Questionable Practices

The Shady Side of In Vitro Fertilization

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By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, MAY 16, 2010 ( The Catholic Church’s opposition to in vitro fertilization (IVF) is well-known, but recently some of these practices are being questioned even by secular observers.

A May 10 article published by the New York Times looked at the topic of paying women to produce eggs for other couples. It cited a recent issue of a bioethics journal, The Hastings Center Report, which found that payment to young women is often above industry guidelines.

The study, by Aaron Levine, an assistant professor of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, found that a quarter of 100 egg ads in college newspapers offered more than the $10,000 limit of the voluntary ceiling established by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Higher payments were offered for women at prestigious colleges and for those who had above average academic results.

According to the New York Times almost 10,000 children were born through donor eggs in 2006, around double the number in 2000.

The article also referred to concerns over the health risks for donors, particularly as young women may not be aware of the serious nature of some of these side effects.

The health risks were explained in an article published March 3 by In the piece Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, urged women to rethink any plans they have to donate their eggs.


Possible risks include stroke, organ failure, infection, cancer, and loss of future fertility, Lahl warned.

She also argued that egg donation is not similar to organ donation. In the latter a donor takes risks in order to save a sick or dying person. By contrast the recipient of an egg donation is not sick, but a consumer purchasing a product.

«Society rightfully condemns the selling or payment for organs in order to prevent abuses and save lives, whereas the large sums of monetary compensation to women egg donors causes them to be exploited by their need for money,» said Lahl.

It’s not just college women who are being urged to sell their eggs.

Last year at a fertility conference Professor Naomi Pfeffer warned that women in poor countries are being exploited in a sort of prostitution by Westerners who are desperate for children, reported the Times newspaper, Sept 19.

«The exchange relationship is analogous to that of a client and a prostitute,» she said. «It’s a unique situation because it’s the only instance in which a woman exploits another woman’s body,» Pfeffer commented.


Another practice that is being criticized is that of surrogate mothers. India is a popular destination for Western couples looking for women to bear their children. One reason it is favored is the lack of laws governing the procedure, something highlighted in an article the Times of India newspaper published May 11.

The article recounted how for the third time in the last year-and-a-half children born to Indian surrogate mothers faced obstacles in being legally recognized by countries of their genetic parents.

Previous cases involved a baby for a Japanese couple, which took six months to resolve, and then a German couple that had to wait months for citizenship of their baby born to an Indian woman. The latest case is that of an Israeli homosexual couple that is seeking citizenship for their two-month-old child.

The article cited experts who said that such problems would not occur if a draft law that has been debated during the last five years were made law.

The situation of Indian surrogate mothers was examined at length in a Sunday Times article published May 9. It looked at the Akanksha Infertility Clinic in the town of Anand, run by Doctor Navana Patel and her husband, Hitesh. Since 2003, 167 women have given birth to 216 babies at this clinic, with another 50 surrogate women currently pregnant.

Couples pay over 14,000 pounds ($20,682), of which about a third goes to the surrogate. The women are generally of lower caste and come from poor villages. The amount they receive is equivalent to about ten years’ salary, according to the Sunday Times.

The article also explained that at the clinic in Anand once the surrogates are pregnant they must live in «confinement homes» and can only leave for medical check-ups. Their husbands and children are allowed to visit them on Sundays. The Sunday Times chronicled the anguish the women feel at being separated from their own children and the emotional wrench they face when they have to hand over their surrogate child.

An April 26 article published by the Toronto Star newspaper raised questions about the situation in India. In one case a Canadian couple paid a woman in India to be a surrogate, but when Canadian officials ordered DNA tests on the resulting twins it turned out that instead of the fertilized eggs of the couple the children born were from another unknown couple. The twins will now probably be sent to an orphanage.

Legal problems

Apart from concerns about the exploitation of women the spread of surrogacy is causing complicated legal problems. The Wall Street Journal had a look at some of the issues involved in a Jan. 15 report.

In America eight states have passed laws prohibiting some or all surrogacy arrangements. Courts in some states have refused to enforce such contracts, while ten states have passed laws authorizing surrogacy.

Some of the disputes involve disagreements over the rights of the surrogate mother, the Wall Street Journal explained. In a decision last December New Jersey state judge Francis Schultz ruled that, in spite of a signed agreement relinquishing her parental rights, Angelia Robinson has parental rights for a baby she bore for a homosexual couple, Donald Robinson Hollingsworth and Sean Hollingsworth. Robinson is Donald Hollingsworth’s sister.

Another twist to complicate matters came shortly after, in a Jan. 26 article by the New York Times that posed the question as to whether a baby can have three biological parents.

Recent experiments by scientists have led to baby monkeys with a father and two mothers, by combining genetic material from the eggs of two females. If this were done for humans it would further complicate surrogacy disputes, the article affirmed.

Life and love

The use of surrogate mothers and third parties in IVF was one of the issues dealt with in a document published last November by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In «Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology,» the bishops sympathized with couples who suffer due to fertility problems, but they stated that not all solutions respect the dignity of the couple’s marital relationship. The end does not justify the means, and some reproductive technologies are not morally legitimate, they affirmed.

The temptation to have a child produced or made, as products of technology, should be resisted, the document urged. «Then children themselves may come to be seen as products of our technology, even as consumer goods that parents have paid for and have a «right» to expect — and not as fellow persons, equal in dignity to their parents and destined to eternal happiness with God,» it pointed out.

Moreover, introducing third parties, by using eggs or sperm from donors, or through surrogacy, violates the integrity of the marital relationship, just as it would be violated by sexual relations with a person outside the marriage.

«Fertility clinics show disrespect for young men and women when they treat them as commodities, by offering large sums of money for sperm or egg donors with specific intellectual, physical, or personality traits,» the document added.

The bishops also noted that these cash incentives can lead women to put in jeopardy their health in the egg extraction process. There are, indeed, many good reasons to have serious objections to IVF.

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