Feminism | Posted by Mareike S on 03/20/2013

Thinking About Egg Donation

I recently saw a thought-provoking documentary about egg donation and its legal ramifications in Germany. The documentary followed several people: a couple that could not have their own children, a young woman who had some of her own eggs frozen, a family that had already gone through the process, and several doctors, lawmakers and people concerned with the ethics of egg donation.

The biggest problem with egg donation in Germany (besides the social taboo associated with donation, which is featured prominently in the subtitle of the documentary) is that it’s actually illegal and can be punished with up to 3 years in prison for the parents — or more accurately, the mother. For doctors, it’s not only actually performing the egg donation that is illegal, but also preparing women for it. Nonetheless, hundreds of couples decide to do this and, if they are lucky, find a doctor who helps them with the necessary preparations (hormone therapy and so on).

Of course, one could ask “Why don’t people just adopt?” To be honest, that was also one of my initial reactions. If one thinks about it for a few seconds, however, it becomes understandable. Egg donation is not the most complicated or risky procedure, so the medical basis of it’s illegality is questionable, and deep down I can understand a woman’s yearning to have a child that you carried to term if that option is available.

The documentary also shed light on the reasons for Germany’s prohibition on fertilizing and implanting an egg that did not come from the woman concerned. One concern that lawmakers seem to have is that allowing egg donation would lead to a slippery slope ending with couples hiring surrogate mothers. Here, the concern is mostly for the possible future surrogate mothers, who might agree to the procedure out of economic necessity, without being aware of the emotional and physical stress this can cause. I can see a point in this argument. The documentary also noted that some of the limitations placed on egg donation in Germany aim to limit what science can do with embryos, which seems valid, however, I think it is possible to limit what scientists can do with donated eggs, while still giving couples the option of having a child on that route at all.

It is the other argument that was presented in the documentary that irked me, and seemed to confirm the suspicions that had been nagging at me since I’d zapped to the documentary. This argument was that if a woman donated her eggs for the use of other women, she was selling her genetic material, and that really, really shouldn’t happen.

So, if that’s the case, why doesn’t anyone seem to be squeamish about men donating sperm, about men donating their genetic material? Apparently women donating their genetic material is way worse than men doing the exact same thing.

It’s this double standard written into German law that struck me the most. It seems to me that this stems from the old patriarchal notion that women are objects traded by men to form male bonds, but also to reproduce. God forbid that women want to have a say in this reproduction (‘natural’ or otherwise).

Female sexuality was liberated in the 60s with the advent of the pill, and it seems that egg donation is another step on this path towards liberation that Germany just still doesn’t get.

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