Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Frozen eggs, aka Oocyte cryopreservation

I recently read an article regarding a now available reproductive technology, which will assist many women with a variety of reproductive issues: egg freezing. One proposed application would be to help women who have to undergo surgical removal of their ovaries to still preserve their eggs for use at another date. It used to be that women who faced that situation were not only facing a life-threatening illness, but also facing the end of any hope of conceiving their own child. It is a marvelous application of technology to help these women to find a way to lessen the impact of their illness or disease on their future fertility.

Another application would be to help women who find it inconvenient to have children during the period in their lives when they are more fertile.

Here is the excerpt:

Why I Froze My Eggs By Rachel Lehmann-Haupt | NEWSWEEK

In October, I fly to Bologna to meet with Dr. Raffaella Fabbri and Dr. Eleanora Porcu, the biologist and clinician who invented the technology at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Bologna. When the two started working together in the 1980s, they never envisioned egg freezing as a way to fulfill women's desires to "have it all." They saw the possibility of freezing unfertilized eggs as a way to sidestep a ban on freezing embryos, which the Roman Catholic Church deemed immoral. As the technique improved, so did the success rates. The clinic has achieved a 28 percent pregnancy rate from frozen eggs compared with the 18 percent rate it reported two years earlier.

Fabbri and Porcu, however, are at odds with one another. Their debate goes straight to the heart of the issues that surround egg freezing and my own intensely emotional decision over whether to do it. Fabbri supports its commercial use to extend fertility. Porcu tells me that she believes that many U.S. statistics are exaggerated in order to lure customers. She thinks that women who have no alternatives, such as patients with cancer or patients who want to store eggs instead of embryos for moral reasons, should be free to use it. Giving healthy women the opportunity to freeze their eggs to postpone childbearing with an experimental technology, she believes, is harmful for feminism. "It means that we're accepting a mentality of efficiency in which pregnancy and motherhood are marginalized," she says. "We've demonstrated that we are able to do everything like men," she continues. "Now we have to do the second revolution, which is not to become dependent on a technology that involves surgical intervention. We have to be free to be pregnant when we are fertile and young."

On first principles I agree without reservation that having more options available for whatever a woman might choose to do, and protecting the availability of those options, is the core of feminism. But Porcu (as summarized here) makes a subtle point. Does exercising this technology of oocyte cryopreservation as an option (rather than as a requirement, as might be needed in medical situations) inherently constitute an anti-feminist position which marginalizes pregnancy and motherhood? These are, after all, key components (though not comprehensive attributes) of womanhood. Does a woman who exercises these options *as options* actually act in an anti-feminist manner which contributes to the marginalization of motherhood to an afterthought, an add-in, something to be worked in around a career rather than as part of an entire life for a woman? Does having this as an available option relieve the pressures towards coming up with a more balanced motherhood/careerhood balance?

Or is the issue really one of our humanity being parceled and scheduled at more convenient times for industry?

Frozen Egg image by sylvdoanx

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