Consumerist conception

By Maria Wiering
mwiering@CatholicReview.com
In addition to unleashing uncertain genetic consequences, assisted reproductive technologies including egg and sperm donation carry other medical and emotional consequences for the donors and the resulting children, said Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture.
Lahl is also concerned that the multi-billion-dollar fertility industry may be putting profit before protection of the people who participate in it.
The issues are at the heart of Lahl’s recent documentaries, “Eggsploitation”(2010) and “Anonymous Father’s Day” (2012).
As its name implies, “Eggsploitation” explores medical complications resulting from egg donation, which include risky medications and anesthetized surgery. In the film, Lahl argues the practice’s long-term medical repercussions are unknown, since they have not been studied.
“Donation” is a misnomer for egg and sperm transfers in the United States, as most men and women are paid for their gametes in the highly commercialized arena of third-party reproduction. Compensation is higher for women than men, and it can lure young women to the procedure without examining long-term costs, Lahl said.
The largest U.S. fertility clinic, Rockville-based Shady Grove Fertility Center, offers $6,000 to first-time egg donors who meet certain qualifications based on age, health, body weight and education, according to its website. Across the country, young, thin, attractive and intelligent women are sought for egg donation.
At Fairfax Cyrobank in Fairfax, Va., men are compensated an average of $100 per acceptable donation, according to a staff member.
Many states have regulated practices involving a gestational carrier or surrogate. In Maryland, the attorney general has stated that surrogates cannot be paid. In other states, surrogates and their brokers reap tens of thousands of dollars per pregnancy.
Add the cost of in vitro fertilization itself, which averages $12,400 per cycle, according to the Alabama-based American Society for Reproductive Medicine, or ASRM. Multiple cycles are often necessary to achieve conception. IVF’s failure rate is 70 percent, although younger women have better odds of conceiving than women older than 40, according to national data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, which is associated with ASRM.
By Maryland law, health insurance policies issued within the state that provide pregnancy benefits must also cover IVF costs, within certain parameters. Religious organizations that offer insurance may request not to include the coverage if their faith prohibits IVF. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, for example, does not provide insurance coverage for IVF procedures.
Across the nation, efforts are under way to expand state-mandated insurance coverage for donor eggs and sperm, and to ease the laws restricting gestational carrier use.
The high costs of assisted reproductive technologies in the U.S. drives some to pursue the practice in international markets, where an embryo from Eastern Europe can be gestated by a woman in India, and the baby brought home by American parents.
The costs have also led American companies to streamline the process. A San Antonio-based businesswoman is selling embryos made in batches from gametes from desirable donors for $2,500 – far less than the costs associated with finding donors, the costs of procedures and legal expenses.
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