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Egg-Seeking Ad Draws Nearly 30 Harvard Applicants

By Rachel P. Kovner, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

A $50,000 offer convinced more than 20 Harvard students to respond to splashy ads in college newspapers which sought an egg donor for an infertile couple, the couple's representative said this week.

The ad campaign raised eyebrows and ethical concerns due to the enormous sum of money involved and the specificity of the egg seekers' demands. The ad--which ran in The Crimson and six other college newspapers this past semester--sought "intelligent, athletic" women, 5'10" or over, with SAT scores of at least 1400.

But Darlene Pinkerton, the couple's representative at a San Diego law firm, said that despite the requirements, around 90 qualified candidates completed applications.

And Harvard students, she said, comprise an unusually large portion of the pool, in large part because the firm targeted Harvard students more aggressively than those at other colleges.

"There's a good number from Harvard," Pinkerton said. "That's where we expected the most from."

Pinkerton said she received over 300 initial queries from the ad, but that the field became smaller after candidates received information describing the complicated medical procedure required.

"It explains what the retrieval process is," Pinkerton said. "That's the point [when] we get a lot of attrition." Egg donors take hormones to boost their egg production before undergoing minor surgery to have the eggs removed.

Despite the attrition, Pinkerton said she was surprised that the ad drew the number of respondents that it did. An earlier ad for the same couple--which promised "large financial incentive" but omitted a dollar figure--did not attract much interest.

"We were very surprised by [the response] because we had placed an ad before and we only got two responses," she said. "This time we put in the money and we were a bit more specific."

But Harvard officials said they were not surprised that large numbers of their students responded to the ad.

"Especially when you're facing the bills that one has to pay for college and if one is thinking about graduate school or professional school, $50,000 can go a long way," said Stephen H. Behnke, a fellow in ethics and instructor in the psychology department. "Given the size of the inducement, it's not a surprise."

Behnke said he fears the ads will lead Harvard students to take on responsibilities for which they are not yet prepared.

"If you have someone who has not been a parent before, I wonder if they can really appreciate the significance of creating a life in this manner," he said. "I would be concerned that the size of the financial inducement is such that it's not going to be either a free or voluntary choice on the individual's behalf."

The ads also attracted the attention of University Health Services Director David S. Rosenthal '59, who said he was concerned about the health risks involved.

"I would advise every woman considering this to get good advice from a non-interested party, such as our OB/GYN service," Rosenthal wrote in an e-mail message.

The over 20 Harvard students who completed the process sent in an application including a personal profile and family medical history. Finalists will undergo a psychological screening and physical exam.

"That part is very expensive, so you really want to have it narrowed down," Pinkerton said.

The egg-seekers--whose bill will eventually include over $15,000 in medical costs in addition to the funds for the advertisements, attorney's fees, and the $50,000 compensation to the donor--will then make the final selection.

"The choice will be made on who most resembles their family," Pinkerton said. "When you're talking about people who are very intelligent, you're looking at grades and that sort of thing, and then it really comes down to who looks most like the family."

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