Do ads for young egg donors go too far?

A Channel 2 Action News investigation looks into the way young women are recruited for egg donations.

ATLANTA — For some couples trying to have a baby, eggs from a donor may be the only way to grow their family.

Channel 2's Sophia Choi spoke to one former donor who questions if young women recruited for donations know of risks up front, and if there is enough research to know what some long term risks really are.

Shana Harter is a natural mom. But her pregnancy wasn't.

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"Now I was on the other side," Harter told Choi. "I was that poor lady I felt bad for when I was 22 that couldn't have a baby."

To help those poor infertile women, Shana donated her eggs twice, after hearing an ad on the radio. The ad explained young women like Shana could help families, and make thousands of dollars.

"$5,000 was a lot of money to me back then," Shana said.

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Georgia Tech professor Aaron Levine researched compensation, and risk disclosures in ads, recruiting egg donors.

"I've personally seen ads in the $50,000 to $75,000 range," Levine told Choi.

Levine said compensation limits and advertising are self-regulated by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. They said if a benefit is mentioned in an ad, risks, like potential side effects, must also be disclosed.

In a 2014 study that looked at more than 400 recruitment ads, Levine found only 16 percent of them mentioned risks.

“We looked at whether or not those risks were really being disclosed in the advertisement. And by and large, they weren't," Levine said.

Dr. Diane Tober at the University of California at San Francisco has been tracking women after they go through the donation process. She said after women spend weeks going through screening, they are so invested in donation process they may ignore risks, so up front disclosure is important.

Tober also questions what the long-term risks are. She said doctors may not know all the outcomes because women's health is not tracked years after they donate.

"There's been a lack of information and a lack of research on donors' experiences medically and emotionally and in other contexts," Tober said.

Tober has surveyed more than 200 egg donors.

"Some of them are very satisfied with the process and feel like they had access to enough information, and other women feel like they did not have access to enough information," Tober said.

Tober said some women she spoke with started having fertility problems, then questioned the lack of long-term research.

"Given that you cannot make that direct connection some do women feel, 'I wonder if my egg donation caused me to have this fertility problem now,'" Tober said.

"What do you think caused your infertility?" Choi asked.

"I don't want to say I know for sure it was the egg donation, but I can't say that it wasn't either," Shana Harter said.

But medical experts doubt claims egg donation can impact fertility.

Dr. Mark Perloe has practiced fertility medicine for more than 25 years. He said studies on in vitro fertilization show no correlation between egg donation and fertility problems.

Perloe said there are a number of problems with tracking women -- years after a donation including a patient's anonymity.

"Long term studies are great when we have them, but there's so many variables that go into affecting a woman's fertility," he said.

Perloe said his ads to recruit donors don't disclose risks.

"A TV commercial or an advertisement is not the time to discuss risks and really inform someone of the specific risks," Perloe said.

He said women get known risks, like drug side effects, during the intense selection process.

Perloe said they choose only one or two women to donate out of every 100 who apply to participate.

"We want to make sure this is the right thing for the woman who's going through it that she's not going to regret becoming an egg donor," Perloe said.

Shana Harter said she has never regretted being an egg donor.

"I do feel like I made a difference to somebody," Harter told Choi. "But I wouldn't recommend it to my friend or my daughter."