A Marketplace Of Children: The Fertility Industry
Religion & Liberty Online

A Marketplace Of Children: The Fertility Industry

Alana Newman knows the pain caused by the fertility industry. She is a donor-conceived child (via sperm donation) and an egg donor. Newman is also the founder of AnonymousUs.org, which focuses on shedding light on the fertility industry.

Newman has written “Creating A Marketplace of Children: A Donor-Conceived Woman Explains the Harms of Third-Party Reproduction,” in which she shares the questions she had as a child about her own conception, and the painful reality of egg donation. She explains that one reason she chose to donate her own eggs when she was 20 years old was that it was “open:” the child conceived via her eggs could contact her in the future is he/she so wished. Of course, that “openness” only went one way; the woman donating her eggs would never be able to anything more than whether a boy or girl had been conceived via her “donation.”

Of course, Newman admits, the money was a big draw as well. She responded to a Craigslist (Craigslist!) ad:

Because I was young, and without any other marketable skills, the $8,000 advertised by the fertility clinic made selling my eggs outrageously more attractive than other job options. I believed that if I sold my eggs as an open ID donor, I would improve the system and make the world a better place. I also envisioned what I could do with that kind of money—record an album or visit Europe. It seemed like a needle-length journey to a whole new social class.

Another ad from a fertility clinic states:

Fulfill a couple’s dreams—and receive compensation that allows you to live yours! Whether you want to take the trip of a lifetime or just add to your savings, becoming an egg donor can put your goals within reach.

What a deal! Everyone wins, right? Newman says no. She raises significant concerns (both from her own experience and from studies) regarding children born via sperm/egg donation. A 2009 report notes significant behavioral issues with children who are donor conceived, including doubling the likelihood that they will be involved with the law (as compared to children raised by biological parents.) Newman says her own situation left her with many questions about her own value and the value of human life in general.

If it is okay to buy and sell sperm, why is it wrong to buy and sell human organs? If it is okay to buy and sell sperm and eggs, why is it wrong for someone to sell their born child? If it is okay to sell one’s reproductive capacities, why is it wrong to sell one’s sexual capacities? And if it is okay to force a child into existence because that child is “wanted,” then why is it wrong to force a child out of existence because its unwanted (abortion)?

She says she was raised by a mother and father (her father was infertile), but there was always an underlying message that her biological make-up and her mysterious biological father didn’t matter. In fact, her mother bluntly told her so when she questioned her: “He doesn’t matter.” Well, then, “Do I matter?” becomes the obvious question.

Newman discusses the increase of infertility in our nation (including causes such as rampant STDs and hormones in our environment and water), the problems of being raised by a single parent and its effects on children, and the grief involved in simply not knowing about one’s biological make-up and lineage.

Of course, the fertility industry is just that: an industry, big business. But it is a business that makes its money by commodifying human beings. It exists solely to sell babies. Newman concludes:

Fathers and mothers are both essential—as is the right to be born free, without a price tag and with full access to one’s heritage. The crisis of infertility is not getting better any time soon, and the desire people have to reproduce will continue to increase demand for third party reproduction. But surrogacy and the gamete trade are not real solutions to infertility, and will only create more problems—expensive problems.

Efforts should be made to truly cure and prevent infertility, rather than expanding a marketplace of children.

We need to be honest about the fertility industry. There is no “donation” here: no accountability, no openness, no transparency. One doesn’t “donate” one’s eggs or sperm; a person is paid handsomely. Money exchanges hands so that a child can be produced – the fertility industry IS the commodification of children. However, the fertility industry seems to have the ear of many politicians, even those who are pro-life. The Center for Bioethics and Culture reports that organizations such as American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART) claim that “gestational” services such as surrogacy and egg/sperm donations are “misunderstood” and legal frameworks that curtail them are biased towards a stereotypical family model (biological mom, biological dad and children.)

Again, we need to look at this industry with honesty and clarity. It creates imbalanced relationships, secrecy, dishonesty, suffering, and worst of all, a culture where humans are thought of as nothing more than one more “thing” to buy and sell. We don’t need more of this. We need more of a culture where humans and their relationships are valued, cherished and recognized as something far too precious to be marketed, sold and purchased.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.