This article was first published October 13, 2011, at cbc-network.org.
By Jennifer Lahl, CBC President
Despite all our society’s talk of civility these days, it seems the public square is only becoming more of a lion’s den. And people of a certain stripe are being excluded or marginalized purely on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Case in point: Recently, I was invited to speak at the annual professional conference of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society on the topic of my film Eggsploitation, a documentary which explores the issue of egg “donation.” When the invitation was first given, I told the conference organizer that I knew the message of my film and most of my writings on Assisted Reproductive Technology in general, and egg donation in particular, would not be very welcome. In fact, I made it clear that I had no intention of coming into the lion’s den. I was assured by the conference organizer that I would be treated civilly, and that they really wanted to hear from me and engage all sides of the issue, hearing from all points of view. So I agreed to go and present.
Which brings me back to Canada. My presentation was based on the facts as we know them, and the real life stories of egg donors I have met in my decade of work in this field who have been adversely affected by selling their eggs. Egg donation carries health risks to the young women who choose to donate or sell their eggs; sometimes, in rare instances, those risks include death. Fertility drugs have risks, as does the surgical procedure a young woman undergoes in order to have her eggs harvested. The longer-term risks (e.g., risks to a donor’s own future fertility, and the risk of developing cancer) have not been studied. Egg donors are not tracked after the procedure to see what becomes of them down the road.
Informed consent is therefore meaningless. How can you inform someone of risks when you’ve never studied what you are asking them to do? And even more importantly, the woman who is often motivated by financial incentives of tens of thousands of dollars will ignore any risks that she does know about, because she is in need. So, in fact, “eggsploitation” happens to young women who are enticed by high-paying ads to “help make dreams come true.” As the film attests by telling these women’s stories, even when things go wrong, their symptoms are ignored, and they are advised to “stay the course” lest they have a failed cycle, which means they don’t get paid.