[NB. I know there are comments that I need to review and respond to. I’m posting first and will do those comments later today. Thanks for your patience.]
There’s a front page story in today’s New York Times that certainly caught my attention. I’ve written frequently about frozen sperm and frozen embryos in the past. I’ve also noted that the technology to freeze eggs is now available, though it is not widely used just yet. Clearly it is only a matter of time. The story in today’s NYT is about how parents are sharing the cost of freezing eggs with their adult daughters. Perhaps as much as anything what disturbs me is the title: “So Eager For Grandchildren, They’re Paying the Egg-Freezing Clinic.”
So what is it that bothers me here? After all, this is a logical extension of the insistence on the primacy of genetic connection. For all of you who think genetic connection is essential or even irreplaceably special, this all makes perfect sense. The best way to ensure that the women discussed here can have a genetically related child even if they wait a few more years is to freeze their eggs. With the egg safely frozen they can eventually use a surrogate, if need be. The one crucial ingredient they must contribute to that genetically related child is safely on ice. The alternative would be to rush out and get pregnant immediately, even if they think they are not ready to raise a child. Perhaps we can agree that this is not a good idea.
I know that it is common for parents to want their adult children to have children of their own. But I’d hope that this is because the older parents parents want two things: They want their children to have the experience of being parents and they want to have the experience of enjoying new children without the responsiblity of parenthood themselves. But neither of these things require a genetically related grandchild.
There’s frequently disagreement here about the importance of genetic linkage in constructing parenthood. (I’m not talking here about the articulated need a person has to know something about their genetic forebears–I’m talking about the idea that the right people to raise a child a presumptively the genetic parents.) Can we agree, though, that that insistence on the importance of genetic linkage is at least a large part of what drives a young woman to freeze her eggs?
Is there any harm in freezing the eggs? Apart from the fact that it is expensive and one might think the money could be put to better use (maybe the someday-grandchild could have a college fund?) is there anything wrong?
I confess I am not sure. But it does seem to me this continues the cycle that places more and more emphasis on having the genetically connected child, and I think there are many things to worry about there. Apart from the reliance on new and intrusive technologies, I worry that valuing the genetic connection means devaluing the performance of parenthood. After all, for some people if you’ve got that precious genetic link, you’ve got it all. What more is needed to make you a parent?
So if this is a trend, what else can we look forward to? Apart from instances where men are undergoing medical treatment, freezing your own sperm has not been common. That’s because we’ve known that ordinarily men can keep producing sperm for their whole lives. But with studies showing that the age of the sperm producer may be relevant to the health of the child, surely some men will want to freeze their young and healthy sperm sooner rather than later.
If parenthood is based on genetics then you really can freeze it in a slender straw and defrost it when you’re ready. That woman will be a parent in ten years or twenty or fifty. She may, indeed, be long gone from our world before she is a parent.
This is such an odd idea to me. To be a parent (in my book) requires that you first be present and involved in the lives of your children. I think the world would be a better place if we insisted on this rather than worked so hard to ensure the genetic connection.