Last year, infertile couples in the U.S. spent nearly $3 billion to improve their chances of having babies. They also paid out more than $38 million for egg donations, a procedure that's become both popular and controversial as fertility clinics and brokers bid for the best and brightest egg donors.
Colleges offer some of the best gene pools for infertile couples looking for smart young women willing to donate their eggs. And ads, found in many college newspapers, can speed the search by offering cash-strapped students thousands of dollars, "for a few good eggs."
Carrie Specht answered one of the ads eight years ago when she was a struggling student at New York University. "I'm not going to kid anybody; the dollar signs were there first and foremost." Because it's illegal to sell body parts in the U.S., the money is considered a fee for a woman's time and inconvenience.
Professor Deborah Spar, author of the "Baby Business", a book that looks at the economics of conception, says any way you look at it, it's still a cash transaction. "They are not donating eggs -- in most cases, they are selling them. Yes, it's a miraculous science, but there's also commerce."
It's a profitable bit of commerce for donors with high demand characteristics such as top academic scores, athletic ability and good looks.
Carrie wound up donating four times, using some of the money to start a film company, which she aptly named Zygot Films. "I do know there are at least three children out there that are carrying my DNA,” she says. “I like it a lot, I like the idea that I have longevity."
Not everyone feels the same way. Shannon Clark was a college sophomore when she donated an egg to a relative. Now ten years later and pregnant with her first child, she has regret.
"As I grow older and more mature and started to have maternal instincts and feelings of my own,” she says, “I realized, wow, this wasn't just DNA, this was my child, I gave to my aunt."
Industry watchdogs say there's currently very little government oversight on the fertility industry and even fewer rules on egg donations, such as how many times a woman can donate or how much she should be paid. Deborah Spar wants a debate on the medical and ethical questions surrounding egg donations - a procedure that doctors say involves weeks of hormone injections and a small risk of long-term health problems.