Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A woman is not an ovary

by Christina DiGasbarro

In this past Friday’s Daily Princetonian, columnist Michael Collins argued for increased regulation of egg donations, and he posed the question: “Did early feminists fight to keep the government out of their ovaries just so the free market could invade?” I think the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” While increased regulation is perhaps the best place to start an attempt to remove the free market from women’s ovaries, regulation is not the final solution. We should also be discouraging egg donations and hopefully, someday, do away with egg donation altogether

There are certainly risks inherent to the procedures necessary to collect a woman’s eggs, as there are risks inherent to any and all medical procedures, but I find egg donation troubling for reasons to go beyond the physical and psychological risks. Recruiting certain types of women for egg donation seems suspect from the first because such a process implies that some women—and therefore some eggs and the children produced from those eggs—are better or more valuable than others. However, as humans, don’t we all have inherent equal worth?

I think, though, that the deepest root of my trouble with egg donation is the fact that it’s not really donation: egg donors are paid for their eggs. I’ve often wondered why egg ‘donors’ can be paid but not organ donors; why, when it is illegal to sell one’s organs and body parts, is it legal to sell one’s eggs, which are not only products of one’s body but also one-half of a potential child?

The reason we do not sell our organs is partly because it would create unfairness in the recipient pool: the wealthy, who could more easily afford the organ or other body part they needed, would end up receiving treatment first, while the poorer would have much less than a fair chance of receiving what they need. First and foremost, however, I think we dislike the idea of selling organs because attaching monetary value to body parts turns the body—the person—into a commodity. And a commodity is an object, something that can be bought and sold and used, and then discarded when it has outlasted its usefulness.

This logic applies equally to egg donation. Paying a woman for her eggs reduces her to her minimal reproductive function; she becomes a mere egg-maker. Making eggs a commodity turns children into commodities as well. This objectification of women and children is not something we ought to encourage in a society where we profess the equality of all human beings.

I have nothing but sympathy for couples struggling with infertility, but I cannot agree that seeking the eggs of another woman is the best way to address the problem of childlessness. Regardless of intentions, turning eggs and the women who provide them into commodities reduces the full humanity of the donors. Regulation of egg donation is necessary for now, to protect and inform the women who do donate their eggs. It would also make sense to prohibit paying a woman for her eggs, just as paying a person for his or her kidney is prohibited; if egg donation is no longer a business transaction, it is less objectionable, but still ought to be discouraged. Regardless of compensation, selecting women for their eggs reduces a full woman to a simple organ: her ovary. And I think we can all agree that women are more than their reproductive organs.


At November 25, 2008 at 12:06 PM , Blogger Franki said...

We get paid because sperm donors get paid, and eggs are not organs. It is problematic, and I agree that stricter regulations need to be placed on egg donation, but ceasing payment isn't the answer.

Mainly because I'm still looking for a way to pay for grad school.


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