Eggsploitation.

Help Wanted: “My husband and I are looking for a young woman for egg donation…someone who is about my look and build…caucasian, fair skinned, slender with long legs…blonde/light brown hair.  You must be between the ages of 20 and 32; caucasian; of German, English, Eastern Europeon descent; be college-educated or attending college; healthy…no tattoos…You must also be willing to travel…”   (Ad posted under “jobs” on Craigslist NYC)

This afternoon I attended a local screening of Jennifer Lahl’s award-winning film Eggsploitation, which tells the story of three young women – all graduate students – who decided to sell their eggs in response to online ads promising big bucks and little pain.  In each case, the young woman received much more than she bargained for in the form of life-threatening complications and lifelong health concerns, including her own infertility.

The film raises so many disturbing issues, it’s difficult to know where to start.  The most obvious is the money involved.  We don’t allow payment for organs in this country because we have had our experience with the commodification of human beings and it didn’t go well.  I know that those with Libertarian tendencies shudder at the thought that the free market cannot remedy all problems, but in this case the market has created a demand for a “product” that should never have been for sale.  And for far too long the “invisible hand” of our laissez faire policy has allowed the development of a $6.5 billion industry to proceed unnoticed – and unregulated.

By unregulated I mean giving young women a drug that is approved by the FDA for end-stage prostate cancer without gathering one shred of data on the possible side effects of injecting it into healthy young women.  I also mean telling women there are “no known” complications from the drug when the better answer is that we know that there have been complications, but no one has bothered to do a thorough study on their prevalence.  And by unregulated I mean encouraging women to complete the “treatment” even after they complained of severe pain and other bad reactions to the drugs.

I don’t know what passes for informed consent these days, but the women depicted in the film – and many others like them – had no idea what they were getting into.  When they tried to research the potential dangers of the procedure, no such research was available.   So they relied on the assurance of egg brokers, who promised them the opportunity to “make someone’s dream come true” and a nice chunk of change besides.  Your classic win-win.

Aside from the lack of meaningful consent if not outright misrepresentation, I find it particularly troubling that the infertility industry has nonchalantly reinstituted what basically amounts to a form of chattell slavery.  Older couples with means are offering tens of thousands of dollars to young women who are cash-strapped and often mired in student loan debt in exchange for their eggs.

Of course the eggs are not “sold.”  That would be crass.  Instead there is a negotiated fee that accompanies the transaction once the “donation” is successful.

There is a legal presumption that such arrangements are inherently coercive.  It is, in fact, the same argument used to keep credit card issuers from advertising on college campuses.  How can we get so worked up about young people jeopardizing their credit scores yet not have a single regulation in place to protect young women who are jeopardizing their lives?

After the screening, someone asked why the National Organization for Women and other feminist groups aren’t in an uproar about the egg “donation” industry.  To their credit, many of them are.

The question I had is why is the prolife community largely silent on this issue?  In all of our enthusiasm to promote family building at all costs, why haven’t we stopped to consider the collateral damage?

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The duty to not be silent.

Much of the Middle East is under protest following the removal of former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak.  Regimes in Bahrain and Libya are murdering their citizens for demonstrating against the government, violating their human rights with impunity.  One would expect the United Nations, the self-anointed protectorate of fundamental human rights to do…or at least say…something.  So I checked the UN website for resolutions, press releases, or any official document that expresses the UN’s commitment to protecting human rights, including the freedom of expression and the right of self-determination.  These rights are explicitly outlined in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Bahrain – whose military opened fire on protesting crowds yesterday – has ratified.

It’s hard to tell whether the UN has taken an official position regarding political protests in its member states of Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Middle East.  After a month of protests, the UN has published only a handful of press releases condemning the use of excessive violence against peaceful protesters in the region, but not a single reference to the conflicts in any official documents.

So what has the United Nations been up to these days?

  • Reporting on the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (also known as “The Strategy”) which has as its objective “to become a global authority on scientific and technical knowledge.”  This is somewhat ironic since the UN doesn’t exactly have the most pristine record of accuracy and honesty when it comes to “scientific and technical knowledge.”  Maybe “The Strategy” is just another word for damage control following the Climategate scandal.
  • Speaking of climate change scandals, the UN has also been busy on its draft resolution on “Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies and Disaster Reduction.”  Really?  Why not a resolution providing UN funding for abortion to eradicate catastrophic climate change and secure a 35-hour work week ensuring adequate time for leisure?  Oh right – they already have one.
  • Issuing reports by the Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space.  Drafted by the Committee on the Relevant Use of Global Resources, no doubt.
  • Celebrating the recent passage of a recurring resolution condemning the “Defamation of Religion.”  By this they mean a resolution that gives Muslim majorities license to shamelessly persecute Christians, Jews, Baha’is and other religious minorities.
  • And of course entertaining yet another resolution condemning Israel.

