Consuming Fertility

by Matthew Eppinette, CBC Executive Director on October 31, 2017

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The Washington Post recently ran an article outlining a whole range of ways in which the business of fertility is reaching new heights of consumerism as consumers go about consuming more and more fertility products and services.

Would-be parents seeking donor eggs and sperm can pick and choose from long checklists of physical and intellectual characteristics. Clinics now offer volume discounts, package deals, and 100 percent guarantees for babymaking that are raising complicated ethical and legal questions.

A chart accompanying the article shows that the use of assisted reproductive technologies has climbed from 134,260 procedures in 2005 to 231,936 in 2015. Notably, the number of infants born through these technologies has only risen from 52,041 to 72,913 over the same period, a fact on which the article does not comment.

Increased use and a declining success rate. In what other area of consumer spending do we see such trends? I honestly don’t know.

As the article mentions, these new fertility consumer options raise “complicated ethical and legal questions.” What are they?

Questions abound about the recruitment of donors; the ethics of screening and selecting embryos for physical characteristics; the ownership of the estimated millions of unused eggs, sperm samples, and embryos in long-term storage; and the emerging ability to tinker with embryos via the gene-editing tool CRISPR.

It’s not that these issues are unimportant (once we’ve decided to go down the road of assisted reproductive technology), but maybe it’s worth asking whether there are other, more important questions we should be asking instead.

What if we were to ask — what if we were to carefully and deeply explore — questions like “What is best for children, for women, for families, for society?” “What broadly promotes true and full human flourishing?”

Would the answers be the same? Or would we find ourselves on a different trajectory altogether?

The article highlights the Schlomer family, who split a harvest of eggs with others in order to keep their costs down. Ultimately, “What sealed the deal was the money-back guarantee. If Schlomer didn’t get pregnant or they opted to stop, they would get a refund.”

Notice the consumerist mindset at work in choosing the egg donor:

[Mrs.] Schlomer had two main criteria: One, the donor had to have blue eyes. While her eyes are green, she was charmed by the idea of a child with blue eyes.

Second, the donor had to have a graduate degree. While neither she nor her husband studied beyond the undergraduate level, she explained, “Who doesn’t want smart children?”

These criteria reflect highly mistaken ideas about children. Boys and girls are not products to be ordered, designed, and manufactured to precise specifications like this. They are gifts to be received and cherished as they are. Yes, children are to be nurtured and formed as human beings, but that is to be done in accordance with both their strengths and their weaknesses — in other words, in accordance with their humanity.

The quest for fertility can easily become all consuming. Great caution is required to ensure we do not become consumed with getting the baby we want, just the way we want it. Rather, may we receive children as gifts to be cherished and nurtured for who they are as human beings.

Image by Amber Karnes via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

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