Deciding to become an egg donor can take you into uncharted personal territories, emotionally, medically and legally. If you signed up to be a donor through an egg bank, you will not need to wait until being matched before starting the process. But if you’re becoming a donor through a clinic or agency that does not freeze and bank your eggs, once you have been matched with a recipient, it is time to get the ball rolling. And that means signing legal contracts before you start taking any medications.
Knowing what to look for when reading and signing legal contracts is important in order to make sure you understand the conditions and terms of your contracts and that you are comfortable with those conditions. Make sure you read the contract thoroughly and understand each item, and ask questions if there is something you do not understand.
Before you sign on the dotted line, here are some things you should know about egg donation contracts.
Will I have my own attorney?
Most egg donation programs work with attorneys to draw up the legal contracts. Some use the same attorney for both the donor and the recipient(s). However, using the same attorney as the intended parents could be seen as a “conflict of interest.” How do you know the attorney that is supposed to be representing your interests will not prioritize the paying clients over you?
You can request to hire your own attorney and, in some cases, the clinic or agency will cover the costs of your legal representation. A more likely scenario is that you will be provided with legal representation from a different attorney than the one assigned to the intended parents, but still one of the clinic’s choosing. If you still have concerns about having an attorney who only represents you and your interests, talk to your donor coordinator and try to negotiate your own choice of attorney without having to cover the costs yourself.
You should feel comfortable that you have an attorney who is representing your interests.
Can I negotiate my contract?
Most women going through the egg donation process—especially for the first time—think that they are required to accept whatever terms are laid out in their contracts. Many are afraid that if they do not accept the contract terms, or if they try to negotiate, they will be rejected from the program. This is not the case—nor should it be. While some egg donation programs have non-negotiable contracts, most realize that you may want to make some changes, and are entitled to do so. If you are told that your contract is non-negotiable, and you are not comfortable with the terms of the contract, it’s in your best interest to find a clinic or agency where you can negotiate the terms that are right for you. First and foremost, this is your body and for now, these are your eggs. What you negotiate now can affect you immediately and also years down the road.
How many cycles am I signing up for?
Some clinics, agencies or egg banks will build multiple egg donation cycles into a contract. They may require you to agree to undergo three cycles, rather than just one at a time. Why? Screening donors cost the clinics money. Donors have to undergo a range of medical tests, be screened by psychologists and genetic counselors, and other logistics. Donors also have to be instructed on how to self-administer injections and other logistics. The screening process costs staff time and money. If a donor decides to only undergo a single donation cycle, the clinic invests more time and money screening and preparing the donor for her cycle than donors who undergo up to six cycles.
However, you cannot possibly know ahead of time if you really want to do multiple cycles. Your decision to do so likely depends a lot on your experiences the first time, how you reacted to the fertility medications, how easily you recovered, and whether or not you had a good relationship with agency personnel or medical staff and doctors who were in charge of your cycle.
Rather than agreeing to sign up for multiple cycles at once, it is in your best interest to negotiate to do one cycle at a time so that you have the freedom to consider whether or not this is something you want to do again. You should also know that even if you agree to do multiple cycles in your contract, and you change your mind after your first (or subsequent) cycle, no one can force you to undergo a medical process or procedure. But you may face some extra expense and hassle if you try to get out of your contract.
What is the timeline for my egg donation cycle?
Your contract should indicate when you will start your egg donation cycle. Sometimes you will start medications as soon as you sign the contract and are matched with a recipient. Other times, the clinic or recipients may want to wait, based on their schedule, or perhaps to sync your cycle with the intended mother or gestational surrogate. You can also negotiate your start date and let them know when you are and are not available. If you have a vacation planned, or you are going to be in the middle of finals when they want to start the cycle, negotiate the timeline for a time that is right for you. As long as it is not too far off in the distant future, the clinic should be able to accommodate you.
What happens if I change my mind?
Most contracts state that you can change your mind up until you start taking hormone injections. This means that if you choose to back out, you can do so even if you started birth control pills. Of course, if you change your mind after you’ve been matched with recipients, this can cause a lot of upset for them as well as the clinic or agency. But if something doesn’t feel right to you or you just decided you don’t want to go through with donating eggs, before starting injections you are entitled to change your mind without consequence. Make certain this is in your contract.
