Money scruples obscure real moral issue in AHR debate

Box office figures from the US suggest that Jennifer Anistion’s latest comedy, The Switch, which is about a forty-  year-old single woman who wants a baby and chooses to be artificially inseminated has flopped, at least in its first week.

According to this First Things blog, it took in only only $8.4 million on opening weekend, which for a movie which received lots of hype is very disappointing.

Meanwhile, just four months ago, Jennifer Lopez’s film on the same subject, The Back-up Plan, opened to a low $12.2 million. Hollywood reporters Gregg Kilday and Kim Masters put it rather succinctly: “Artificial insemination, it turns out, is the new box-office poison.”

This hasn’t stopped the makers of The Kids Are Alright, a comedy about the children of a lesbian couple finding and contacting their biological father.It remains to be seen whether this will buck the trends, but the smart money wouldn’t bet on it.

In real life, however, the assisted human reproduction industry is a lucrative business. And if new proposals in the UK become law, it is set to become more commercialised.

Reports suggest that shortages of British sperm and egg donors are leading to a rethink about whether to increase the amount of money paid to such donors.

The demand for donated sperm and egg presently vastly exceeds supply. So what we were told was a service purely based on the principle of “donation”, or volunteerism, is now heading towards commericialisation.

Here in Ireland, the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction (CAHR), in its 2005 report on how to regulate the AHR industry, recommended that “donors should not be paid nor should recipients be charged for donations per se”.

Under their proposals, however, such a stipulation would not preclude “payment of reasonable expenses and payment for AHR services”.

The language the report uses to justify this stance is quite bracing: “The Commission is of the opinion that financial inducements in AHR are not acceptable. They would subject reproduction to the taint of commercialisation and might put unreasonable pressure on those who are undergoing AHR treatments. Reduction of costs for fertility services and/or freezing services in return for ova and/or embryo donation should not be permitted since such inducement to donate could nullify voluntary informed consent.”

Pretty uncompromising. But this is precisely the situation that currently obtains in the UK. Obviously, when proposals were being made to allow for regulated assisted human reproduction, it was felt that commercialising something as sensitive as human reproduction would make a controversial subject even more unpalatable.

One imagines that this is the reasoning behind the CAHR’s distaste for introducing something as sordid as money into the AHR equation here.

They have no problem in principle in deliberately allowing children to be conceived in circumstances in which they will grow up completely separated from one of their biological parents. But for some reason, the idea that money might be involved is a real moral scruple.

The problem is that, once you ignore a child’s right to a mother and father and accept the principle that deliberately* separating children from one of their genetic parents is morally acceptable, then the desire of adults to conceive becomes the only guiding principle.

Once the wishes of adults become the only motive, the only question is how to ensure that as many adults as possible are given the chance to conceive using donor eggs/sperm. In that context, this current move by the UK’s Human Fertility and Embryology Authority is just the next logical step forward.

But when the debate here about the CAHR’s recommendations on regulation sperm and egg donation begins in earnest, it is worth bearing in mind that objections to the commercialisation of the AHR industry here will disappear in the same way that they have in the UK. For all the protestations about the undesirability of “the taint of commercialisation”, when the only governing imperative is the adult desire to have a child, such squeamishness will seem wholly out of place.

*It is important to note here the difference between this practice and adoption. Typically, with adoption, there is already a child whose parent(s), for whatever reason, cannot or will not raise. Again, with AHR, the separation is deliberate from the outset.