Here I am again. Been traveling and what-not, but back now. And just in time.
There’s an article in today’s Wall Street Journal–front page–about the price of eggs. (Because the Journal is subscription only, I cannot effectively link to it. Sorry. You may be able to get it through your favorite library, perhaps?) Anyway, I’m especially sorry not to be able to post it because I am actually (briefly) quoted in it. But that’s not really why it is noteworthy.
Part of the hook for the WSJ article is the anti-trust suit that began five years ago. The idea here is that there is a suggested cap for what is paid to women providing eggs. You can see that (whether worthy or not) it looks like a form of price fixing. (Technically I think this is called monopsony.) Turns out the law suit is, ever so slowly, moving along. But the article raises many more issues than that, just as paying money for eggs does.
For instance, there are some obvious ways in which paying a person for eggs is like paying a person for sperm. In both cases you are paying for a remarkable component part–one that is used to create a new human being. That’s a pretty massive similarity. To the extent you have issues about how we think about this kind of material, and the ethics or morality of creating a market for it, the issues could be the same whether it is eggs or sperm.
Similarly, with both eggs and sperm it seems to me we have to consider the possibility that the person who makes the decision to provide them at twenty or twenty-five comes to regret that decision when they are forty. And in both cases you have the prospect that the person created using the egg/sperm will come back and find the provider many years later. Again–important similarities. These are reasons why you might say that paying for sperm and paying for eggs are should be thought about similarly.
But as clearly as there are similarities, there are differences. The process by which sperm is collected is nothing like the process by which eggs are collected. I don’t really think that anyone contends that providing sperm means undergoing a medical procedure. But providing eggs does just that. And it is a procedure that is of no benefit to the patient (the woman providing the sperm) except for the fact that she gets the money or satisfaction of providing the eggs. I suppose what I mean is there is no health-reason for the procedure.
Now paying someone to undergo an otherwise unnecessary medical procedure–one that does carry risks–seems quite different from paying someone to provide sperm. This difference might be a justification for treating the role of money in the transaction differently when you’re thinking eggs vs. sperm.
In this context you can think about capping the amount of compensation. Part of the reason for doing that is to avoid what is sometimes called “coercive compensation.” The idea here is that we don’t want people to do things they really ordinary wouldn’t do just because there’s money involved–to take a risk they wouldn’t take. It comes, as I understand it, out of the literature around paying human subjects of experiments. If someone is willing to be a subject you can compensate them for time and trouble but you don’t want to override their will by offering too much money.
Frankly, this is an idea I can only sometimes grasp. Sometimes it seems to me to ignore an awful lot about how the world works. But this may be grist for the mill a different day. Let’s just assume there’s such an idea and it makes sense for now.
Because egg providers face greater risks (physical risks, in particular) than sperm providers, the concerns about coercive compensation might be present (or at least larger) for egg providers than sperm providers. And maybe this leads you to say that because of the differences, you treat them differently (even though there are also samenesses) and cap compensation for egg providers and not sperm providers.
But when I’m all done going down that particular branch of thinking I find myself wanting to take a step back and think about gender. Because, of course, all this is deeply gendered. Egg providers are women. Sperm providers are men. And we’ve just (tentatively) reached a conclusion that the rules for men and women will be different. (Granted that the conclusion was grounded in “real” differences between men and women.)
Notice, too, exactly how the different treatment works. Men can get what the market it paid. Women are “protected” from their own bad decisions. Surely it is not surprising that this worries me. Is it enough to make me insist that the treatment of sperm and egg providers should be the same? I cannot say that, yet, but it sure makes me want to go back and revisit the question.