Most contracts state that if you change your mind after starting injections you will be required to pay thousands of dollars for both the medications and for rescinding the contract. Some agencies, clinics, or intended parents may threaten a lawsuit against you or attempt to compel you to finish the cycle. Again, no one can legally force you to undergo surgery if you don’t want to, but there may be financial consequences for you.
Make sure you understand the consequences of rescinding your contract. And if you feel you have a justifiable reason for not completing the cycle, consult with an attorney to make sure you’re protected.
Will I know the results of my donation?
It is natural to want to know the results of your egg donation. Was there a pregnancy? A live birth? A boy or a girl? This can be really exciting news for donors, to know that your sacrifice made a difference in someone else’s life. Many clinics and agencies are pleased to share the happy news with you. Helping someone else have a baby is likely one of the main reasons you would consider being an egg donor in the first place; of course, you’d want to know if it worked.
However, for whatever reason, some clinics will not share this information with their donors. If you are the kind of person who would be curious about the results and have access to this information, make sure to include this in your contract.
Will I know anything about the recipients?
Egg donation programs have different policies surrounding providing donors information about the recipients. Some require complete anonymity and that the donor knows nothing about the recipients. This is called an anonymous donation. Others will share a letter from the recipients or provide some basic information. Others will permit recipients and donors to be in managed contact, over email, Skype or phone, and others will allow donors and recipients to meet if both parties want to. This is referred to as a known donation. You can find a program that matches your desires for information, contact, or no contact. You can also, to some degree, negotiate these terms in your contract.
In addition, your contract may require you to provide medical updates, in the event that you learn of a possible heritable disease at some point in the future that could affect the children born from your eggs. Medical information is private and sensitive, so your contract should spell out specifically who is entitled to this information: The clinic? The intended parents? The agency? Will the IPs be required to provide you with medical updates on their child, if it could concern you or your future children? You also want to make sure if you discover something down the road and the child inherits a genetic disease from you, that you are not held legally liable.
Will I ever be able to have contact with the intended parents? Or meet the children born from my eggs?
As mentioned above, contact with IPs—and the children born from your eggs—can be negotiable. It is important to consider the kind of contact you feel comfortable with.
Some clinics still require complete anonymity on all sides. However, in the age of direct-to-consumer genetic testing, it is highly unlikely you can forever remain anonymous. Some programs will allow you to be an open identity donor and will provide children born from your eggs with your name and other information once they reach 18 years of age.
Think about the kind of contact you want to have and negotiate it in your contract. If you are certain you want to remain forever anonymous, and the clinic promises you that, you should know that permanent anonymity is not possible. If you will not feel comfortable knowing that children from your eggs may contact you at some point in the future, you probably should not become an egg donor.
What happens to my leftover eggs or embryos?
There are many types of donation arrangements. If you are providing eggs to an egg bank, they will own all of the eggs you produce for that cycle and will be able to sell them to as many recipients as they want to. They will likely sell batches of 5 or 6 eggs to each customer. If you are providing eggs to an egg bank, you will have very little leeway in determining where your eggs go, to how many intended parents (IPs), or any other terms.
Some clinics have shared donation programs, where they match the donor with multiple recipients for a “fresh” donation cycle, and then freeze and sell leftover eggs to other recipients. You should know up front if you are signing up for a shared donation cycle and understand the details in your contract regarding where your eggs are going.
If you are providing eggs to a single set of IPs, they will likely own all of the eggs you produce for that cycle and will fertilize them all to become embryos. While they will have primary control over the disposition of the embryos created with your eggs, you can negotiate some details in your contract. Things to think about include: Are you comfortable with the recipients donating leftover embryos to others recipients without your knowledge? Are you comfortable with the embryos being donated to science? Or being disposed of entirely?
You can request to have it written in your contract that IPs are not permitted to donate eggs or embryos to research, or to other third parties, without your prior written consent.
What happens if the doctor or intended parents cancel the cycle?
Though rare, sometimes a physician or intended parents may find it necessary to cancel a cycle. Perhaps the doctor determined you’re not producing enough eggs. Or perhaps you’re producing too many or responding to the medications such that the doctor determines it would be unsafe to continue. Or perhaps the IPs decided against having a child through egg donation after all. Whatever the case, this is not your fault and you should still be due at least some compensation. How much compensation may depend upon how far you are into the cycle. It should be spelled out in your contract what kind of compensation you can expect in the event of a canceled cycle. It will likely be significantly less than if you complete the cycle, but still something for the time and trouble you invested.
