“Exploitation of women.” The word conjures up many images, none of them good. Cashing in on women, unfair treatment, abuse or oppression.
When I write about women selling their bodies, most readers immediately jump to conclusions about prostitution, or the sex slave trade of young girls trafficked out of central Europe and Asia. Yet few people consider the other trafficking, the exploitation that takes place on college campuses and in third world countries every day. Women selling their eggs for cash, lured by promises of “generous compensation,” a greedy wolf wrapped in the “sheep’s clothing” of altruism.
Egg donation. It’s anything but donation. Harvesting women’s eggs for money is part of a $6.5 billion dollar fertility industry that targets young women, particularly those who are tall, attractive and physically fit. Women with high IQs and a desire to assist another woman to conceive a child. Women exploited by an industry that tells them too little about research that is too sparse and a procedure that can cost them their own fertility—or their lives.
The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (www.cbc-network.org) in San Ramon, CA has recently produced an excellent documentary entitled Eggsploitation that speaks to this issue, one highlighted in my upcoming novel Nobody’s Child. Poor women and cash strapped co-eds drive their bodies into hyper-stimulated ovulations, producing a bountiful crop of genetic material for money. “Selling your body” takes on a new wrinkle in an unregulated industry desperate for human eggs. Women donors—and their sperm-selling male friends—have ushered in a new global market in gametes: DNA for sale.
I have friends who’ve been blessed to conceive through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). I’m not here to bash their experience and their gift of children. However, I agree with the ethicist quoted in the CBC documentary Eggsploitation who stated that women become little more than walking egg factories as part of this chilling social experiment in the harvest and sale of anonymous gametes. Whether stem cell research, cloning studies, or in-vitro fertilization, the fertility industry and medical research are completely dependent on a woman’s egg. When a market is allowed to emerge that pays for DNA, there will be women desperate for money who turn to their own genetic material as a source of cash. Then the trouble begins.
I was a poor college student at Rice University in 1973, living near Houston’s Baylor Medical Center. An intriguing flyer on a campus wall promised $25 a visit for healthy students willing to be research subjects in drug trials. A roomate urged me to give it a try. “Easy money,” he promised. I did, and I never went back, reeling with dizziness from the strange drug I took in an unmarked office. 37 years later, I wonder at that experience, curious what long-term impact the drug may have had on me. Probably none, but women who donate eggs can’t always say the same. Ovarian cancer, stroke, breast cancer, Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome, cervical cancer, inflamed or scarred ovaries—or the nastiest twist of fate—infertility . . . all are potential results of egg donation, spurred by an industry that demands large harvests from its donors in return for “generous compensation.”
Stroke, cancer, or infertility. Is it worth it? The egg donor industry exploits women; those who lose in the deal will drift into a nameless void, their loss of life or health grim statistics that rarely track back to the industry that bought their eggs. The purchase of human ova exploits women around the world, an untold number of them suffering lifelong repercussions in silence. Is it worth it? Are we ready to embrace the genetic industries and anonymous fertility of Huxley’s Brave New World as our model for the 21st century?
I hope not. You can’t undo a harm.