Monday, February 14, 2011

Eggsploitation: A documentary

This week the Integritas students attended the Edith Stein Project conference. The students attended many different lectures and panel discussions on vocation, but as a group watched the documentary "Eggsploitation" which screened on Friday night in McKenna Hall. The documentary told the stories of four women who volunteered to be egg donors to infertile couples and who faced devastating consequences from the procedure. It highlighted the fact that egg donation is a largely unregulated medical procedure whose consequences are under-studied and undocumented, giving prospective donors little scientific basis on which to make their decision to go through with the procedure. One of the women profiled in the documentary was actually a medical student at the time, and despite careful research into possible risks from the procedure, she could find no serious documented reasons for concern. The women all suffered terrible physical consequences as a result of the drugs they had to take to prepare their bodies for egg donation and as a result of the surgical procedure to harvest their eggs. These consequences included breast cancer, the loss of an ovary, stroke, and even death. As one woman said, "Now I can't even have my own babies."

The documentary was especially relevant to the students, because it is primarily college students who are targeted for egg donation, since they are generally young, healthy, attractive, and intelligent- characteristics sought by parents seeking to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization. While ads soliciting egg donors have not appeared on Notre Dame's campus, they are widespread on the campuses of many Ivy League institutions. The term "donor" is misleading, since often these advertisements offer tens of thousands of dollars for the "donor's" eggs. This sort of marketing preys upon the vulnerability of indebted college students who can be desperate to find ways to pay off school loans and make ends meet.

The documentary was powerful and disturbing, bringing to light a largely taboo subject. It also raised philosophical questions such as: What is the maternal connection between an egg donor and the child born from her egg? What rights do children born of egg or sperm donation have, especially in regards to obtaining their biological medical history? How can infertile couples using IVF justify endangering their egg donor's health for the sake of artificially conceiving a baby? How has our culture managed to promote a dualism that separates personal identity from one's physical body to the degree that egg donation sounds reasonable to so many young women? How can scientists, doctors, and infertile couples justify the immense resources expended on egg and sperm donation and IVF while resisting any increase in resources invested in helping mothers who are considering abortion to carry their babies to term and possibly offer them for adoption?

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