Will I be traveling or providing locally?
Most egg donors provide eggs at a nearby clinic. However, if your profile is in a database that can be seen across the country—or internationally—you may be traveling to provide eggs. If you’re doing a traveling cycle, there are many things to consider and spell out in your contract, so you don’t end up with unanticipated expenses:
- Who pays for travel costs?
- Will you receive a per diem allowance for food and necessary expenses in addition to travel costs?
- Will you have to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed later, or have your costs covered up front?
- Will they pay for you to bring a support person to accompany you to and from retrieval?
- If you have any complications following your retrieval procedure—such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)—will the agency or IPs pay for you to change your flight and stay in a hotel until you’re well enough to travel safely?
How much will I be compensated as an egg donor?
The amount you will receive for providing eggs should be spelled out clearly in your contract. If you have donated before and your eggs produced a pregnancy, you may be able to negotiate a higher fee than what you were initially told. Some agencies may also agree to negotiate a higher fee for traveling cycles. Clinics with internal egg donor programs tend to have a more stringent fee structure, but it can’t hurt to ask.
In addition to the flat, agreed upon amount there are also other things you will need to know about or negotiate:
- Will you be paid in increments throughout the cycle, or in one lump sum, post retrieval?
- How soon after retrieval can you expect to receive your payment? Immediately? Within a week?
- Does your fee include lost wages or will you be paid lost wages in addition to your fee?
- Can you be reimbursed for travel expenses (such as mileage) to and from appointments, parking costs, or public transportation costs? Will you need to provide receipts?
- Will your fee be held in a separate escrow account? If so, what are the account details, such as the name of the escrow agent? And, if not, who holds on to your fee?
- How is your fee described? Is it for time, trouble, pain and suffering, or for providing genetic material?
The structure and wording of your payment agreement can have huge implications for you down the road—especially when it comes to filing taxes.
Is my income from egg donation taxable?
According to the IRS income for egg donation is taxable at the rate of being an “independent contractor.” However, many egg donors have challenged the IRS and won—especially those who either had medical expenses due to post-retrieval complications or those who were prepared ahead of time.
In some cases, you can request a higher egg donation fee to make up for what you will have to pay out in taxes. If your fee is held in an escrow account, you may also be able to avoid paying taxes on it. How your contract is worded also makes a difference; compensation for time and trouble is less likely to be taxed than compensation for providing genetic material.
Before you sign any contracts it is extremely important to ask up front whether or not your agency or clinic will be issuing an IRS 1099 form for your payment. Not all egg donation programs do. It might also be a good idea to seek out advice from an accountant who is informed on this portion of the tax code.
If you do not have a good grasp ahead of time about whether or not you will be taxed, or how your donation cycle is framed in terms of language, you could be caught owing the IRS thousands of dollars in taxes.
What happens if I get sick or injured as a result of the egg donation cycle?
For most egg donation cycles, the intended parents pay for insurance for the egg donor to cover any complications that may arise directly from the donation cycle, such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Ask to see a copy of the policy before you sign the contract, so you know exactly what is covered and for how long. Most of these insurance policies only last for the duration of the cycle and up to about 30 days following retrieval surgery. Some things you should look for in your insurance policy include:
- What are the policy limits, that is, how much of your medical costs are covered? If you end up hospitalized, the costs can add up quickly.
- What conditions are excluded from the insurance policy?
- Most contracts will spell out how much you will be compensated if you:
- Lose an ovary
- Suffer a surgical mishap, like a nicked artery
- Need a hysterectomy
- Suffer a stroke
- Or any other serious complication
One challenge is that you may be required to prove that a specific complication is directly connected to your egg donation cycle. If you seem fine immediately following your retrieval, but something happens three months after your donation, you most likely will not be covered.
Cover your bases
It may be cumbersome to read through all the legal language, but it is very important you read the fine print, ask questions of your attorney and others, and negotiate what is important to you. If you feel like your questions are not being answered or addressed, seek out external advice from your private doctor or another attorney. Arm yourself with as much knowledge about the process as you can. Be informed. You are your own best advocate.