When one considers economic development and various industries, one rarely thinks about medicine. Even though the enormous medical expenses are no secret, people associate medical professionals with the hope for a longer and healthier life, not with a system that sees that people as clients and a source of profit. Even less obvious is the ‘infertility industry’ that Jessica Cohen brings into spotlight in her 2002 essay ‘Grade A: The Market for a Yale Woman’s Eggs.’ With one in ten couples being infertile, as Cohen states, the profits of fertility clinics skyrocket and reach billions of dollars (Hendershott & Cavello). People who are unwilling to adopt have various roads that they can take on their way to having children. They include in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and egg donation, all of which, although rather expensive, are often resorted to. However, even though medical advances have given infertile couples the possibility of having children, close public attention needs to be drawn to the ethical aspect of the options offered.
Cohen’s experience is eye-opening for all those who have never been in any way involved in the egg donation process. Without her insight, the medical procedure seems to be rather simple with no apparent risks. However, Cohen reveals that from many aspects, it is complex and unorthodox. The author’s first concern is the donating woman’s health. Although it is no surgery, the process turns out to be long and tiring with several preparation stages all of which include much medication. Even with the minimal dangers, a woman exposes her health to risks. When looked from the health perspective, egg donation no longer seems like an easy way of earning several thousand dollars.
More disturbing still is the attitude of both medical professionals and couples paying for the procedure. Describing the egg donation process, Cohen tries to stay as impartial as possible. However, despite her best efforts, the final sentence in the descriptive paragraph gives away her true feelings. The last words of the paragraph about the eggs being “ready for harvest” pushes the readers to see the process the way doctors see it — as a means of obtaining the necessary biological material (Cohen). Being distant is an important part of medical professions. For example, during clinical trials, to stay impartial, doctors do not see people as patients but as numbers. Nonetheless, with egg donation, the donor deserves to be seen as a person who shares the miracle of life.
Furthermore, Cohen is visibly appalled by the attitude of the couple whose advertisement for an egg donor she chose to answer. Even though the couple is extremely picky, going as far as actually stating the minimum SAT score, but they are ready to supply no information about themselves. Apart from their wealth, which is obvious from the considerable amount of money they are ready to pay to the donor, the latter finds out nothing about them. Sure enough, their personal privacy should be respected, but the woman donating her egg deserves to get at least general information. Such attitude is much too similar to that of not a parent but a consumer: the one who is paying sets the rules. Only here it is not a purchase of the latest gadget or a fashionable sports car that one is talking about, but the creation of new life, another human being. Thus, what started with the quest of a healthy donor turns into something similar to having a designer baby. Attempts to make sure that the baby is smart and good-looking go far beyond the desire to have a healthy child. In much the same way as people choose dogs to suit their styles, this couple was looking for a baby that would make their family look good. There is no unconditional parental love in such attitude, just a search of the best ‘accessory’ to brag about.
Finally, the most fundamental ethical issue of egg donation is that the eggs are frozen and stored. The woman who makes the choice of donating is taking a more or less informed decision to give up a part of herself to people who want a child so much. Strangely enough, she has no say in what becomes of the eggs that are not fertilized. With the number of retrieved eggs ranging from ten to twenty, even with some of them being unsuitable for fertilization, it still leaves too many eggs to be stored. Living in a democratic society, people are used to signing consent forms when it comes to treatment or medical tests. Thus, the possibility of frozen eggs’ free use for any kind of medical research or their sale to the other couples is astounding. The information given in ‘Grade A: The Market for a Yale Woman’s Eggs’ about frozen eggs being used in stem cell research is even more shocking, since the latter is more than controversial (Cohen). This gray area of the relationship between couples, donors, and doctors needs to be legally regulated. In the time when consent is needed even to transplant a dead person’s organs, any use of frozen eggs is simply unthinkable.
All in all, both Cohen’s experience and her essay draw public attention to the little regulated field of egg donation. Along with the author, the readers discover disturbing aspects of the procedure that is supposed to help infertile couples. The donor not only risks her health and even life but is treated both by doctors and by couples as if she were an object in a shop window and not a human being. Even worse is the attitude of the future parents to their potential child. They often cross the line of reasonable quest for a healthy child and go as far as trying to design a baby that would satisfy their preferences. Last but not least, the handling of the remaining frozen eggs is an issue that requires governmental intervention and legal guidelines for doctors and researchers. It is unacceptable that the eggs are treated as the property of the clinics that they may use as they wish with no regard for the rights of the donors.