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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