A couple of weeks ago, I boarded a New Jersey Transit train near my home to go to Newark airport. From my seat near the rear of the car, I saw a poster with a photograph of five pretty young women of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, all smiling and laughing. Above the photo the poster read, “Become an Egg Donor and Help a Family Grow.” Below the photo: “Have you considered becoming an Egg Donor?” And then the real lure for the many young college-age women (from Princeton, Rider, Rutgers, Seton Hall, etc.) who ride these trains: “Not only will you earn $8,000, you will be helping fulfill someone’s dream of having a child.”
Altruism— and a nice chunk of change to take home too! You yourself, of course, may well (if the process “takes”) have a child somewhere, since it will not cease to be your egg, contributing your DNA to your son or daughter once you part company with it. And you will undergo certain risks, pains, and discomforts in “fulfilling someone’s dream.” These facts are not part of the sales pitch. Nor does the “reproductive medicine” clinic (which I will not name) say more here, with its pretty, happy poster, about how many eggs one must “donate” to get the $8,000. Nor about how many women are told “no, thanks” because they are not tall enough, slender enough, educated enough, or because the marketable supply of eggs of their race or ethnic groups is already in surplus.
Americans are very, very good at making crass commercial transactions seem like acts of virtue. We may have invented the expression “doing well by doing good.” We are also not laggards in the general Enlightenment project of turning tools of science to “the relief of man’s estate.” But the “dream of having a child” is not so easily translatable into a good to be attained by any means science—and commerce—make possible. The young women who board the trains of the Garden State might just think about that, as well as whether their bodies’ precious potential is something worth a great deal more than $8,000.