Having it Both Ways?

I just wanted to add a little after-thought to my earlier posts about buying eggs and other forms of commodification.   Nothing fully developed, more just a little observation. 

The ASRM guidelines suggest that it is wrong to pay more for eggs from donors with particular characteristics.    The problem, as the ASRM sees it, is two-fold.  First, placing special value on particular characteristics conjures up eugenics, which has a frightful history.   Second, this sort of differential compensation somehow magnifies the effects of commodification, which it seems worries the ASRM.  (The reason I’m sounding a bit skeptical here is that it seems to me that much already commodifies eggs and so I’m not sure there’s much added harm here.)

So here’s the thing that is bothering me.    It seems to me that, like it or not, when people use ART, they do choose gametes for the particular qualities of the donors.   No one says “oh, just pick one for me at random.”   And generally, my guess is people are often (probably most often) trying to match characteristics so that a child will look like them.

Lots of people use reproductive technology in order to have a child who looks like them.  Additionally, where only one member of a couple has fertility issues, they can have a child that is at least genetically related to one of them.  

So while the ASRM may have guidelines that suggest that the hand-picked designer child is a bad thing, the fact that people think it is important is a big part of why so many people use ART.    In other words, if people really took the ASRM guidelines to heart, there might be a far smaller market for ART.   Which is not where the interests of the ASRM lies.     I suppose I think it is a bit disingenuous to protest about hand-picking donors where the industry to some extent relies on people believing that having that resemblance is very important.


6 responses to “Having it Both Ways?

  1. Another thoughtful post, as always. The other issue worth considering is why should infertility patients be provided with less choices than their counterparts not struggling with such a condition. When it comes to mate selection, my suspicion is most people practice homogamy. While I am not certain what research exists which supports this, my suspicion is that part of the reason we see this homogamy tendency is because couples would like to have a child that share the characteristics of their mate.

    Assuming this is a fair statement, then why would we want to discourage infertile couples from seeking a donor who has characteristics that most resembles them? Decrying such behavior as eugenics strikes me as an intellectually bankrupt way of trying to trigger a visceral reaction as opposed to having a meaningful dialogue on the issue. I am not going out on a limb when I say that I doubt anyone would tolerate the government telling us who we can select to procreate with using traditional means. Why then would we tolerate such restrictions if the individual attempting to have a child requires assisted reproduction?

    • I am always interested in the way we differentiate between adoption, ART and what I will call unassisted conception. It’s an easy place to draw a line, of course. And we already regulate the practice of medicine. At the same time, whether, when and with whom to concieve via intercourse is understood to be a distinctly private matter, which is therefore thought to be beyond the power of the state to regulate. It’s also impractical to consider regulating conception via intercourse.

      Having said that, it’s remarkable how much turns on the distinction between methods of conception. Sometimes it seems to be far more than makes sense. Thus, because we worry about the well-being of children, we might consider regulating who gets to use ART or who gets to adopt. (Actually reviewing those who seek to adopt is generally accepted.) But even though exactly the same concerns ought to move us to at least consider regulating who gets to conceive via intercourse the very idea of considering that is absurd. What is the interest present in conception by intercourse but absent in conception by ART that makes it possible to imagine regulation in one case but not the other?

  2. I do not believe that is is WRONG for them to seek a donor who resembles them; however they should acknowledge that what they are doing is simulating a genetic connection, instead of pretending that genetics isn’t important to them.

    • I agree that it is not wrong and I think most people see it that way. This is what interests me. Why isn’t this a form of eugenics or, if it is a form of eugenics, why is it an acceptable form of eugenics? (I think once we call something eugenics it is on the way to being a bad thing–it’s a term with negative connotations.)

      I’m wary, though of agreeing that they are “simulating a genetic connection.” I’m not sure what it means, I suppose. Clearly people using ART know there is not a genetic connection. I think I might agree they are trying to produce a child who will physically resemble a child who had a genetic connection.. If that’s what you mean, too, than we are in agreement.

      Surely one reason people do this is because there is a societal value placed on “family resemblence.” Having a child that looks like you seems more normal or desireable or easier. Maybe what people are doing is seeking to “pass” as genetic parents.

      In general I think it is true that it is easier to present oneself as a genetic parent rather than as a parent who is not genetically related to one’s child.

      I think many of the comments here illustrate why that is–to put it starkly, for some people the only way to be a parent is to be genetically related, so if you do not have the genetic relationship you aren’t a real parent. It is hardly surprising, then, that people will shop for gametes that will produce the desired resemblence.

  3. I agree with Kisarita. In my opinion, it is (or should be) a basic human right to know from whom your genes came from. I think tap dancing around the elephant in the room, which society is doing, can keep kids and adults fragmented in terms of their identity.

    • This is a different point that been discussed quite a bit elsewhere on the blog. I won’t repeat myself here, but I would note that it is one thing to say that each person should know where their genes come from and a different thing to say that the person who provided the genes is necessarily a legal parent. That’s a distinction I care about a great deal.

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