Ova There! Ova There! Send The Word, Send The Word, Ova There!

May 14, 2010, 12:19 pm

After reading a critical piece in the New York Times about the booming market in Ivy League ova earlier in the week, Radical Correspondent Oklahoma Annie writes that she was “incensed” by it:

What’s going on, in summary, is this: Agencies who traffic in human ova are seeking the highest achieving young women from top universities as donors, and are offering them upwards of $10,000 to donate their eggs.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which set the $10,000 cap on payments in its guidelines, is now “concerned” that young women may be lured by excessively high payments to become donors “against their own best interests.”

Now, excuse me, but we’re talking about the top percentile, crème de la crème of American elite universities, and we’re afraid they won’t be able to make informed decisions about their own health and finances?

Well, OK, so we’re also talking about 22 year olds, so there may be something to that. But hey, this is the first time I’ve heard it argued that women are being exploited by being paid too much.

I think it’s a load of paternalistic crap. (I want to see the gender and age distribution of the members of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.)

What really aggravates me is, here is one thing in which women are uniquely positioned to make more money than men, fair and square, and we don’t want to let them fully exploit their advantage “for their own protection.”

Couldn’t agree more, Annie. Go to this this California sperm bank and you will see that inseminations start at under $500, which means that the donors can’t be getting more than a hundred dollars a squirt. Methinks you are onto something, so let’s investigate further.

When you read the whole article, you will see that Annie’s outrage is well founded on several levels. Egg donation, as it turns out, is not to be undertaken lightly, since the primary damage cited for women is psychological — only several paragraphs lower does the author mention that the procedure itself, which includes stimulating the ovaries with massive amounts of hormones as well as surgery — has medical risks. In other words, an egg is not an egg: it’s a pre-baby! And for the rest of their lives, these poor women will be haunted by the specter of “their” babies out there in the world.

Not inconsequentially, the notion that every egg is a complete soul would be the position held by the Catholic Church, the LDS Church and numerous evangelical Christians, as they wrap numerous forms of contraception into their jihad against abortion. Furthermore, Annie’s point about how threatening it is to the cult of true motherhood when women game the market in white designer babies has a longer history. Remember when Mary Beth Whitehead refused to hand over Baby M to William and Elizabeth Stern in 1986, and the papers kept referring to her as the “surrogate mother” — when, in fact, she was the actual mother? And do you recall that when working-class Whitehead demonstrated true grief at giving up the baby, she was reminded repeatedly that she had no right to her feelings because the baby had been bought and paid for? That it was upper-class Elizabeth Stern who really had the right to grieve?

Clearly there are big stakes here. As Annie observes, even a liberal newspaper seems committed to constantly instructing women as to what they should think and feel. I can’t help but notice that in its handling of this issue the New York Times also invokes the specious claims among anti-choicers that abortion, at any stage of gestation, inflicts lasting psychological damage on women. “Temporary feelings of relief are frequently followed by a period psychiatrists identify as emotional ‘paralysis,’ or post-abortion ‘numbness,’” reports the conservative Elliot Institute (as if paralysis and numbness are technical terms requiring scare quotes.) “Like shell-shocked soldiers, these aborted women are unable to express or even feel their own emotions. Their focus is primarily on having survived the ordeal, and they are at least temporarily out of touch with their feelings.”

Note the use of the phrase “aborted women,” which cleverly conveys that these failed mothers are grieving for the privileged access to womanhood only childbirth provides, a maturing process that can never be complete once they have terminated a pregnancy. If a woman believes that she is not distressed following an abortion, it is simply proof that she is “out of touch.” On the other hand, this anti-abortion website goes out of its way to urge women that they can trust their feelings and maternal instincts during the process of bringing a pregnancy to term and giving the baby up for adoption; and that they will always feel good about themselves for making this decision to give a close relative to complete strangers.

I would add a final comment: if the egg donation procedure has risks for women (and all surgical procedures do, including egg implantation), then why aren’t we concerned about the routine use of these hormones and surgeries on women who are trying to use their own, or other people’s, ova to grow babies in their uteruses that they cannot conceive without technology? The women who, if they are successful, often end up carrying high-risk multiple pregnancies? Because it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, that’s why, in which all of the money goes into the pockets of fertility docs, for-profit labs and Big Pharma! Ever wondered whether Elizabeth Edwards’ battle with cancer has anything to do with the “miracle” of giving birth to twins at an age when most women are completely infertile? When was the last time you saw a front page article about the long-term risks associated with thirty-something and forty-something women juicing up their ovaries with dangerous chemicals over a period of anywhere from one to five years?

But that’s cool because they become mothers, as opposed to becoming unnatural, selfish women whose only goal is to pay for college and graduate school.

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