Opinion editorial

Elitist and racist egg donation ads have no place in student newspapers

Most ads fail to disclose the risks of egg donation process while offering vast financial compensation

If you are a female MIT student with the last name Wu, Huang, or Chen, you may have received an email in the past two weeks with the subject line “亞州精英 Outstanding Asian.” The email offered $50,000 in compensation for an Asian egg donor, ideally a “21-year-old Chinese MIT student, top in her class,” with “several awards in high school and university.” This concerning request is actually a permutation of an advertisement that The Tech has run twice in the past decade, once in 2012 and once in 2017. The ad, paid for and submitted by the same individual, has not changed much over the years, though the most recent email iteration has swapped out “genius” for “outstanding” and more than doubled the compensation from $20,000 to $50,000. Both the 2012 and 2017 appearances of the ad disturbed MIT community members for its racial stereotyping, tactless wording, and lack of acknowledgment of the medical risks involved with egg donation. 

Unfortunately, this is not the only advertisement soliciting egg donations that The Tech has run or faced criticism for, with similar ads — requesting donors of certain races, heights, eye and hair colors, levels of athleticism, personalities, and minimum SAT scores — printed frequently during the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s. Moreover, MIT is not the only college whose newspaper has made space for these ads. College newspapers at Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale, among others, have also run similar ads seeking egg donations. And it’s no coincidence that these schools have a few things in common: Most are Ivy League institutions, and all are regularly ranked in the top ten among U.S. universities.

The strategic placement of these advertisements in newspapers with an audience of barely-20-something students at “elite” institutions is almost as troubling as the rhetoric found in the advertisements. Some are stereotypical and racist, primarily those that associate Asian women with blanket descriptions like “intelligent” or “high-achieving.” These ads reduce Asian women to commodities and labels that perpetuate the harmful “model minority” myth, which places limiting expectations on the roles Asians can take, erases the countless other traits that these women may possess, and uses Asians as examples of a “successful” or “submissive” minority to oppress more marginalized groups.

An additional common demand of these ads is for standardized test scores and transcripts, as if these arbitrary screenings of how smart a potential egg donor is will correlate with the eventual intelligence of the child. Both standardized testing and grades are often measures of performance and preparation, rather than intelligence, and ads quantifying the value of a woman’s oocytes with these metrics subscribe to an already dangerous emphasis on numbers and achievements at universities like MIT. Furthermore, while genetic factors do contribute to intelligence, it’s troubling to see ads implying that only an egg donor from a top ten university can ensure that your child matches your intellect. These ads demonstrate scientific ignorance, reducing environmentally influenced, complex traits like intelligence and even personality to “special gifts” that can be selected and purchased in the form of an egg donation.

Another problem with the most recent advertisement is that, like many other ads requesting certain features from donors, it offers a financial compensation more than five times greater than the usual amount, as determined by the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. This remuneration is paid to recognize the “significant time, inconvenience, and discomfort associated with oocyte donation,” suggesting that these drawbacks are considerable. Additionally, the magnified compensation further commercializes the specific physical, racial, and intellectual characteristics that these ads entreat, making it such that only those with the financial means can afford “outstanding,” “Ivy League” eggs and resulting in a discomfiting sense of exclusivity surrounding egg donations. Though the Ethics Committee found that many egg donors consider “being able to help someone” their biggest motivation, an ad offering such a large sum of compensation may blur the line and incentivize donation from a less informed individual. For college students at private schools, likely burdened by high tuitions and other costs, the prospect of a full year’s worth of tuition could certainly blur these lines. Yet these ads insufficiently disclaim the serious possible harms that could come from egg donation.

The Ethics Committee also advises that all risks related to oocyte donation should be clearly disclosed. The invasive process involves the suppression of the body’s natural ovulation cycle and hyperstimulation of the ovaries with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) through self-injections. High levels of hCG can lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which could result in hospitalization or death. Furthermore, the long-term effects are not well studied, but women have reported infertility and psychological distress after donating. Nonetheless, many ads found in college newspapers do not explain the medical process of egg donation, nor the associated risks in any of their iterations.

We understand that egg donation can help those who are unable to have children, and reproductive medicine has been instrumental in creating families for those who want them. There are companies that can facilitate these procedures while informing all parties and ensuring minimal risk. However, these advertisements that individually target young Asian women at MIT do not properly disclose sufficient information about the process and offer vast financial compensation, making them both racist and dangerous. Often, the ads request that potential donors contact private individuals, rather than a known or reputable egg donation clinic. 

In the future, we will not be running egg donation ads that do not include requisite disclaimers addressing the risks involved for egg donors, that originate from private individuals rather than credible agencies or clinics, or that include language suggesting that donors of certain races or from certain schools inherently possess stereotyped traits preferred over those of other donors. We urge student newspapers at our peer institutions to similarly reconsider these factors when choosing whether to print advertisements requesting egg donations.

Editorials are the official opinion of The Tech. They are written by the Editorial Board, which consists of Publisher Joanna Lin, Editor in Chief Kristina Chen, Managing Editor Chloe McCreery, Executive Editor Wenbo Wu, and the opinion editor, a position that is currently vacant.