I was recently given the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Dr. Hille Haker of Loyola University Chicago, “Feminist Bioethics and the Concept of Parenthood in the Age of Reproduction.” I’ve always been a big proponent of reproductive rights for women and men, but I never knew that the subject extended beyond the availability and quality of abortion, contraceptives and reproductive care. Dr. Haker discussed at length the ethics and morality of assisted reproduction – all the nooks and crannies of reproductive justice that are often hidden away from public discourse.
Did you know an egg donor can make between $5,000 and $10,000 for an embryo egg “donation?” Young women, particularly those struggling to pay college bills, are scouted for in magazines and newspapers to donate their eggs or be surrogate mothers.
The nature of surrogacy has become commercialized. In some ways, I think it can be seen as a type of modern day slavery. True, no one forces young women to sign contracts and offer their bodies or eggs up to couples wanting to expect. As Haker said, egg donors and surrogate mothers make the autonomous choice to offer their services, but they often are ot aware of the severe psychological trauma that can arise from anything from birth complications to having to finally turn over their child to even the nagging thoughts that arise years later.
Following Haker’s speech, Rachel Washburn, assistant professor of sociology, also spoke about reproductive justice, focusing on the pressures placed upon expectant parents. Now with modern technologies that allow us to test for genetic diseases, birth defects and other issues that may afflict a child, parents are expected to be extremely thorough when expecting.
These procedures, in theory, should be freeing; the ability to pre-screen for health issues allows for parents to pick and choose which pregnancies are essentially “worth it.” However, this ignores the emotional burdens firmly associated with having the power to terminate a pregnancy for any health or moral reason, and the financial strain put on parents who must shell out thousands of dollars for every genetic test under the sun, lest their children be born different and they be lambasted. Statistics and rhetoric are all fine and good, but when we delve into the flesh and breath of humanity, what then? What do you say to a parent who is crying because their newborn child, hours old, has been diagnosed with Dejevine-Sottas disease? Should you chastise a mother for the faults of her genes?
There are many parts of assisted reproduction that are unregulated, unsavory and by any measure of moral character totally corrupt. Does that mean that we halt all pre-natal screenings and close all the IVF clinics? No, the best thing we can do is to remember and to empathize.
To paraphrase Dr. Haker, as a society, we have failed the parents and children of our world because we have forgotten to acknowledge and forgive. We should remember the mothers and fathers, weary yet hopeful, waiting in the glow of anticipated parenthood for their children. We need to recognize surrogate mothers, most often young women at the ends of their rope, but with enough strength and grace to offer themselves and their children. And we need to remember the children who, from whatever circumstances of surrogacy, adoption and assistance, will grow into young men and women who might desire to find their origins of their conception into being.
When society overlooks actual people in favor of “high” morals and standards, that is when we have failed as a people.