Bioethics and the Human Egg Trade

June 22, 2011

OPINION | Seoul, Korea – Last week, police arrested two brokers on charges of trading human eggs online. The two suspects are a 40-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman who allegedly made 30 million won ($27,777) in commission in 16 illegal ova transactions.

The trade of human eggs cannot and should not be justified under any circumstance.  It is a violation of the bioethics law that bans any form of ova or sperm transactions.  It only allows the collecting of human eggs on a strictly limited basis for research purposes.

The law stipulates that a woman be allowed to donate ovum only three times in her lifetime with at least six months interval between extractions. The brokers totally ignored the law only to make money from what was seen as illegal activity. Bioethics seemed to have been a luxury for the suspects who were blinded by money.

It is also a pity that there exists a black market for ova or sperm in the country. According to official statistics, one out of every eight married couples is sterile. There has been demand for donors of ova and sperm. In the past, the problem of surrogate mothers had been highlighted by the media focused on the unethical side of renting a womb.

The human egg trade was first detected in 2005. Since then, most of the ova transactions have been conducted stealthily via the Internet. The latest case showed that the brokers’ method was more sophisticated to match sellers and buyers. The two brokers provided their clients with a list of the donors’ personal information such as their age, educational background, career and appearance.

According to investigators, the brokers provided 13 alleged egg providers who were also booked without detention. They gave 10 million won ($9,259) to a good-looking college graduate working as a private tutor with a good command of English. A 30-year-old jobless, plain-looking lady received 5 million won.

It is regrettable that housewives, college students, sales promoters, English teachers and other women sold their eggs in a blind pursuit of money. One of the donors was found to have her ova extracted three times in eight months, sustaining some memory loss and cervical weakness.

The health authorities and law enforcement agencies should cooperate in enforcing the bioethics law more stringently to crack down on the illegal ova trade. The government also needs to work out bolder measures to help infertile couples have babies through legal means.

For more information on the dangers about human egg donation, visit FirstThings or The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity.  Also see the film Eggsploitation.com.   Here are some clips:

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