An Arcata woman is suing national reproductive-medicine groups, alleging that they and their member fertility clinics have engaged in a price-fixing scheme to underpay female donors for their eggs.
In her lawsuit, filed this week in San Francisco's federal courthouse, plaintiff Justine Levy alleges that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology have essentially formed a cartel designed to suppress the amount of money paid to egg donors. The Society alone includes 395 clinics, or 85 percent of the U.S. market.
Levy says this scheme is deviously explained through a false ethical pretext. The organizations assert that they seek to regulate prices so as not to offer an undue incentive for women to go through the uncomfortable and prolonged process of egg donation. As a result, in 2000 they set guidelines stating that paying more than $5,000 for an egg should only be done after careful consideration, and paying more than $10,000 should not be done at all.
"The maximum price rules set by Defendants are not merely ethical guidelines, but strict rules that must be followed [by fertility clinics] as a condition of membership," the complaint states. "The maximum price rules do not take into account the time, discomfort, health risks or possibility of future medical complications that come with donating human eggs. Nor do they take into account any adjustment for cost of living changes within the past 11 years."
Levy says in her complaint that she was paid $3,500 in February 2008 for donating an egg to a Seattle clinic. About $85 million worth of human eggs are sold in the U.S. annually, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint was filed as part of a class-action suit; Levy and her lawyers say their class could include thousands of other donors. The suit states that the plaintiffs will seek damages of more than $5 million.
And who knows how much they'll make on film rights for this legal battle.
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