- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jennifer Lahl is a kind, deeply caring woman. A health care worker for 25 years, she has seen medical care at its best — when it gives fresh hope and renewed health to suffering patients.

These days, Ms. Lahl is a passionate advocate on behalf of young women who’ve experienced medical care at its worst. In the upside-down world of assisted reproduction, too many fertility specialists have dashed the hopes and compromised the health of previously healthy young women — egg donors.

Next month, Ms. Lahl’s award-winning documentary, “Eggsploitation,” will play on college campuses, warning young women about the dangers of egg donation. The film follows several young women who underwent egg donation as a way to pay tuition or dig themselves out of debt — they also welcomed the emotional payoff of helping an infertile couple have a child.

But for these women, donating their eggs triggered serious complications resulting in infertility, disability, and lingering health problems. One woman nearly died.

As infertility climbs, so does assisted reproduction. Most of us know families whose children were created with help from fertility specialists or who owe their existence to egg donors. And nothing I say here intends to minimize the pain of infertility. But the fact remains that young women — my own daughter’s peer group — are being exploited as egg donors.

Our young women need to know the truth.

Egg donation exploits young women for the benefit of older women. The fertility business needs an increasing supply of “donor eggs” from healthy, fertile young women. The pitch? Money. Students and young women don’t have much, but many older infertile couples do. Donor agencies place ads in university newspapers or on craigslist.com, promising anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 to women who donate eggs. Repeat donations (up to six) are encouraged. Economically vulnerable young women face an undue temptation to trade their eggs for money.

Egg donation itself carries significant risks because it requires fertility drugs, anesthesia, and invasive egg retrieval. Donors take drugs first to induce temporary menopause, then to hyperstimulate the ovaries so they’ll produce from 16 to 35 eggs in one cycle. Worse, doctors really don’t know the long-term risks to egg donors, because so few studies have been done. And fertility specialists are in no hurry to find out.

Fertility treatments are big business, generating layers of people who depend on its expansion: Doctors who retrieve, fertilize, and implant eggs; pathologists and lab technicians who grade, sort, store, and test eggs and embryos; agencies that match donors and parents; lawyers to write contracts; counselors to screen donors and parents. There’s money to be made — and the easiest, cheapest payoff goes to egg donors. Women’s bodies become mere commodities in a larger business.

The action here is simple: Watch Ms. Lahl’s movie and share it with others. Do your best to get it in the hands of high school and college students.

Ms. Lahl’s work brings pro-lifers, feminists, parents, and young women together in conversation about why it’s wrong to take advantage of those who are most vulnerable — and why we should never pressure or tempt someone to consent to something harmful. Their “yes” is our wrong.

Parents of young women should discuss specifically why egg donation harms their dignity, and may harm their health as well. The lesson for all of us is that we must work to create a culture that never demeans our humanity by allowing others to be treated as a means to an end.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.