The latest company benefit, subsidising female employees to freeze their eggs so they don’t have to interrupt their careers, has drawn widespread criticism.
Recent news reports said that Facebook has already started to offer up to $20,000 to help cover the cost of freezing eggs and that Apple will soon start a similar scheme.
Paying women to delay pregnancy might seem to be a positive move, but, questioned an October 14 New York Times article, might it not be simply avoiding policies that would help resolve the balance between family and work, such as paid parental leave, childcare, and flexible work arrangements.
In fact, the move could be seen as discouraging women to start a family. “Women who choose to have babies earlier could be stigmatized as uncommitted to their careers,” the article noted.
A sentiment echoed by columnist Miranda Divine in Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“Forget the level playing field” she exclaimed in her October 19 article.
“There will be two tiers of women at Facebook and Apple: the freezers and the breeders. The former are the go-getters destined to climb the corporate ladder, whereas those women who have babies when nature intended are the slackers,” she observed.
A statement published October 15 by the Center for Genetics and Society called the decision by the tech companies to offer female employees money to freeze their eggs as “ill-advised for numerous reasons.”
Among the problems they mentioned were “the significant but under-studied risks of egg retrieval for women,” along with the lack of data regarding the long-term risks to children who are born from frozen eggs.
“Retrieving multiple eggs involves injections of powerful hormones, some of them used off-label and never approved for egg extraction,” explained Marcy Darnovsky, the organization’s executive director.
“The short-term risks range from mild to very severe, and the long-term risks are uncertain because they haven’t been adequately studied – even though the fertility industry has been using these hormones for decades,” she explained.
Moreover, encouraging egg freezing may well lead more women to undergo IVF procedures, which have been linked to a whole series of adverse consequences.
“Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have issued guidelines explicitly discouraging women from utilizing egg freezing for elective, non-medical reasons,” the press release stated.
In the debate section of the New York Times, Miriam Zoll, the author of “Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies,” took issue with the proposal to encourage women to freeze their eggs in order to pursue a career.
Her October 16 article commented that not only is there a lack of information regarding safety matters, but also that there are very low numbers of births from frozen eggs.
Zoll quoted information from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology on the success rate. For a woman aged 38, the chance of one frozen egg leading to a live birth is only 2% to 12%. In fact worldwide in 2011, fewer than 10 babies were estimated to have been born from eggs frozen for women aged 38 and older.
“We need a culture thaw, not frozen eggs,” was the title of an article published October 18 in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.
The authors, Vardit Ravitsky and Marie-Eve Lemoine, are respectively an associate professor and a PhD candidate in the bioethics programs at the University of Montreal.
Control over reproduction is a long-standing goal for feminists, they observed, but this latest initiative is “extremely problematic,” they said.
Studies have shown that many women are unaware that artificial reproduction technologies are much less effective the older a woman is. Many, they commented, buy into the illusion that money is the only barrier to achieving delayed motherhood. “But this is far from the biological reality.”
Instead of more high-tech intervention, what is needed, they explained, is cultural change that will encourage parenthood and will support men and women when they decide to slow down their careers and build a family.
The contrast between what is technically possible to do and whether such action is wise or moral is not a new conflict. In his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI asked if:
“…because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their own bodies.”
The Catholic Church, of course, has consistently maintained that the artificial manipulation of human life involved in IVF and freezing eggs or embryos is wrong.
Moreover, as no. 2378 of the Catechism affirms, a child should not be considered as a piece of property to which parents have a right; instead a child is a gift.