The No to Eggsploitation campaigners argue that we need to protect women from the risks of egg donation.
In July, Lisa Jardine, Chair of the Human Fertilization And Embryology Authority (HFEA), announced that the HFEA is likely to rescind the longstanding ban on paying women to donate their eggs to others, for fertility treatment (www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article6728391.ece).
We are campaigning against this because:
• Egg donation carries serious health risks – in every country where there is a financial incentive to donate eggs, poor women are induced to take those risks, whilst middle-class women who can afford the fees, and the IVF industry, benefit.
• Turning human body parts into commodities is unethical and will eventually lead to a market in kidneys and other organs.
The HFEA will decide in December whether to even bother consulting the public on this issue – feminists must speak out now to prevent this encroachment of the free market on women’s bodies.
The Risks of Egg Donation
In order to donate eggs, women have to undergo the hormonal treatments which are part of the standard IVF procedure.
Amongst the risks of IVF hormonal treatment are:
• Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which affects up to 10% of women. Given the number of eggs involved, it is almost inevitable that some women will suffer OHSS. In 2005, a woman died in London from complications of OHSS;
• still uncertain long-term increased risks of ovarian cancer;
• stress and mood swings during the process.
These risks are the reason why relatively few women offer to donate eggs for others, leading to a severe shortage of donor eggs in Britain (see below).
The Case Against Selling Eggs
There are two main reasons why payment for egg donation has always been resisted in the UK.
Firstly, offering financial incentives to do something that very few women are currently offering to do because of the risks, will lead to poor women (and eg. students looking to fund college expenses), being exposed to health risks, whilst only middle-class women who can afford the fees and the IVF industry will benefit. In Eastern Europe, there have already been a number of scandals in which women have died or been hospitalised after hormone treatment, in order to donate eggs to Western European ‘fertility tourists’. In fact, it is the severity of this problem that the HFEA is exploiting to argue that paid egg donation should be allowed in Britain (see below).
The second reason for not allowing paid egg donation is that it turns human body parts into commodities, which can be traded by the fertility industry. The traditional view is that human body parts have a special ethical status, which should not be reduced to that of commodities. If payment for egg donation is allowed, it will eventually lead to a market in other human body parts, such as kidneys.
The HFEA’s Dishonest Arguments
The argument that a ‘regulated’ market in Britain is better than fertility tourism is fundamentally bad and dishonest. Since when is it acceptable to argue that: “Here is a bad thing which we have always opposed, but since people are going abroad to do it, we might as well cave in and let it happen here”? In order to combat sex tourism to Thailand, shall we set up regulated brothels in Britain for underage girls? Since British couples are now going to India for sex selection to make sure of having baby boys, why not overturn the UK ban on sex selection, too? Britain would do better to uphold its ethical principles, and resist the encroachment of the free market into every aspect of human life.
Rather than submitting women to the risks of egg donation, we need to address the social and environmental causes of the infertility epidemic. Where women need egg donation, we need to find safe and ethical alternatives that do not commercialise reproduction.
Speak now while you have the chance
Feminists must make it clear that there is strong public opposition to the HFEA’s plan. Sadly, the feminist movement in Britain has historically failed to campaign on these issues, leaving an open field, for, of all people, the pro-life lobby to carry the banner of protection of women and against commercialisation of reproduction. It is time that this absurd situation changed.
To lend your support to this campaign contact: no2eggsploitation[at]riseup.net. There will be a meeting to discuss the campaign at 7.30pm on October 27th at the Feminist Library meeting room, 5 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7XW. See www.no2eggsploitation.wordpress.com for more details of the meeting.