The Gross Advertisement Deception of #BigFertility

by Kallie Fell, Executive Director on June 11, 2020

A few months ago, I was sitting at my sister’s kitchen table working on a power point presentation concerning the gross advertisement deception in egg donation. My brother-in-law had just come home from work and became interested in what I was working on. His eyes widened as I showed him advertisements meant to attract and entice college-age women. He was completely unaware that his daughter might someday be a target for these deceiving and harmful ads. 

Human eggs are the chief commodity in the growing billion-dollar fertility business. How does #BigFertility acquire these eggs? Through deception. Let me explain… 

Young women, usually ages 21-29, all over the world are solicited by ads—via college campus bulletin boards, social media, and online classifieds—offering up to $100,000 for their “donated” eggs, to “help make someone’s dream come true.” These advertisements are markedly coercive and manipulative of young college-aged women as they directly appeal to their financial need without any mention of the potential health risks involved — this is essential information to enable informed decision-making and consent. These ads fail to reveal that no long-term studies have ever been conducted on the health and well-being of egg “donors”.

“There’s a huge lack of data there to really [allow women] to make informed decisions,” says Dr. Diane Tober, an assistant professor at the UC San Francisco, who studies egg donors. “And that’s really problematic, obviously, when you have people making decisions that could affect their future health, well-being, and their ability to have children.” We find it interesting that credit card companies aren’t allowed to be advertised on college campuses for fear of leading young adults into financial ruin. Surely the same standards should apply to egg soliciting? 

Not only are egg “donation” ads misleading, but they commonly target specific racial, physical, and intellectual characteristics. The largest sums of money are generally offered for donors of very specific educational, physical, or ethnic traits, not only perpetuating, but actually incentivizing—literally paying more for—traits that a couple or an individual might desire.

IVF, sperm donation, and egg donation are, of course, intrinsically linked to surrogacy, and these assisted reproductive technologies aren’t about healing, they are about profit. A review of most fertility agency websites reveals a dehumanizing approach where patients are referred to as “clients,” surrogate mothers are referred to as “carriers,” surrogate pregnancy arrangements and IVF cycles are referred to as “sales.” Further, many of these websites completely fail to disclose the harms and risks that women take on during third party reproduction arrangements. Rudy Rupak, founder of Planet Hospital, a global IVF provider, told the New York Times, “Here’s a little secret for all of you. There is a lot of treachery and deception in I.V.F./fertility/surrogacy because there is gobs of money to be made.” 

IVF Worldwide is an expansive online community that prides itself on being “the largest and most comprehensive in-vitro fertilization (IVF)-focused website for doctors, embryologists, nurses, and social workers.” While it’s meant to serve as a resource for those within the industry—because make no mistake about it, that’s what it is, an industry—couples considering using IVF would be well served by digging around on their website to better understand their motivations. Dr. Itai Levitan, chairman for the 2nd IVF Worldwide Live Congress has enthusiastically stated, “I feel like I should give up medicine and focus on marketing!” 

So, the next time you see an advertisement for a fertility clinic promising the miracle of life through the marvels of IVF or surrogacy, just remember that behind such talk of miracles and marvels is a lot of marketing—and a lot of money to be made. #BigFertility is not in the business of healing. It is a commercial enterprise.

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