Eggsploitation revisited

New York offers women $10K for donating eggs to stem cell research. Painfully predictable controversy ensues

By Kate Harding
Published July 31, 2009 6:32PM (UTC)
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When Frances Kissling wrote in Broadsheet last month about New York's plan to offer women up to $10,000 compensation for donating eggs to be used in stem cell research, she predicted: "[R]esponses to this new possibility will likely fall into one of two camps: One believes that women can be trusted to make good decisions about their own bodies even when risks are involved; the other believes that women need to be protected from science, medicine, corporations and themselves -- especially when reproduction is involved."

Somebody get that woman a gold star. Just such a controversy is developing now, according to the Associated Press. But to fully appreciate the "Women must be protected from themselves" argument, we need to turn to Fox News.

"Women have something that researchers want to get their hands on, and now the government will pay for it. It's taking advantage of disadvantaged women by enticing them with money, especially during an economic downturn," says Wendy Wright, president of the conservative group Concerned Women for America. (Among other things, they're currently concerned with "defending liberty" from the likes of Sonia Sotomayor.) Although offering poor women compensation for the use of their bodies is indeed ethically fraught in the abstract, Kissling reminds us that in the real world,  "Women's choices, especially low-income women's choices, are almost always constrained in some way. Those constraints are not a reason to deny women choices; they are a reason to extend them as much as possible."

Besides, it's hard to believe that the right-wing opposition is really rooted in a fear of exploiting desperate women when David Almasi, executive director for the National Center for Public Policy Research, follows up Wright's "concern" by comparing the egg donation policy to one that offers one-way plane tickets to homeless people in New York City who have family in other states willing to take them in. Not sure what the hell that has to do with the price of eggs in New York? Here you go: "I expect liberal politicians to continue to placate to their special interest lobbies and to not be cautious with the taxpayers' money." The real problem isn't taking advantage of women; it's offering money to poor people for any reason.

And, of course, encouraging stem cell research and allowing women to use their fertility for something other than quiver-filling are also problematic to opponents of this plan. The Rev. Thomas Berg, a Roman Catholic priest who sits on the Empire State Stem Cell Board and voted against the policy, told the AP, "We have to understand that this is aimed at a bigger project of using embryonic human life as raw material for research."

This idea that people don't understand -- that they haven't, say, weighed the prospect of new treatments for devastating diseases against religious objections to stem cell research and decided the former is substantially more compelling -- goes hand in hand with the idea that women can't be trusted to assess the risks of egg retrieval and make an informed decision for themselves. Those opposed to the policy seem to believe that those in favor of it, and especially those women choosing to sell their eggs, can only be operating from a place of ignorance, not an equally educated perspective that led to a different conclusion. Clearly, people like Kissling have been duped by an evil, baby-hating, spendthrift government. It's just funny how someone so ill-informed about the subject could see these arguments coming from a mile away.

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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