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With infertility on the rise in the United States and insurance companies covering a variety of fertility treatments, getting medical help to have children feels like the normal path for wanting parents.
Because of what feels like the cultural ubiquity of hormonal birth control, vasectomies and in vitro fertilization (IVF) I’ve never really questioned if such things should be allowed. IVF and egg harvesting plot lines are featured in many popular long-running show — Pretty Little Liars, Friends and the new Sex and The City spinoff. It’s become as standard of a plot device as the long lost sibling (like in That 70s Show, Friends, Gilmore Girls, Peaky Blinders, Dynasty, etc.)
I started feeling weird toward the idea of commercial egg sales this past year because almost everyday, I see targeted ads on YouTube videos trying to entice me into selling my eggs. As a 23-year-old who only just started contributing to her savings account, it makes sense for fertility clinics specializing in egg sales to target healthy girls in my age group and income level. Depending on the state and clinic, a woman can make anywhere between $6,000 to $60,000 per successful extraction.
Once extracted, a lengthy and often difficult process, a women’s eggs are basically up for sale to the highest bidder, nationally or internationally. The United States is one of the friendliest countries for legal egg and sperm sales, as well as commercialized surrogacy. Such practices are illegal in most of the world, including Europe and parts of Canada. Similarly to how Korea and China are hot spots for American parents who weren’t interested in waiting through the U.S. foster care system, the United States has now become the spot for international, wealthy, fertility challenged couples to grow babies in leased wombs or obtain viable eggs.
Is my ability to sell my eggs an extension of free will and bodily autonomy, or is it a predatory market that targets financially vulnerable young women like myself?
The temptation to make such a tidy sum is huge and a cited reason for why this summer India’s parliament banned commercial surrogacy. In America, an indebted college student could sell her eggs for quite a profit, sign away any claim to her genetic offspring and potentially never think about her decision again. But is this what actually happens?
Most of America does not share my religious opposition to IVF, surrogacy or hormonal birth control. “It’s what God wants” isn’t a compelling argument. To reframe it, we ought to consider whether this is this the most considerate path to create a baby? Can we genuinely give away a piece of ourselves that’s uniquely connected to us, and never regret it? Are we presently living in The Handmaid’s Tale scenario that Elisabeth Moss has been warning us about on HBO? Is it hurting women to allow these types of arrangements and contracts to be drawn up?
These are very serious questions that we’ve almost entirely stopped asking in the public policy space because it seems like the fertility genie is proverbially out of the bottle, or more appropriately, the petri dish. This is actually not the case. Although commercial (compensated) egg sales are legal in all 50 states, commercial surrogacy is only legal in Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Massachusetts and Vermont while altruistic surrogacy, meaning without traditional compensation akin to a “gift,” is legal in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nebraska, Virginia, Oregon and Washington. Many states and other countries are still trying to figure out how to, and if they even should, regulate this broad market.
Autonomy and personal choice rule the feminist movement and are often cited as reasons for why abortion and birth control should be easily accessible, everywhere, in all circumstances. These principles have extended to IVF and the commercial baby-making industry. In all of our free will celebrations, we should consider the market conditions and incentives that our systems and public policies encourage, and the negative outcomes they can produce. A college student selling her half of a future child to pay off loans doesn’t feel like freedom to me.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com