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Updated: 11/06/2012 2:26 PM
Created: 11/01/2012 4:13 PM | Print |  Email
By: Beth McDonough and Ellen McNamara

Why Isn't IVF More Widely Regulated?

The fertility industry is a multi million dollar business in Minnesota. Couples in Minnesota spend tens of thousands of dollars for in-vitro fertilization, or IVF.

The women who donate their eggs to help couples have children get paid well too.

5 Eyewitness News questioned what the state does to watch out for egg donors and the families who are helped by the precious donation.

It was a seven year struggle for Misti and Gary Walker.

They just wanted to have children.

After spending nearly $100,000, the Walkers say their family is now complete. It's a family portrait made possible by IVF.

"It was a longer road, but well worth it," Misti Walker said.

It is also worth it to clinics and donors.

"Yeah, the money is good," an egg donor said.

The young woman, who chooses to remain anonymous, has already donated her eggs three times. Each donation day she makes $4,000. She has already earned $12,000 and wants to donate again.

Another donor we spoke with has given once.

Both donors are college students and both have debt. They know what they have to offer is in demand.

"I'm looking for donors all the time to get into the program," Nancy Schaaf with Reproductive Medicine and Infertility Associates said.

There are five infertility clinics in Minnesota.

They compete for donors and aggressively advertise in papers and also online.

However, just because someone wants to donate, does not mean they can.

For every ten women who want to become a donor, just one will have their eggs make it to the final retrieval stage.

A screening process takes place at Reproductive Medicine and Infertility Associates in Woodbury.

The FDA, CDC, and American Society For Reproductive Medicine also set some standards and restrictions for infertility clinics. However, they have no enforcement mechanism. Most discretion is left to the states, which make their own laws.

The state of Minnesota has fewer laws than it's neighbors when it comes to oversight and donor identity. While egg donors can remain anonymous in Minnesota, in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, donors identities are known.

With the health of donors, recipients, and a child at risk, along with millions of dollars on the line, we questioned why there is not a federal law or comprehensive database to track ambitious egg donors from clinic shopping.

Dr. Romaine Bayless at RMIA believes there should be a database to track donors.

"If they (donors) finish here with multiple cycles, they could go elsewhere and do multiple cycles," Dr. Bayless said.

Law professor Susan Wolf from The University of Minnesota said, "We all kind of count on the clinics to have their antennae up, to have a sense of when this isn't quite seeming right."

RMIA polices itself by limiting the number of times a woman can donate. The maximum number at the clinic is six.

Professor Wolf says IVF laws could use more oversight at the national level, but stops short of supporting a database that would keep track of donors.

"I don't want to start tracking them (donors) as if what, they were the bad guys," Wolf said. "they (donors) are the good guys."

Misti Walker says now that her three sons finally arrived, she would not change the way she got pregnant.

"It (IVF) just made a world of difference for us, because we wouldn't have that," Walker said.

While IVF is largely a self regulated industry in the United States, Wolf points to the United Kingdom as an example of central oversight.