There is nothing so foolish that some philosopher has not said it, and there is nothing so evil that some bioethicist has not proposed it. — Anthony Daniels
A controversy has arisen in the local media concerning advertisements for egg donors which have appeared in “Diálogo” a University of Puerto Rico supported publication. The Interim Director of Diálogo, Sylvia Álvarez Curbelo, has claimed that these advertisements are not paid for using UPR funds. However, this is misleading since the UPR does heavily subsidize the running costs of this publication, and by acquiescing to such advertisements, the UPR is, in effect, using public funds to provide a platform for these advertisements. In doing so, the University completely ignores the fact that oocyte (egg) donation is an invasive, painful, and physically demanding procedure with dangerous side effects.
Daily injections of follicle stimulating hormone administered to hyper-stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, can lead to ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS). Common side effects of OHSS include nausea and diarrhea, painful enlarged ovaries, shortness of breath, and abdominal bloating. More serious medical complications, may include thrombosis, stroke, kidney failure, fluid build-up in the lungs, and even death. The somewhat painful suctioning of up two dozen eggs from the ovaries, via a needle inserted through the vagina can lead to infections of the ovaries which, as a consequence, may have to be removed. An enlarged ovary can also twist on its stalk cutting off its blood supply. This condition requires immediate surgery and perhaps removal of the ovary. Fatal hemorrhages have also been reported. In addition to the aforementioned contraindications, the usual risks of stroke, aspiration, or death associated with any procedure requiring anesthesia are also present.
A sexually active donor of ova also risks becoming pregnant with triplets or quadruplets. Irreversible infertility is also possible. Emotional problems can arise as hormonal side effects or when donors relinquish parental rights to children conceived with their eggs. Hormones used in egg extraction have been associated with memory loss, liver disorders, early osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer. Long term cancer risks of egg donation have not been systematically studied. Since the total number of eggs produced by a woman is fixed, menopause will be correspondingly hastened.
Apart from risks to egg donors, there are very serious consequences for the children resulting from in vitro fertilization. Fertilized embryos have a tendency to spontaneously abort and are associated with an increased rate of miscarriage. Half of those that do survive occur in multiplets who suffer premature birth with its attendant medical problems. Children conceived by IVF have an increased risk of major birth defects and cerebral problems including cerebral paralysis. Often the weakest are selectively aborted, often for nothing more than eugenic reasons. Donors with traits such as high IQ, Asian, blond, etc., are much sought after. For instance, donors are sometimes required to provide SAT scores. Genetic testing prior to implantation can also damage an embryo and a doctor may prevent transfer of genes which he deems to be “defective”. Some cultures, particularly in Asia, have a marked preference for male children and abort females. Requests to abort “gay” babies are not unheard of, even though the existence of a corresponding gene is a scientific fiction and some deaf people have demanded that their children be selected so as to have the same deaf gene. Worldwide, laws against eugenics are being systematically weakened. In 2001 France’s highest court ruled that children suffering from Down’s syndrome have a legal right never to have been born. It seems that the nightmare predictions of science fiction writers concerning designer babies and human-animal hybrids are rapidly becoming a reality.
The destruction of unused embryos is also a serious ethical issue. The embryo, in reality a human life, should not be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment: freezing, to be later cloned; subjected to bizarre experiments involving chimera (human-animal hybrids); discarded as medical waste, or allowed to grow so that vital organs can be harvested. Article 11 of the 1998 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Human Genome establishes that “practices against human dignity, such as cloning with purposes of reproducing human beings, shall not be allowed”. It is abundantly clear from this discussion that a person who participates in the donation of eggs or in the practice of IVF is in effect, perhaps unwittingly, an accessory to the destruction of human life.
Companies trading in genetic material use misleadingly altruistic language to attract donors by giving the impression that they are “helping” women to cure fertility problems. Later, they induce donors to permit some or all of their eggs to be used for experiments involving embryonic stem cells, cloning, or conceivably even for the production of chimera. For example, Dr. Alison Murdoch, an IVF doctor in the UK, already has plans to offer half-price fertility treatment to clients who donate half the eggs they produce for cloning and stem cell research. In reality, the very notion that IVF cures infertility is misleading. An infertile woman is as infertile after IVF as before. IVF cures nothing but contributes much to the rapidly growing culture of disrespect for human life.
When egg donation is encouraged by financial incentives, there is also the very real potential for exploiting women, especially poor, minority, and college-aged women. In many countries, such as Germany, Denmark, and Italy, egg donation is completely illegal. In others, payment for eggs can cover only the direct expenses related to the procedure. In the UK, eggs are classified as organs, and payment is banned. IVF also exploits women whose desire to conceive is so great that they will risk their own health or the health of egg donors, and deplete the family savings in order to pay for expensive and artificial medical procedures. They would benefit more from proper psychological counseling and, if appropriate, information regarding the much safer alternative of adoption.
Women in Puerto Rico have special reasons to be wary of controversial medical procedures. In the fifties they were the victims of a mass sterilization program masquerading as an anti-poverty campaign. Many were not even informed of the consequences. In the 60’s Puerto Rico women were used as guinea pigs in the mass testing of unproven contraceptive hormones and by 1963, dozens had died. Now, in the 21st century, Puerto Rico students are being induced to serve as reproductive factories in a procedure that trivializes procreation.
The UPR publication Diálogo should not be providing a platform for companies calling for the donation of human eggs. If human life is the price to be paid for funding this publication, better that it be closed down.
- Sonia Allan, Baby Gammy case reveals murky side of commercial surrogacy.
- Michael Cook, A toxic combination: paedophiles, baby farms, and same-sex marriage.
- Carlo Bellieni In Vitro Children and the Risks They Face
- Hilary White, Barely Studied Risks of Egg-Donation Come Under Scrutiny
- Información sobre la reproducción artificial
- Michele Clark and Jennifer Lahl, Egg Donors and Human Trafficking
- Thomas V. Berg, Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, Joe the Embryo.