Given the UN’s propensity to embrace distraction over substance, it would be easy to argue that the U.S. should simply withdraw from the global body or set up a sensible, focused alternative.  But I don’t think we should abandon the UN just yet.  Granted, the organization is a poster child for mission creep (in fact the term came from the disastrous UN mission to Somalia) – or, more accurately, mission leap.

Still, the United Nations was founded in the shadow of the Holocaust to remind people that the trappings of modernity had not abolished man’s sin nature.  Seemingly civilized, intelligent cultures produced regimes capable of committing barbaric, unthinkable crimes against human beings.  The original charge of the UN was to promote a common understanding of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms as universal and inalienable.  The laws of individual nations were only valid insofar as they comported with higher principles of justice.  The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights codified some of those principles and held them out as standards by which to measure national actions.

This was – and is – important.  The idea that we ought to govern ourselves by certain universal principles, which by definition apply to all people in all cultures at all times, is no longer in vogue.  No longer universal.  One of the problems with “multi-kulti” as practiced in the EU is that it celebrates particular cultural features as laudable per se, without holding them up to overarching principles of human conduct.

The disregard for universal principles is epidemic in the European Court of Human Rights, which does not reason from either legal precedent or principle.  The EU Court is guided by a Convention which most of its justices view as a “living” document that evolves according to the cultural consensus of the day.  Each case is viewed as a unique set of facts to be adjudicated according to what essentially amounts to the whim of the judges.  In the U.S. the standard for appealing a case to a higher court is whether the previous decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”  Without a framework of principles by which to judge, every decision is, quite literally, absurd.

Of course our Supreme Court, when it strays outside the boundaries of the Constitution and rummages for “rights” in “emanations and penumbras,” is quite capable of issuing its own incoherent rulings.  And our Congress has not always shown adequate deference to our founding documents.  One of the responsibilities of citizens of free nations is knowing how to evaluate the laws of man against higher principles of justice – and being brave enough to articulate the difference.

The first principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  It is no accident that this echoes our own Declaration, which holds that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”  This truth, as our Founders recognized, is self-evident.  And it is exclusive.

It is not compatible with slavery, elitism, Sharia law or caste systems and we should not be afraid to say so, whether we are in the US, the EU, the UAE or the UN.  Universal principles are after all universal.

To the extent that we have abandoned the framework of first principles, we are rendered incapable of respecting and protecting basic human rights.  Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949, we have witnessed genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, North Korea, Sudan, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.  Yet time after time the international community has been paralyzed, unable or unwilling in each of the above cases to stop perpetrators who were in clear violation of international law.

The U.S. is by far the largest contributor to the UN and, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has the power to veto any substantive resolution.  Yet we have lost our authority to bring clarity and purpose to this body.  Why?

It has often been said, as the Church goes, so goes the nation.  I would argue that, by extension, as the Body of Christ at large goes, so go the nations.  The Church in America has had a rocky relationship at best with first principles.  We have been conflicted and confused on every moral issue since our founding.  Pastors, preaching in the name of Jesus and citing Scripture as their source, have defended – and continue to defend – conduct that cannot be reconciled with Scripture or with basic principles of human rights.  I am not talking about fringe elements here.  George Whitefield, who is credited with furthering one of the great revivals in American history, believed slave labor was essential to the prosperity of the South.  Partly because of his efforts, slavery was made legal in Georgia.  In a remarkable display of moral confusion, Whitefield used the proceeds from his slave plantation (ironically named “Providence”) to fund an orphanage.

Southern Baptists are called “Southern” because they chose to align themselves with the interests of Southern slaveholders rather than adhere to the basic principle that all men are created equal, which arises from the premise that all men are created in the image of God.

Internationally, the Church has fared no better. In July of 1933, the Catholic Church introduced the “Reichskonkordat,” a covenant between the Holy See and the Third Reich, which effectively neutralized the Church’s opposition to the Nazis in exchange for certain protections.  The Concordat was signed four months after the Enabling Act of March 23, 1933, which gave Hitler unfettered power to pass laws without any meddlesome interference from the parliament.  The Church negotiated a covenant with Hitler knowing the German constitution had been abolished and with it any access to civil rights.

