Egg Donors Needed" reads an ad on a campus bulletin board. "We are soliciting attractive women of all ethnicities between the ages of 21–29 who are physically fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. $15,000 plus all expenses."
Since the birth in Great Britain in 1978 of the world's first "test-tube baby," the fertility industry around the world has exploded. In the United States it has grown into a multi-billion-dollar market, offering women from all over the world big money, sometimes as much as $100,000, in exchange for their eggs. The ads solicit "donors," but they are, in effect, offers to purchase human eggs.
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Eggsploitation, a 2010 documentary produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture (www.cbc-network.org), takes a careful look at the women central to this largely unexamined and unregulated business. The film explains the procedure of egg harvesting, identifies the medical risks to donors, and unveils the human cost of egg donation in the lives of women for whom the well-meaning endeavor to make another couple's dream come true became a living—and in some cases, deadly—nightmare.
The film tells the stories of several such women. One of them, Calla, suffered a stroke within a few days of taking the required fertility drugs. She was hospitalized for a month, lost her own fertility, and nearly lost her life. Another donor, Alexandra, suffered a torsioned ovary, a condition that results when a stimulated ovary twists on itself and cuts off its own blood supply. She underwent multiple surgeries, lost her fertility, and subsequently contracted breast cancer—twice. And Jessica, who sold her eggs three times while in her twenties, died from colon cancer at age thirty-four.
Commoditizing Human Life
Though egg harvesting is a medical procedure, the entire paradigm diverges from conventional medicine in that the patient--donor is not ill. In fact, it is precisely because of her excellent health and other desirable traits that a woman is solicited to become an egg donor in the first place. She is the supplier who will meet another party's demand. Eggsploitation primarily addresses the substantial yet underreported health risks to the donor, but it also raises important questions concerning this practice, which literally commoditizes human life. Some of these questions are:
• If prospective buyers evaluate a supplier by looking at her picture and IQ score, does that elevate the value of the resulting life or cheapen it?
• How do we really feel about conception by contract?
• Can a donor ever inquire as to whether she has biological offspring? (With most agencies, she can't.)
Eggsploitation is a definite must-see for any woman considering egg donation and for couples considering in-vitro fertilization. Beyond that narrow audience, though, the questions it raises call for a thoughtful public discussion about our respect for human life, the place and value of children and families, and what it means to be human in an era of made-to-order babies. •
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