Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley whose work has been informed by Ivan Illich, has jointly written an op-ed appearing in the Sacramento Bee. It cites Illich in arguing against the idea that women should be paid for donating unfertilized eggs for research purposes. A bill in front of Gov. Jerry Brown, a friend of Illich's, would overturn California's current ban on such payments. Evidently, the medical industry is eager to see this ban lifted.
The "traffic" in new reproductive technologies," writes Scheper-Hughes and Diane Tober, associate executive director at the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, "calls for a cautionary flashing signal, not red perhaps, but amber: beware of the propensity to regard the human body as a site for the expansion of medical, pharmaceutical and technological markets."
If [Calif. bill] AB 926 becomes law, we will witness a disturbing national trend. Women's research eggs become the hot new bio-product, increasing the profits of the multibillion-dollar-per-year infertility industry at the expense of women's health, safety and possibly, their future fertility. Is this the "equity" we want for ourselves, our sisters and our daughters?
The late historian of science and technology, Ivan Illich, warned against the processes of medical industries which "create new needs and control their satisfaction and turn human beings and their creativity into objects." Before this bill becomes law, we need publicly funded scientific studies to determine the risks of multiple egg donations by women who are being financially compensated.
The two authors relate the horrific experience one egg donor endured and denounce the idea that egg harvesting is "saving starving follicles" from dying (as supposedly put forth by one infertility specialist), as "a medical fairy tale." This notion, they write,
makes egg harvesting sound like a save-the-child campaign, as if follicles are proto-persons who could become babies in someone else's empty belly. There is no mention of the dangerous artificial stimulation needed to manipulate the endocrine system to produce many times the normal number of mature eggs. Women are taught to imagine their eggs as super-abundant (with medical help) and being 'wasted' when they could be put to better use.
Scheper-Hughes is known for, among other work, her investigations into the commodification of human organs and the global trafficking therein. In the book, Ivan Illich in Conversation, Illich touches on this subject, noting that the human body increasingly is perceived as just another a mechanism that may be fixed using spare parts.