In the same year, the “German Christians” co-opted the German Evangelical Church and declared the cause of Christ compatible with the agenda of the Nazi Party.  While claiming to be “carried by the eternal love of the heavenly father, free through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and sanctified by the power of God’s spirit,” they warned that “the cross of Christ and the swastika should not and may not oppose each other.”  During their first public worship service, the German Christians opened with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and closed by singing “Germany, Germany Above Everything, Above Everything in the World.”  So much for coherence.

Thirty years later, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. chastised his white brothers in Christ for “refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”  It is notable that Dr. King begins his letter to his fellow clergyman with a tutorial on first principles: “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”  And it is tragic that nearly fifty years after Dr. King wrote his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, most Christians are still silent on injustice.

We have forfeited our authority as a voice of truth and moral clarity in the nations.  For that we have to repent.

Once we have brushed off the ashes and replaced our sackcloth with street clothes, we need to be about the business of understanding that what is is not always what should be.  Sometimes there is a huge chasm between the “is” and the “ought.”  The great divide is a consequence of not aligning ourselves and our world with certain fundamental principles.  I will stick my neck out here and say that it is not enough to quote chapter and verse.  We have to be able to articulate universal principles in terms that people everywhere can understand and then defend those principles against all comers who argue from self-interest.  This is not an easy task.  As history has borne out, sometimes first principles will get in the way of our own interests and even our own safety.  But, as Dr. King so aptly put it, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the [twenty-first] century.”

Scoundrels under the dome.

20130315-010539.jpgIt doesn’t take a political wonk to know that not all members of Congress are persons of sterling character or stellar intellect. But as our Constitution would have it, Representatives must face the public at least once every other year and voters can always hope that an inadequate candidate will be replaced by someone more suitable for the job. Deep in the recesses of the U.S. Capitol, however, are 100 Representatives who voters have never cast a ballot for and who can remain at their posts indefinitely.

They are the men and women of bronze and stone who dwell under the Dome at the behest of their state legislatures. Since the mid-1800’s, states have been authorized to select two notable persons to reside in Statuary Hall – persons “illustrious for their historic renown” or “worthy of national commendation.”

So, who would some of these remarkable persons be?

Virginia selected George Washington, of course, and New Hampshire has Daniel Webster. Montana picked Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress (a Republican, in case you’re wondering). In 2009 Alabama ousted Jabez Curry to make room for Helen Keller. Not bad company, so far.

But not every state has its Washington. Apparently, some have had to scrape the bottom of the notoriety barrel to dredge up someone of suitable stature. Take South Carolina, for example. In 1929, the state decided that Wade Hampton was sufficiently notable to grace the halls of Congress. Hampton, who served as Governor and then U.S. Senator, was a Confederate war hero who just happened to be an outstanding fundraiser…for the KKK. He was an ardent supporter of “Lost Cause” ideology, which holds that the Civil War was a war of aggression by the North against states’ rights and the Southern way of life. Which sounds noble until one remembers that the only right consistently defended by the Southern states was the” right” to own and exploit other human beings. Oh yeah. That.

Speaking of lost causes, one of Mississippi’s choice representatives in Statuary Hall is Jefferson Davis, a man who declared in the Chamber of the U.S. Senate that slavery is “nothing but the form of civil government instituted for a class of people not fit to govern themselves…just that kind of control which is extended in every northern State over its convicts, its lunatics, its minors, its apprentices.” Really? Are you sure that’s the man you want to hold up as “worthy of national commendation?”

But Hampton and Davis are ancient history, so what’s the harm? After all, we’re talking about statues. Relics. Artifacts of bygone days.

I recently met a man who proudly referred to himself as an “unreconstructed Southerner.” Unapologetic. Unrepentant. Unsorry for believing that his Cause was right to sacrifice 600,000 men to perpetuate a way of life sustained off the bloodied backs of other men who had the misfortune to be born in the wrong skin.

And so Wade Hampton and Jeff Davis and others like them continue to live in the Capitol. Their Cause may be lost, but it is not dead. If only they were remnants of a distant era. If only their sole purpose under the Dome was to serve as a reminder of man’s capacity for unspeakable brutality to other men.

If only bad ideas had term limits.