From altruism to monetization: Australian women’s ideas about money, ethics and research eggs24 May 2016
We report the results of a qualitative study carried out in metropolitan Australia between 2009 and 2011 that canvassed the issue of payment for research oöcyte donation with participants drawn from three potential donor groups; fertility patients, reproductive donors and young, non-patient women. Research oöcytes are controversial tissues because women around the world have proved largely unwilling to donate them altruistically. In the ensuing international debate about procurement, the issue of money and its appropriate and inappropriate uses in tissue donation has taken centre stage. While there is now an abundance of expert commentary on this matter, there are almost no studies that probe this issue with potential donor populations. Our study asked the three groups of women about their understandings of altruistic, reimbursed, subsidised, compensated and paid donation for both reproductive and research eggs. We identify a resistance to the introduction of money into the sphere of reproductive donation, which the majority of respondents felt should remain an area of personalised gift relations. In the area of research donation we find a strong relationship between degrees of liquidity (the extent to which money is constrained or unconstrained) and a sense of ethical appropriateness. We also describe a culturally specific sense of fairness and equity among participants, associated with the relatively high public subsidisation of fertility treatment in Australia, which they used to benchmark their sense of appropriate and inappropriate uses of money. While the participant responses reflect the regulatory environment in Australia, particularly the absence of a US style market in reproductive oöcytes, they also make an important contribution to the global debate. Keywords: Australia, tissue donation, research oöcytes, money, ethics, fertility medicine, liquidity Highlights This study provides insight into the feelings of potential research egg donors. It draws on the sociological study of money to analyse donor ethics. It shows that lay ethical reasoning is shaped by ideas of distributive justice. It explores the ways potential donors understand commodification of human tissues. It contributes to the feminist analysis of ‘exploitation’ in research egg donation.