Eggs for sale: How allowing women to sell their eggs could improve autonomy

In Canada, it is illegal for prospective Canadian parents to buy eggs from donors. National Post columnist Jen Gerson says the law has placed restrictions on women's autonomy, and says Canadian women should have the right to sell their eggs openly.
Should Canadian women be able to sell their eggs to couples who want children? (Dr. Thomas Hannam)

When the Assisted Human Reproduction Act was passed in 2004, it made it a crime for prospective Canadian parents to buy eggs from donors. Anyone who violates that law can be fined up to $500,000 and faces up to 10 years in prison. 

The law is supposed to protect egg donors from exploitation and financial coercion, but Jen Gerson says it has placed restrictions on women's autonomy, instead. The National Post columnist says it's time to give Canadian women the right to sell their eggs openly. 

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length. 

Why do you think Canadian women should have the right to sell their eggs? 

Well, I think if we look at the act, the intention of the act was, of course, to try to protect poor women from being exploited. And that all had very lovely intentions and it was all very noble, except there were two problems with that idea. The first is that the act doesn't actually stop poor women from being poor — it just denies them one of the tools that they might use to alleviate their own poverty. The second problem with the act is that, anecdotally, we've found that it's not poor women who are being targeted for egg donation at all. And if you start to think about it, it makes sense, If you are a wealthy, infertile couple who is trying to find a potential egg donor, typically these people are looking for college-educated women who happen to need money but who have, for lack of a better, more politically correct term, have "genetically desirable" traits... So the law was intended to prevent poor people from being exploited and poor women in particular from getting exploited. In fact, it's just paternalistic. I think in this society, we have become very, very comfortable with the idea of regulating female fertility. We don't think twice about doing it, whether we're talking about assisted reproduction, IVF, or whether we're talking about abortion. We think that it is the state's right to sort of meddle in this and protect women from themselves, and I think that is an idea that has to be challenged. 

Selling sperm used to be common practice in this country. How did the conversation about selling reproductive tissue change when women started doing it too? 

That's the interesting irony of the whole thing, right? We didn't think twice about men selling their sperm. We didn't think twice about the idea of an educated college graduate going to make beer money by spreading the miracle of life into a cup. Nobody thought twice about this, until... the technology advanced to the point where women could get into this trade, and then all of a sudden there was a moral panic: people started worrying about exploitation of women, and the government responded to this by creating a blanket prohibition on both eggs and sperm... Yes, there are health risks involved for women that there are not involved for men, absolutely, but I think part of this was this idea that, "Whoa, whoa, don't the women care about their offspring? Don't the women care about what's going to happen to their kids?" All of a sudden, this became a conversation of women selling their fertility for thousands and thousands of dollars, and that made people very uncomfortable. 

What do you think it says about our attitudes towards women's reproductive autonomy? 

I think we have an expectation in society that women want kids. I think we have an expectation that women have emotional attachments to their genetic offspring, and I think the idea that a woman might trade on that fertility for college tuition or two years' college tuition was a threatening one. 

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.


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