Remember a while back I wrote about a lottery run in the UK where the prize was fertility services? Bonnie Rochman, who writes Time Magazine’s Family Matters has a story that takes this idea another step further down the road.
A US fertility clinic set up a contest where the prize was a free round of IVF. To enter you had to submit a video. Once the judges winnowed down the entries the finalists were posted on-line with winners determined by Facebook voting. Three winners were chosen.
Now I have to say this makes me shudder. But it seems to me that once I’ve had my little shudder I ought to ask myself why it makes me shudder. What (if anything) is wrong with the contest?
I do think back to the UK lottery. Was there anything wrong with that, apart from the fact that lotteries may generally play on irrational hopes? I probably shouldn’t dismiss that factor, as people struggling with infertility are doubtless very vulnerable, but in contrast to this, the whole thing seems rather decorous.
This brings me back to the video contest. It seems to me that the clinic (which I am choosing not to name, though if you follow the link you’ll be right there on its site) is exploiting the needs and vulnerabilities of people dealing with infertility in a very public way in order to promote itself. Surely the clinic did this to get attention, right? Why else conduct the contest in this manner? And equally surely, they’ve succeeded–and drawn me into the process as well. (My choice not to name the clinic here is my tiny act of resistance.)
It’s not so much the fact that the winners get IVF that bothers me. I assume that, to the extent there is screening for IVF eligibility, all the usual screening will be done here. This is not, to my mind, like raffling off a baby. Neither was the UK lottery.
What bothers me is the way the clinic is exploiting the vulnerabilities of people who need to use IVF. It looks to me like all the finalists are married different-sex couples, which means they are dealing with infertility issues. And of course, they are people who need to use IVF and do not have the money to be able to do so without entering this contest. (I very much doubt that a couple with the resources could have put together a compelling video about why they needed free IVF. I also don’t think a couple with ample resources would choose to expose itself like this.)
It’s certainly true that the three winning couples got something of real and substantial value. And no one was forced to enter, no one had to make a video and post it. (This does bring to mind the complicated questions of voluntariness and coercion that arise in a bunch of ART contexts.) But still, I think the clinic callously used people to promote itself and it does rather make my skin crawl. I suspect I’d have the same response (for basically the same reasons) if the prize was a necessary heart surgery or something like that. Maybe in the age of reality TV (which I’ve never really watched, so what do I know?) this kind of exposure is just par for the course, but I’d rather hope it isn’t.