WASHINGTON The fertility industry has a dirty secret young women are being coerced into selling their eggs despite the severe health risks and the lack of laws protecting them, according to a recently released movie from the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.
"Eggsploitation" a documentary that tells the stories of young women donating their eggs to help infertile women, only to suffer health problems even years after the procedure is being screened on campuses and for organizations across the country. The movie, which was named best documentary at the 2011 California Independent Film Festival, was shown recently at the Washington, D.C., office of the Family Research Council.
After the screening, Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, commented on the fertility industry's exploitation of young women.
"How many woman have to die or be harmed?," asked Lahl, who was executive producer, co-director and co-writer of the film.
According to the documentary, no one has researched the short- or long-term effects of egg donation. There are no laws, no medical records, no statistics and no documented information telling future donors about the potential health risks, the documentary says.
"This last week another women e-mailed me: 'I just saw your documentary. How can I tell you my story of how I almost died?'" Lahl said at the Feb. 24 event.
One woman described in the movie did die. Jessica Grace Wing, 31, died from colon cancer because she decided to donate her eggs multiple times, the film reported.
Donors are often pursued through advertisements, typically on college campuses, asking for attractive, smart and young females. The industry offers money, which coerces the financially struggling college student to consider donating, Lahl said.
Donors interviewed in the movie urge young women not to donate their eggs because of the potentially serious health effects.
Calla, a woman Lahl interviewed in the movie, said she suffered a stroke, was pronounced legally dead twice and can no longer have biological children. She also did not produce enough eggs in the procedure, so she did not receive full payment.
Alexandra, another interviewee, explained that her ovaries became so enlarged she had to have surgery and will no longer be able to reproduce. Later on, she had breast cancer.
The movie describes a short-term risk known as Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). OHSS develops because of the hormones that women take that make them release up to dozens of eggs a month (instead of just one). Symptoms of OHSS are typically mild and include bloating, pain in the abdomen, weight gain and nausea. OHSS can be life-threatening, however, causing rapid weight gain, severe pain, shortness of breath and an increased heart rate.
There also are many women who developed reproductive cancer, according to the film. Researchers believe such cancer is linked to the amount of hormone pills and injections women receive to produce more eggs.
Lahl hopes screening the movie throughout the United States will encourage college students to spread the word.
"I frankly have kind of given up on Capitol Hill and legislation because I don't have endless resources and time to kind of just keep coming up here and [saying], 'Oh, would you, could you, please consider this?' So I am just taking it straight to the young women, because frankly if young women stop doing it, we don't need laws to protect them," Lahl said.