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Keywords:

  • exploitation;
  • egg sharing;
  • stem cells;
  • commodification;
  • IVF

Abstract

There is a growing global demand for human eggs for the treatment of sub-fertile women and for stem cell-related research. This demand provokes concerns for the women providing the eggs, including their possible exploitation, whether they should be paid, whether they can give properly informed consent and whether their eggs and bodies are becoming commodified. However, few of the debates have benefitted from insights from the women themselves. We address this gap in knowledge by reporting on a study investigating women’s views and experiences of a scheme in which they can volunteer, in their capacity as fertility patients, to ‘share’ their eggs with researchers and receive a reduction in in vitro fertilisation fees. We focus our discussion on the question of exploitation, a concept central to many sociological and ethical interests. In brief, our analysis suggests that while interviewees acknowledge the potential of this scheme to be exploitative, they argue that this is not the case, emphasising their ability to act autonomously in deciding to volunteer. Nonetheless, these freely made decisions do not necessarily take place under circumstances of their choosing. We discuss the implications of this for egg provision in general and for understandings of exploitation.