My colleague, Theresa Erickson, brought this article to my attention. Among the most astonishing passages:
British couples who travel abroad for IVF treatment and buy other women’s eggs are engaging in a form of prostitution, a fertility conference was told yesterday.
In an attack on the “fertility tourism” industry, Naomi Pfeffer warned that increasing numbers of “vulnerable women in developed countries” were being exploited by Westerners who were desperate to conceive.
Professor Pfeffer, who researches controversial developments in medicine, told the Motherhood in the 21st Century Conference at University College London: “The exchange relationship is analogous to that of a client and a prostitute. It’s a unique situation because it’s the only instance in which a woman exploits another woman’s body….
These women are being encouraged to take real risks with their health through ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval. It commodifies women’s bodies and treats their reproductive capacities as a service.
This has to be one of the most intellectually bankrupt arguments in opposition to egg donation that I have ever had the misfortune to read. Obviously there is a concern that women who donate their eggs can be exploited. Then again, anyone is potentially a victim of exploitation. There is nothing unique about women who serve as egg donors that make them any more vulnerable to exploitation then anyone else in the general population being asked to provide a personal service. It should be apparent to Ms. Pfeffer that ANYONE in a developing economy is subject to being exploited. Whether it is the middle-age man working in a sweatshop in China or a young child in a garment factory in Latin America country, is Ms. Pfeffer really contending that anyone who wears clothing from these regions are analogous to a john using a prostitute?
Ms. Pfeffer’s contention that the relationship between a donor and intended parent is analogous to a client and prostitute is not only offensive on multiple levels, but could be extended to any relationship between individuals. Under Ms. Pfeffer’s rationale, an undocumented cleaning lady working for a family as their housekeeper is prostituting herself. The fashion model who walks the runway is nothing more than a hooker. Anyone who gets a manicure or a massage while on vacation in the Caribbean is engaging in an illicit act.
Equally preposterous is the contention that egg donation is the “only” instance in which a woman exploits another woman’s body. First of all, how is it exploitation if the egg donor, after being fully informed of all the ramifications of her behavior makes a conscious and volitional decision to donate her eggs? Setting aside the fact that the “analogy” is built upon a false premise, there are a multitude of examples of women engaging the services of other women to provide a personal service. Whether using the services of a masseuse or having a sister serve as a gestational carrier, Ms. Pfeffer’s claim that egg donation is the only instance of woman on woman exploitation is patently absurd.
I wonder if Ms. Pfeffer would object to organ donation? If a woman makes a conscious decision to donate her organs upon her death, is she a prostitute? Are the recipients of her corneas or heart or kidney or liver johns? Perhaps Ms Pfeffer is in favor of outlawing the use of fashion models. After all, aren’t these women using their bodies in exchange for compensation? While she is at it, maybe Ms. Pfeffer ought to seek to preclude women from working in any industry that might require any form of strength or agility. Heck, for giggles, lets prohibit all female athletics at the professional and amateur level since anyone who pays to attend such a sporting function is the equivalent of a john. Parenthetically, I wonder if Ms. Pfeffer’s head would explode when attempting to reconcile the laws of the Netherlands which permit prostitution but prohibit compensated, non-anonymous egg and sperm donation.
Lastly, what makes Ms. Pfeffer so superior to those women offering to donate their eggs? How is it that she is in a better position to evaluate what they should be doing with their bodies. It always struck me as incredibly arrogant and ironic when feminists argued that women who serve as donors or surrogates are being exploited. If a woman makes a thoughtful decision to engage in conduct that is not illegal and is not being pressured to do so, isn’t that ultimately what served as one of the underpinnings of feminism: a woman’s right to her own body?
No one disputes that protocols and laws need to be in place to ensure that women who serve as egg donors are not exploited. Reasonable and carefully constructed laws to restrict access to these technologies being offered in countries that do not follow basic human rights standards and adhere to the aforementioned protocols make a lot of sense. However, analogizing egg donation to prostitution so as to justify the criminalization of this essential reproductive technology is nothing more than hyperbolic rhetoric designed to advance an anti-procreative rights agenda.
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