The Power of Film to Tell Stories

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture

CBC’s Jennifer Lahl and Wesley J. Smith are occasional writers for ToTheSource.org. Recently ToTheSource interviewed Jennifer.To The Source: How did you become interested in egg donation? What brought this to your attention?Jennifer Lahl: I became interested in it as a broader issue within the various reproductive technologies. I’ve been writing and speaking on reproductive technology for close to a decade, and through my work, egg donors in the U.S. have found me and contacted me to tell me their stories. These were women whose stories had a negative outcome, and the donors had nowhere to go. Also, being involved in the stem cell debates, I was concerned with the growing demand for human eggs which will be needed to do the research. TTS: What is your background? Why are you the one to make this film?Lahl: I worked in pediatric nursing for some 20 years and I have a graduate degree in bioethics. With my training in reproductive ethics and bioethics coupled with the fact that I am a strong patient advocate, I felt qualified to make this film. Also, I co-produced “Lines That Divide: The Great Stem Cell Debate” last year, which was an official selection in the 2010 California Independent Film Festival, so I felt capable of writing, directing and producing “Eggsploitation.” I also had a growing network of egg donors reaching out to me, and I felt that I was well positioned to make this film and the time to make it was now.TTS: What made you decide to make a film about this issue (as opposed to writing a book or some other means of engaging the topic)? Lahl: I think that the power of story in very important. It’s compelling to watch these women tell what happened to them during the process of becoming an egg donor. Over the last 5 years, I have done multiple congressional briefings on Capitol Hill and supported state legislators to raise awareness and to pass legislation to protect egg donors. I think the stories of these women documented in this film will be more likely to get the attention of our leaders than any article I might write or hearing testimony I might give.TTS: How did you meet the three women in the film? Lahl: I met both Sindy and Alexandra through the internet. I actually first met Calla on a studio set in New York City. I had known of Calla’s story as it was written up in her Stanford University paper, but I asked the producer of the news program in New York to see if she could find Calla and get her on the program with me.TTS: How prevalent are these kinds of complications? Is it just these three women or are there others? Lahl: Part of the problem surrounding egg donation is that we do not track, monitor or follow up on egg donors. The film’s tagline is that the “the infertility industry has a dirty little secret” and this lack of monitoring is just one of the secrets the film exposes. The film includes comments by experts that are indicative of this attitude such as, “once we’re done with her, she’s gone, she’s forgotten.” I have met many other women via the internet who have told me their tragic stories. The decision to highlight these three particular women in the film was a pragmatic decision, based on the fact that a 40-minute film can only highlight so many of the stories.TTS: Is this an American problem or does this extend to other countries?Lahl: Sadly, there is a growing global industry in the buying and selling of eggs around the world. In fact, I spoke at the European Union, where there was so much concern with this industry exploiting poor women, that they extended their international trafficking laws to include banning the trading of human eggs. Recently two news story broke reporting on international trafficking rings being busted as they were caught trafficking eggs from Russia to Greece and to Cyprus.TTS: The women in the film were driven by financial need, but why are people so willing to spend that kind of money to get eggs? Lahl: The largest part of the industry is driven by infertile couples, who in their desperation to have a baby, often need to turn to an egg donor. They are willing to pay high prices, especially for the “right” egg donor. They might want someone, for example, with high SAT scores and a certain ethnicity with particular traits. A new market is emerging with a demand for human eggs for research, and the scientific community wants to pay to get much needed eggs. I’m one of the experts involved in the legal challenge in New York, which has become the first state to use taxpayer funds to pay young women who “donate” their eggs for embryonic stem cell research.TTS: How has the film been received?Lahl: We are delighted with how well the film has been received. We have sold it to over 10 countries; we have 4 countries asking us to translate the film into their language; groups all across the U.S. are organizing to host showings of the film; and given that the target audience of the film is young college-age women, we are pleased that we’ve been invited to show the film at Harvard Law School, Tufts, Boston College, Yale Law, Notre Dame and many more!TTS: What’s the main thing you want for people to take away from the film? Lahl: Overwhelmingly, our experience is that audiences come to see the film, not having any prior knowledge about what’s involved in egg donation. The viewer is informed about the realities of the health risks posed to the donor, and the growing demand for human eggs within the reproductive industry, and now the scientific research community. Viewers leave the theater better informed and the majority are horrified that such an industry exists with no oversight or protection for these young women.TTS: What are you working on now? Lahl: Right now I am working on distribution of the film into international markets, and raising support to translate the film into the languages that we’ve had requests for. I am continuing to work with and support legislators to change laws to better protect egg donors.TTS: What’s your next project?Lahl: We have a lot of unused footage that didn’t make it into the film, and I am looking at how to best use that footage to make other short films. One possibility is to focus on the children who have been created through anonymous egg donation. I’d also love to do a follow-up film project, tracking the women in this film and chronicling their ongoing health struggles. We have other egg donors who we want to get to tell their stories as well.This article originally appeared at To The Source. Used by permision.

Previous post:

Next post: