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Society & Culture

Iran’s Black Market For Eggs and Sperm

July 29, 2015
Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
5 min read
Iran’s Black Market For Eggs and Sperm

Brokers sell eggs to women for an astounding $7000 on the black market, which leaves buyers and sellers with little choice but to pay the exorbitant sum.

The dynamic is this: on the one hand, you have women, most likely the family breadwinners who are unable to make ends meet and so get hormone injections to encourage ovulation. This is so that, later on, they can sell their eggs for a significant price. Then, on the other hand, you have women that are desperate to be mothers but whose bodies are unable to produce eggs, even with the help of in vitro fertilization (IVF). As a result, they are forced to seek out “donated” eggs.

In Iran, the buying and selling of eggs is illegal. And yet, the black market for eggs is thriving, and this may be down to the fact there is no information about these so-called “donations” available for buyers and sellers.

Maryam M., who works at the Holy Mary Fertilization Center in the northern city of Sari, says that over the three years that she has worked at the center, she has never seen a woman donate her eggs without wanting compensation.

“A number of women can’t produce eggs due to premature menopause or underdeveloped ovaries but have healthy wombs,” she says. “These women are looking for donated eggs that are then fertilized with sperms in the lab and implanted in the womb of the recipient. But the truth is that no young woman is willing to consent to hormone injections and surgery just to do a good deed. Also, almost all of the women that give away their eggs sell them for a very high price. Some even do it professionally by repeatedly selling their eggs, which of course can be detrimental to their health.”

A nurse at the Royan Institute, who asked to remain anonymous, explains that eggs are never donated for philanthropic reasons alone “unless there is a family member or friend involved.” She agreed it was possible for women to make reasonable amounts of money from selling their eggs. 

“Almost 100 percent of eggs are bought and sold. Some women make money out of it professionally. They donate eggs a number of times or rent out their wombs. Extortion is a big problem as well,” she says. “There are no agreement terms between sellers and buyers. In the clinic, the egg donor enters into a temporary marriage with the father whose sperm is used to fertilize the egg, and this is all there is to it.”

High-level health government officials have acknowledged this illicit trade is going on. In a report published by Fars News Agency in November 2014, the Deputy Health Minister Mohammad Aghajani said that they had received reports that these “breaches” were happening and had reviewed them with fertility experts.

However, a researcher at the Royan Institute for Reproductive Biomedicine, who wants to remain anonymous, refutes the allegation that eggs are bought and sold illegally.

“It isn’t true that this has turned into a black market. These eggs are mostly for women who are going through chemotherapy and want a child but because of the chemotherapy are unable to conceive in a normal way,” the researcher says.


Parallel Market

Analysts believe that the market for egg and sperm donations, which functions in tandem with the health system, is able to thrive because there is no government agency to oversee embryo donations.

If a woman is unable to ovulate, then a donated egg is fertilized with her husband’s sperm. But if they are both infertile, the donated egg is fertilized with donated sperm through IVF and then implanted in the woman’s womb.

In Iran, a woman who donates an egg must be divorced or a widow and her religious, cultural and social profiles must match those of the recipient’s. If they do, the donor will be injected with hormones to encourage ovulation. Before this happens, however, the donor is required to sign a pledge that she will never interfere in the life of the child.

Mary N., who also works for a fertility clinic, says there are a number of problems that women could encounter when buying or selling eggs.

“The broker could take the money and then disappear. The donor can get two or three million tomans (about $1000) and the rest goes to other people,” Mary explains. “Of course we can’t say for sure that this finds its way into the broker’s pockets. Female eggs aren’t like oranges that you can buy and sell on the street. There needs to be doctors and clinics as well.”

The anonymous Royan Institute nurse also explains how the prices of eggs vary according to the circumstances of buyers and sellers. “The actual price in the market is set by brokers,” she says. “When you talk about the black market you have to take into account every variable. The price ranges from $1000 to nearly $7000.”

Mary explains another problem: the fact that there is nowhere to register biological profiles in Iran, which means there is no official registry for donors or recipients.

“This is going to create problems in a society that is ruled by ideology. There could be incest. Genetic brothers and sisters might marry without knowing that they are brothers and sisters,” says Mary. “Furthermore, the unregulated use of hormones on the black market could damage the health of professional donors.”

The lack of scientific or biological records is also a problem at the country’s most advanced fertility clinics and centers. There is only partial information collection and archival.

Iranian medicine is advanced in the field of fertility but it is evident that there is a legal vacuum when it comes to the buying and selling of eggs, especially when it concerns the black market. In what is obviously a growing market, it is imperative that the government and health ministry see what measures can be put in place to rectify the situation.  


Related articles:

The Baby Business: Iran’s “Fertility Brokers”

Virginity Pills: A Lie Worth Pursuing?


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