Friday 14 October 2011

The infertility industry's "dirty little secret"

Fiorella Nash, an SPUC political researcher, has reviewed an important documentary focusing on the artificial reproduction industry. The film Eggsploitation focuses on the impact that selling their ova has on the lives of individual women. The makers of the film say:
The infertility industry in the United States has grown to a multi-billion dollar business. What is its main commodity? Human eggs. Young women all over the world are solicited by ads—via college campus bulletin boards, social media, online classifieds—offering up to $100,000 for their “donated” eggs, to “help make someone’s dream come true.” But who is this egg donor? Is she treated justly? What are the short- and long-term risks to her health? The answers to these questions will disturb you . . .
Produced by The Center for Bioethics and Culture (Lines That Divide, 2009), Eggsploitation spotlights the booming business of human eggs told through the tragic and revealing stories of real women who became involved and whose lives have been changed forever.
You can watch the trailer below.

The Infertility Industry’s Dirty Little Secret – a review of Eggsploitation
by Fiorella Nash (SPUC)

One of the most neglected ethical issues both in this country and abroad is also one which arguably involves the greatest threat to human life and the most blatant exploitation of women. Like the abortion industry, it treats early human life as property to be used or destroyed, it is highly lucrative for the professionals involved and it quietly abuses and manipulates the very women it claims to be helping. I am talking of course about the multi-million dollar IVF industry, which cashes in on the desperation of infertile couples by promising to make their dream of having a child come true. In a world where thousands of unwanted children are killed through abortion every day, the abortion industry’s alter ego is creating, screening and destroying thousands of embryos in the name of supplying other women with ‘wanted’ children.

In many ways, the IVF industry has been a great deal more successful than the abortion industry in terms of its public image. Associated as it is with smiling couples holding beautiful babies, IVF has become mainstream and people talk openly and positively about IVF in a way that they would never talk about abortion. This is partly because the destructive aspect of IVF is less obvious and many people do not appreciate the amount of embryo wastage that occurs as a result of artificial procreation. It is also easier for scientists to provoke confusion and doubt about the humanity of an embryo under fourteen days than that of a baby of much later gestation. However, whereas pro-abortion forces try to ridicule, trivialise or silence the stories of the many women who regret their abortions, those involved with the fertility industry have not even bothered to acknowledge the existence of women who have been hurt and indeed killed by the risky procedures involved in the harvesting of eggs.

Eggsploitation exposes the manipulation of young women – usually students – by a fertility industry reliant upon a continuous supply of eggs from ‘suitable’ donors and the callous disregard shown to donors when their health is severely compromised. The women interviewed had all had a desire to help an infertile couple to have their dream baby and they were notably all struggling financially at the time, meaning that their decision to go through with the egg-harvesting process was heavily influenced by promises of thousands of dollars in remuneration. The documentary charts the brutal process egg donation involves; the self-administration of powerful drugs to block normal menstrual cycles, yet more drugs to hyper-stimulate ovulation and the final operation to extract the eggs when they have matured.

The women interviewed included one woman who suffered a stroke following the egg extraction surgery which left her paralysed and unable to have children of her own, and a PhD student who was repeatedly instructed to carry on injecting herself with drugs in spite of her concerns for her well-being and who went on to suffer a pierced artery and severe internal bleeding. The saddest story of all was from another former student named Alexandra who collapsed in excruciating pain following egg extraction. She was sent home from the fertility clinic twice before her condition was taken seriously and her life was saved with the loss of an ovary. A risk I had not come across before but which was mentioned almost in passing was that in her early thirties, Alexandra was diagnosed with breast cancer and, she noted, two of the other young women in her breast cancer help group had been an egg donor or undergone IVF treatment, with her doctor acknowledging that a disproportionate number of young women diagnosed with breast cancer had been exposed to high doses of hormones that way.

Almost as appalling as the descriptions of serious medical emergencies (and I warn you that this documentary is not for the squeamish) were the women’s accounts of the way they were treated by their fertility clinics/agencies when they suspected problems or became ill. One woman had her concerns about an underlying health problem dismissed by fertility specialists keen to stop her backing out of donating her eggs and she only refused to go ahead when her own doctor warned her that she was at risk of seizures if she took the prescribed drugs. Another spoke of being contacted by the fertility clinic when she was seriously ill in hospital recovering from a stroke, to be told that she had not produced enough eggs and would be paid less than originally agreed.

Most heartbreaking of all were the interviews with the mothers of two young women who did not live to tell their own story and the video footage of one of them dancing in front of the camera, the picture of health, was almost unbearable to watch. The fertility industry has a serious case to answer. As one of the interviewees said towards the end of the programme: “My case does not show up in any statistics.” It is astonishing that these procedures should be being carried out on women when the studies to gauge the serious long and short term risks have not been carried out. The exploitation of women and the terrible suffering they have endured needs to be publicly recognised and this grotesque industry stopped from doing any further harm.

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