want only an aesthetically pleasing baby. Though this type of thing is nothing new, usually compensation runs $3,000 to $6,000.

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"$50,000, isn't that a flagrant financial bribe?" Cara asks.

More friends join us, and we contemplate the article for a while. One friend notes that perhaps the prospective parents are also tall and Ivy League graduates, and they simply wanted a baby that resembled them. I prefer to believe this, as I want confidence in humanity. I want everyone to have clear, uncorrupt motives.

"You should do it, Kat," Cara says.

This flicks a switch inside me. I remain quiet, but I inwardly imagine myself with $50,000 in my bank account and the effect that would have on my life. I am going to be a doctor someday, and my dream is to work in developing countries where I can really help people. The only obstacle to my dream is money; I can't afford four years of medical school. And $50,000 is halfway through medical school - halfway to what I want most in the world. I want to save lives, and all I have to do is help start one. How can I refuse?

I contact the agency and they send me the information I need to apply to be an egg donor. They say their client has "shown interest in me."

My inner turmoil begins, there is so much more to consider than I had anticipated. It seems simple. After all, as a biology student I know very well I'm only donating a few cells. No different from donating blood, or an organ, or selling my hair as they used to do 100 years ago! And what a noble gesture, helping a family conceive a child when they can't do so themselves.

I know I want children when I am older, and I understand the frustration it must cause to find out you cannot have your own. Helping a family by donating an egg that I know I won't need myself would surely be a generous gift.

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But here lies the conflict. Donating an egg for this couple would not be a "gift" and is certainly not generous on my part. If I were going to be noble enough to help a childless couple to conceive, truly a charitable gesture, shouldn't I be doing it for free?

I question my motives. Why must I be lured by the money? I realized that I would be selling part of my body, just to get to medical school. Selling my body? Isn't that prostitution? The comparison troubles me.

I write to the agency that I have decided against donation. I tell myself the procedure is too invasive, and I don't want to risk taking the drugs prescribed to do it.

The truth is, I'm not worried about the medical procedure, nor am I against egg donation. It's not unethical. But personally, I wouldn't donate a kidney for $50,000, I wouldn't sell my DNA to a bioengineering firm, and neither can I do this.

I sometimes still wish $50,000 would fall into my lap and secure my future. But I'm glad I didn't give my eggs. I won't have to live with the idea that somewhere out there is a child that is half of me.

What a strange thing, to generate a life somewhere across the States with no effort, no involvement. Would the child ever have forgiven me for selling him, for $50,000, if he found out?

*Katrien Naessens, a Belgian citizen, is a biology student at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass.

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