Toxic Money or Paid Altruism: The Meaning of Payments for Identity-Release Gamete Donors

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Public discourses commonly frame gamete, organ and other forms of bodily donation as altruistic ‘gifts’. However, despite on‐going debates about the ethics of payments to donors, few studies have examined the views of donors themselves regarding the meaning of payments and their compatibility (or not) with understandings of these practices as gifts. This article addresses this issue, analysing 24 in‐depth interviews with UK identity‐release gamete donors. It was crucial to all participants that their donation be viewed as fundamentally other‐oriented, motivated by the desire to help others. However, whilst egg donors often accommodated payment within this narrative, male participants explained that any money would taint the gift they had given. I argue that sperm donors faced particular challenges to incorporating payment within a gift narrative for two key reasons: first, sperm donors relied on a discourse of ‘pure altruism’, including absolute opposition between gifts and market exchange, in order to present their donation as other‐oriented. In contrast, egg donors were also able to mobilise a discourse of relational giving to present their donations as a personal gift. Second, according to a continued stereotype of sperm donors as financially motivated students, their payments have already been culturally earmarked as side‐line earnings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)707-717
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number4
Early online date24 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


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