“Online baby making, buying and selling eggs, renting wombs,” said Jennifer Lahl. “We no longer beget our children, we make our children, we build our families.”
Lahl is a pediatric nurse turned film director. Her documentaries explore the brave new world of producing babies in ways that challenge human dignity.
Third party, or assisted, reproduction uses another person’s eggs, sperm or womb to create a child. Though called donations and altruistic – a way for a couple who cannot conceive or carry a baby to have a family – money is usually exchanged, creating an incentive that can be coercive.
The discussion usually centers on those who want a child. Early this week, when fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana criticized “rented uteruses, seeds chosen from a catalogue,” singer Elton John blasted, “shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers” at reproductive technologies which are used by “both straight and gay, to fulfill their dream of having children.”
Lahl decided to look at the women whose bodies are used to create and birth a child.
As a nurse, Lahl saw patients caught in the real-life consequences of assisted reproduction. Some women experienced serious health risks. Lahl produced the documentary “Eggsploitation” to look into an industry that “seek[s] young fertile women, recklessly endangering their lives for a commodity . . . their eggs.”
“My stomach bloated up so bad I couldn’t even breathe,” said one woman in a clip shown to the audience. “I made a decision to sell my eggs. That affected my ability to reproduce,” said another.
No statistics are kept, or medical studies done, on complications experienced by women who sell their eggs.
Another documentary, “Breeders: A Subclass of Women,” interviews women who were surrogates – intentionally, and even unintentionally.
The women were attracted to surrogacy as a way to help a family member, friend or couple to “build” a family. Yet the practice is fraught with unexpected problems, and can turn tragic as pregnancy is treated as a paid service and a baby as a product.
Some cases of surrogacy go beyond coercive to exploitive. One woman describes her twin children being taken from her at the hospital and given to the father. Until that moment, she had expected to raise her children in shared arrangement with the father, with whom she had a platonic friendship. She was not aware he was using her as a “breeder” for him and his male partner.
“How do we promote reproductive justice for all in these third-party arrangements?” Lahl asked.
For couples struggling with infertility, natural methods can heal underlying problems. Dr. Mary Martin told the audience about patients trying expensive modern methods before turning to her. Within short order, many conceive.
“For science to serve rather than hurt us, we must always link what we can do to what we should do,” said Archbishop Auza, the Vatican’s representative to the UN.
He hosted the panel with C-Fam (publisher of the Friday Fax) to spotlight ways to “conceive children that are fully in alignment with the human dignity of women, men and children. And problems that occur when techniques become popular that do not give due respect to human dignity.”