Woman As Reason: Exploitative reproductive industry

April 27, 2016

From the May-June 2016 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

Ever since the medical industry has gotten its greedy hooks into assisted human reproduction, it has objectified the women—commonly called “egg donors”—upon whom the entire business depends. New is that these “egg donors” launched a federal lawsuit to do away with industry guidelines that mandate that pay (the industry calls it “compensation”) over $5,000 requires “justification,” and over $10,000 is “beyond what is appropriate.”


Supposedly this cap is to protect poor women from selling their eggs (a part of their body) just for money without thinking of how their lives may be affected. This is a lie, and not only because in our society you can’t separate money from how your life is affected, especially if you don’t have much. The lie is also seen in a statement by the lawyer representing the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology—the groups that set the cap: “If the compensation became too high, there is a concern that it might be incentive for donors to lie about their medical history” (The New York Times, “Egg Donors Want Room to Name Their Price,” Oct. 10, 2015).

First, if you’re poor, $5,000 to $10,000 is already an incentive to donate eggs if you need to pay off loans, pay for your children’s healthcare, or any other emergency that poor people experience in an ever crueler USA. Second, the lawyer revealed his client’s attitude toward the women who donate: watch out, they’re a bunch of potential liars.

Recently, egg donor women won their lawsuit and forced the fertility professional associations to drop the paragraphs concerning compensation for egg donations. But the truth is that the whole $80 million egg-donor market, only a part of the lucrative—for the capitalists, that is—reproductive technology industry, dehumanizes women who, let’s call it what it is, sell their eggs.

You can see it in the language they use: fertility clinics want to start their own “in-house egg programs”; there are “egg-donation businesses”; the actual woman whose eggs are being “harvested,” disappears. You read enough language like this and realize that if they could, the industry would put “egg donors” in tiny cages stacked on top of each other, so they could be carefully watched, given lie detectors, given drugs at precisely the right time, and have their body parts harvested in the most cost-effective way possible.

But what really shows the inhuman attitude towards mostly poor women in their twenties is the complete lack of concern for their health.


It’s been over 35 years since the first baby was born from the then new science of human reproductive technology. There has been no database created to track the health of women who have donated eggs—a process that requires multiple high doses of drugs, some of which are known carcinogens. It is a painful process that includes, besides the dosing with drugs not tested for safety when used the way they are in egg donors, surgery and many invasive ultrasounds. In short, there is no concern for these women once their eggs have been taken, no follow-up, no industry-sponsored studies on health effects.

As one of these young women told The New York Times: “The fertility industry is keenly interested in recruiting new and healthy donors, but generally gives little regard to what happens to us when the eggs are gone.”

The whole promise of human reproductive technology and surrogacy has been transformed by capitalism from a supremely human endeavor where science has advanced to the point of making it possible for infertile women to bear a child, to an endeavor aimed at making money for capitalists by dehumanizing, cheating and endangering those who make it possible.

In any sane world innovation of reproductive technology would be valued for the joy it could bring. In our capitalist society, however, this gift has been transformed into its opposite.

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