We’re all well aware of the fact that the “adult entertainment” industry rakes in major profits by exploiting women and their bodies, but they aren’t the only ones. Recently, Rebecca Taylor explained how the cloning/embryonic stem cell research industry is dependent on women putting their bodies on the line in order to obtain the “raw materials” needed for their experimentation.
The same thing can be said of the rich and politically powerful fertility industry. In fact, the Center for Bioethics and Culture recently filmed a documentary all about how this industry exploits women, treating them as banks of harvestable biological material and often not fully disclosing the risks involved with the process. “Donating” eggs is not like “donating” sperm. It involves heavy doses of hormone injections, not to mention minor surgery requiring general anesthesia (although, writing for the Atlantic last week, Catherine Lacey, notes that the agency through which she made multiple “donations” always referred to the procedure by which her eggs were removed “as a ‘retrieval,’ never ‘surgery.’”).
Besides the health risks involved in this process (including infertility and Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome), it just sounds like an awful experience and my guess is that’s why the Daily Mail reported recently that the UK has experienced a “chronic shortage” of egg donors, with some IVF clinics having to put couples on a four year waiting list. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, of course, is not happy with this trend and has responded to the shortage by sweetening the deal for potential egg donors. Last month payment for eggs in the UK rose by £550 per cycle. The result has been a five-fold jump in egg donors. Imagine that! Oh, but don’t worry. According to Dr. Gillian Lockwood of Midland Fertility Services: ‘Early counseling sessions would quickly identify women who were doing it purely for the money.’ I’m sure.
The commodification of women by the fertility industry doesn’t stop with harvesting eggs. In recent years, surrogacy has been popularized here in the US by celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Elton John and now Nicole Kidman. Surrogacy is an especially booming business in India where impoverished women are recruited to be “gestational carriers” for middle-to-upper-class Western women. These women are often seen as ‘just the wombs‘, but it’s not just their wombs. Pregnancy is not simply being a human incubator for nine months, it affects a woman’s entire body, both physically and emotionally, before and after birth.
Make no mistake, the baby-making industry is a global market that makes many people very rich at the exploitation of others.** Yet, because of feel-good narratives offered by celebrities and others, it has been widely accepted with little to no criticism. In fact, it has become so mainstream that it’s even being used to help people without any major fertility problems reproduce. This is not how children should come into the world and this is certainly not how women should be viewed or treated, whether they allow it themselves or not. A woman’s body is a sacred, life-giving vessel, not a baby factory or a hardware store for spare baby-making parts.
**I should add that women are not the only one’s commodified by this industry. Besides the children that are created, of course, men, too, are used for their sperm just as much as women are for their eggs and wombs.