Eggsploitation: Giving Voice to the Women hurt by the Fertility Industry

Few issues are more sensitive than those surrounding infertility and our attempts to overcome it.

Because infertility is so rarely talked about (or talked about badly), it’s easy for younger married folks to assume the process will go smoothly.  Consider Facebook:  you see the baby photos and the birth announcements, but never the fertility test results.  Those friends from high school and college who show up in your stream, pregnant and overjoyed, may have been through all manner of things to arrive at that point.  But except in the very closest of friendships, we only see the results and only rarely the process.

But for many couples, the process of infertility brings them into a sector of society and the economy that is fraught with ethical perils.

It’s odd to speak of fertility as an industry, but that is precisely where we find ourselves.  In order to meet the demand for embryonic stem cells and for those couples who cannot conceive without help, women and fertility clinics have taken to buying and selling eggs.

It’s a messy business.  Not only is it a largely unregulated $3 billion marketplace (try getting away with that in any other industry), but the medical community has largely ignored the effects of superovulation and the extraction of eggs on the women who undergo the process.

Eggsploitation, a documentary by the Center for Bioethics and Culture, sets out to document the stories of several women who did so and experienced severe medical complications as a result.  The stories are painful and often disturbing, so the documentary isn’t for the weak of heart.  But by concentrating on the risks that such treatments pose for women–treatments, I would note, that nearly all women who participate in IVF undertake–the film opens up a set of questions that few evangelicals writing about the subject seem to ask.

Consider, for instance, this otherwise helpful article from The Gospel Coalition on the factors that couples should weigh when considering fertility treatment.   Notice what isn’t there?  Any consideration of the women’s health in light of the treatment.  In some ways, that’s understandable.  Ethicists have a responsibility to deliberate in light of the facts and if the medical community isn’t presenting a critical set, then the deliberation must go forward as it is.

But therein lies the dilemma that Eggsploitation faces:  now that fertility has industrialized, the profit incentive means that there is every reason to avoid studies that would be damaging to the industry altogether.  What’s more, the fertility industry has the added benefit of being backed by “science” and the widespread cultural blind-spot that invariably comes up when the word is envoked (usually with a mystical tone of voice, as though summoning a specter).  We understand this sort of argument when it comes to, say, Wall Street.  But our earnest and sincere desire to have children and our incipient scientism make critiques and cautions of the sort Eggsploitation makes rather more difficult to swallow.

That all sounds a bit conspiratorial and the truth is usually much more boring than all that.  And the film isn’t about the medical industry’s reluctance to study the question per se as much as the need to study it in light of the growing body of anecdotes raising problems.

But it does highlight the dilemma the viewer faces in watching Eggsploitation.  It is only one side of the story and has come under criticism for it (read also the comments, where Jennifer Lahl admirably defends the work).  But given the lack of studies and documentation around the women who have undergone the process, viewers are left with the dilemma of incorporating the anecdotes into their decision making process.

The film, then, is not itself an argument for or against so much as a strong caution and a means of introducing into the broader conversation a new set of questions and concerns around IVF and the buying and selling of eggs.  And as such, it is worth every penny of your support and every minute of your time.

 

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  • http://feelingfertile.wordpress.com/ Jodie

    I have received donated eggs from a friend who offered, she doesn’t want children so even though she was aware of the risks she was happy to continue. This documentary seems wonderful as it is so important that these amazing women who offer such a gift, are fully informed of what may happen to them, and that they then get proper long term care.
    We live in strange times when doing something nice, doesn’t always go in your favour (financially, emotionally, physically, mentally). Egg donation is a womans’ choice, and in my opinion these women deserve to be crowned!
    Having received donated eggs, my view on the world has changed for the better. I want to be able to give back something for someone else more than ever.
    By the way, I live in England and here it is illegal to pay money for egg donation, so my poor wonderful friend has to put up with my love and hugs instead. And trust me, if I could buy her an island…..it wouldn’t come near to repaying her. I lost her/my pregnancy to miscarriage unfortunately, but we have frozen ones to try again with this year.
    Good luck to everyone out there; donors, infertiles, doctors… all of you are amazing x

  • http://collectingmythoughts.blogspot.com Norma

    This is the flip side of the lucrative “reproductive health” industry. Trying to find the studies that were done on unsuspecting (poor, underage, black or brown, foreign) women for birth control medications and tools is very difficult. 41 million women on birth control and try to find what becomes of all those hormones as they hit our water systems. . . beside feminizing the fish.

  • http://www.eggsploitation.com Jennifer Lahl

    Dear Jodie and Norma,

    Thank you for your comments. If I may comment briefly on some points made, to add to (I hope) the conversation and thinking. Jodie, first, we need to be charitable when couples are struggling with infertility as with any struggle we find ourselves facing. I find it curious that you say, “her/my pregnancy” and think we could tease that out for a long time. Whose child would it be if this is a shared three-party arrangement? Would the child’s best interest be served? Already in the UK (where you write from) the birth certificates have been changed to Parent A, B, C and D and no longer mother and father. That should give us pause . . . and while I share your sympathies for the lost pregnancy, the realities are most cycles fail. That bears out in the data which is collected. In the U.S. the failure rate is quite high, about 70%. And this is very expensive technology, that is not without risk to mother, child and egg ‘donor’.

    Norma, You environmental concerns are something I write and speak about a lot. In fact, we are feminizing not only fish, but the many species, including humans. Boys are being born with smaller testicles and lower sperm counts. Other species are being affected by the estrogen rich environment caused by oral contraception, and fertility drugs etc. And yes, they do make their way into our food sources and water supplies, having a negative impact that we are only starting to look at. I speak often of “greening the reproductive body”.

    In charity,

    Jennifer

    • http://feelingfertile.wordpress.com/ Jodie

      Hi Jennifer, thanks for your words. It took my a couple of years to get my head round egg donation and I like to think that my outlook on the child produced is a healthy and honest one. In my opinion it is vital for the child to know it’s unique and special beginnings, where it came from as it where. My donor knows how I feel and is happy with the child knowing about her (and her family if they wish to be involved). I know not all women/couples feel this way, and maybe most want to ignore the donated egg fact and continue as if the child were 100% their own. I do understand this, but I don’t think it’s best for the child in the long term.
      The whole fertility industry needs addressing, urgently, as it’s not handled well (as you are more than aware). I am an empathic person and always try to see all sides of a situation, but it’s quite clear that clinics are able to make their own rules, not necessarily bad ones, just that there needs to be more consistency. It is though, a very difficult field to navigate.

  • http://www.womenfaithculture.org Sarah Flashing

    Jennifer’s documentary provides a necessary look into the repro tech industry that, thus far, no one else cares to do. As difficult as it is for people in the midst of infertility to consider these important arguments, they deserve to be heard. I show it in my ethics class each semester in a community college and students are receptive to the concerns addressed by Eggsploitation. My students all have stories of infertility, IVF and egg donation within their families and wish they had known about the video sooner.