Sunny Side Up
How do you like your eggs?
This may seem like an innocent question, referring to the well-known not-just-for-breakfast food that can be prepared in a number of different ways. However, "How do you like your eggs" recently took on a new meaning.
Many women suffer from infertility, (about 6.1 million in the U.S. alone) and with the advances in technology, there are several different ways to impregnate an infertile woman. Some women do not produce eggs, or have had their ovaries removed, or have had radiation therapy for cancer that destroyed their ovarian function. Some have a genetically transmitted defective trait that can be passed on by the female (example: hemophilia), or have reached menopause and desire another child.
More than 150,000 women in the United States can't bear children because of ovarian problems. Premature menopause has become more of a problem in recent years with many women deferring pregnancy until their 30's. In some cases women with premature
menopause can be treated hormonally and ovulate again.
For those who don't ovulate even after hormone treatments, fertility specialists can now offer the egg donation alternative. For these
women egg donation may be the only option for achieving conception.
But where do the eggs come from? Is it important to know what the child will look like, or if the child will look like its family? And the biggest concept of conception? Is it okay to choose your child's looks, intelligence, and traits?
When a man named Ron Harris launched his web site called "Ron's Angles" to auction the eggs of beautiful women for as much as $150,000, critics called it Genetic Manipulation. Ron's top requirements to be a donor? Beauty. In an interview with USA Today, October 25, 1999, he insisted that he was not looking for ordinary eggs. Harris said that he was only looking to provide the world with eggs from beautiful women. Anyone who wished to bid on a "designer" egg, could log onto his Web site which features color photos of half a dozen attractive women (and one male - to auction sperm) along with profiles of each donor's age, occupation, education, measurements, ethnic background, health history - including plastic surgery, and several other aspects that may be of concern. His site started a huge controversy.
Now, there are many organizations for egg donations. This concept is not a new idea. The differences between these organizations and Harris' are significant. The first difference is the fact that opening bids for Ron's Angel's eggs range from $15,000 to $150,000, when the traditional fertility clinics charge from $2,500 to $5,000.
Another difference is the screening process for donors. With the traditional clinic, several tests from psychological to medical exams are conducted. They search for mental illness, STD's, substance abuse and genetically inherited conditions. To be a donor for Harris? His site states that to be a donor at Ron's Angels you must be "beautiful, healthy, intelligent, and between 18 and 30 years old."
As for the parents to be, they are screened for the ability to pay their bill, and that is all. With the traditional clinic several tests are done ranging from blood work to psychological testing, as well as finding out if the couple really needs to buy an egg, rather than trying to create their dream child.
This issue is an important one for myself, personally, because recently I've found out that my chances to conceive a child of my own may be slim, if not hopeless.
Suppose I could become pregnant through this type of procedure, or something similar?
Would I choose my child's appearance, intelligence, traits and health?
Is this something that is morally wrong?
Suppose there is a couple with a genetically inherited condition, who doesn't want their child to inherit it. Is it okay for them to buy their dream child?
Is this taking reproduction a bit too far?
In a group interview, I asked several people what they thought about the subject: 30% of the females and 50% of the males said that they would want to pick an egg that would have the child look like their spouse and themselves. The other 50% of the males and 70% of the females said they would not care as long as the child was healthy. No one interviewed would put supermodel expectations on the child. However, the need to have a child that resembles the parents is a priority.
"Most of our clients come in wanting someone who generally looks
like they do--say, short and dark--or, if they're musical, they want
someone who knows how to play an instrument," says Annette Lee, M.D., a reproductive endoctrinologist at IVF, New Jersey. But if a couple is fertile and just wants to create their dream baby, the
clinic will turn them away. Some fear it dehumanizes the donor, as well as the child.
What kind of person sells their eggs for $150,000 to a needy couple who just want a pretty baby? How would that child feel, knowing that his/her parents paid a high price for their looks? Who would put such a high price on beauty? The answer, of course is society.
Recent studies have shown that unattractive people tend to earn less than their "prettier" colleagues, and that the attribute most likely to impress a potential employer is a pretty face. Society places a grand expectation on appearance, so who is to say it's wrong to auction pretty eggs?
Looks aren't the only factor that fertility clinics are looking at. Other clinics similar to Harris' promise to sell "smart eggs" donated by college graduates. Bidding for an egg from an 'Aspiring Astrophysicist' starts at $90,000 while an international model's egg is $150,000. The demand for pretty or smart eggs, many parents believe, is to their children's benefit. Who wouldn't want brains and beauty, even for this sort of price.
Personally, I am unable to make a decision regarding whether or not it is morally right to choose your unborn children's intelligence, looks, and traits. There are a million different scenarios and a million different arguments to back each of them up. It's up to the individual to decide if today's high market scramble for eggs, is all it's cracked up to be.
Personal survey, April of 2000.
Glamour Magazine, Feb 2000 p 219