Dynamist Blog

The Egg Market

"Governor Signs Bill Protecting Egg Donors" is the headline on this LAT article. A more accurate title would be "Governor Signs Bill Discouraging Egg Donors" or, mirroring the actual headline's bias, "Governor Signs Bill Exploiting Egg Donors." The new law forbids paying compensation to women who provide eggs for research.

The cover story of Reason's October issue is a first-person account by an egg donor, the magazine's associate editor Kerry Howley. Her story focuses less on regulation, which is minimal for U.S. fertility treatments, and more on the contradictory rhetoric surrounding "donation"--rhetoric that, I believe, helps explain why it's so easy to ban compensation when the ban won't run afoul of noisy, well-educated, affluent would-be parents. Here's a bit of the story's conclusion:

The strongest response to such opponents is not that IVF is natural or altruistic, but that it can be neither of those things without detracting from the dignity of the child-to-be. My experiences bear no resemblance to the nightmarish scenarios thrown out by those who portray egg donation as a clumsy eugenics scheme. Strip away the nexus of fertility doctor, donor agency, and donor, and two would-be parents were hoping for a kid who would look something like them. They weren't looking for a "designer baby," so much as a close approximation of the homegrown variety.

Before we ask IVF opponents to accept the implications of new reproductive technologies, though, we might ask the same of IVF supporters. From the recipient's side, the egg donor process can be an extended effort to pretend that the donation never occurred. Straddling the natural and the artificial, egg donation embodies a contradiction. It glorifies the experience of natural pregnancy and the gift of biological children, while it in fact produces neither: Egg donor babies are the product of foreign genetic codes, and the "natural" pregnancy is manufactured in the lab. The approximation of natural pregnancy also entails a studied psychological distance from the donor who made the pregnancy possible.

Opponents of IVF have long warned that the bond between mother and child will be eroded by further advances in assisted reproduction, the implication being that mothers will eschew the time and labor of traditional pregnancies once they can outsource to the lab. In practice, IVF seems to demonstrate the opposite extreme: Women value pregnancy to such a degree that they will spend lavishly to approximate the experience, adding expense, discomfort, and ethical quandary to the already burdensome ordeal of childbirth. The desire to stick to the traditional script of family is surprisingly robust, and reproductive technologies allow potential parents to follow that script even when nature erects barriers. Though IVF entails risk, discomfort, and the prospect of having to abort multiple fetuses, many parent apparently prefer it to what might seem a far less ethically complex response to infertility: adoption. Natural motherhood is not obsolescent, as The Atlantic once predicted, but ascendant, in vogue to an almost disturbing degree.

Those who worry reproductive technologies will destroy the family probably haven't had much contact with parents who will spend many thousands of dollars to create one. If there is a risk, it is that IVF might instead ossify the definition of family, stressing insularity above openness, the appearance of a "natural" pregnancy over adoption, genetic legacy over less rigidly defined familial bonds. For all the otherworldliness of egg donation, parents who choose the process cling to the traditional: children who appear to be their own, who are born through what appears to be a natural pregnancy. It's a bold new path to very familiar territory.

ArchivedDeep Glamour Blog ›

Blog Feed

Articles Feed