I attended a showing of the film, Eggsploitation, recently. It’s a documentary about the industry of using purchased or donated eggs of young women in Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), and the effects of this practice on some of these young women. The audience at the showing was populated by people representing different perspectives on the issue. There were “Right to Life”-ers, professionals from the treatment of infertility community, folks who work in adoption, and even a young woman who had donated her eggs six times.
I have heard the advertisements for eggs on the local radio stations my teenagers listen to. In Atlanta, I’ve heard the purchasing price of $6000 to $8000. According to the documentary, in some places, the most sought after eggs are going for $50,000. The most “expensive” eggs come from highly intelligent, attractive, tall, physically fit women who are 21 to 29 years of age. ART is a $6.5 billion a year industry where 70% of ART cycles fail to achieve a live birth. Many, many eggs are needed in this industry as well as for stem cell research.
The documentary traced the process that these egg donors go through. It includes drugs to stop their menstrual cycles, drugs to increase their production of eggs, drugs to release their eggs, and egg removal by suction in the operating room under anesthesia. The women interviewed in the documentary had suffered surgery complications, stroke, paralysis, cancer, and infertility in later years. The egg donor in the audience was quick to point out that not all donors suffer adverse effects. But the point of the documentary was that the safety and risks of egg donation has never been studied. And there are no plans to begin studies at the present time. Who protects these women? Without the benefit of tracking research, we won’t know how risky it is to individual women.
It was suggested the money be taken out of the equation. The more a woman is in need of money, the more likely she is to take the risk. In Eastern Europe, there is trafficking in eggs. The producer of the film had received a message from one woman who said her eggs were “stolen.” How could that be? She went to the operating room and was rendered unconscious for egg retrieval. Upon awakening, she was told that she had no eggs and, therefore, was not entitled to be paid. My friend in adoption pointed out that this same deception was practiced on some mothers whose babies were placed for adoption in the 1930s and 1940s. They were told that their babies had died during delivery to avoid the mothers trying to track where their babies had gone.
My friend in adoption also asked the question: What about the children? Egg and sperm donation, like adoption a few years ago, is done anonymously. The children have no access to the human being who is their genetic forebear.
The producer of the film made three recommendations: Take the money out. Remove anonymity. Be honest about the lack of research to provide “informed consent.”
I couldn’t help but think about my own journey to become a parent, and to feel grateful that due to our “unexplained infertility” we had never used egg or sperm donation to try to achieve a pregnancy. Most women seem to want that physical connection to their child that is pregnancy. And they and their partners are willing to pay large sums of money for that experience.
In my own life, I found a substitute for pregnancy. I “connected” to my children’s mothers. I loved with them before their children entered the world. Now, with more education on the matter, I understand that my connection to these mothers probably wasn’t fair to them. It put pressure on them to want to give me their children. I don’t know what the solution is to that problem. What I do know is that in my experience, loving my children’s mothers was like an invisible umbilical cord that connected me to both mother and child. That connection has translated into wanting for my children what BOTH his or her mothers want for our collective child.
Sure, it adds another layer to decision-making to think: What would this child’s mother do in these circumstances? But I also think it keeps me honest about who each of my children is – part genetics and part nurture. My biological child might have been a basketball player; and I know basketball. But the child I have through the legal construction of adoption is a swimmer or dancer or something else. I have to figure out how to be a parent to THAT child; and I feel I owe that to their birthmothers, whom I loved first. Even with Becton’s closed adoption, I find myself thinking about his first mother’s wishes because I was trained through open adoption to consider her prayers for her child. No money. No anonymity. Truthful information. It feels right – even if parenting is more complicated in some ways.