The debate on IVF and the commodification of reproduction continues up here. There were a few articles in Toronto Star recently about donation of sperm and eggs that basically showed how ridiculous Canadians are when it comes to staying within the grey area of the law. It reminds me of our laws on marijuana: for many years the laws were so convoluted and mish-mashed it was both legal and illegal.

Typically Canadian, we have had an actual Royal Commission on assisted reproduction and we now have some sort of Office that is supposed to deal with the issue. There are, in fact, laws on the books although I don’t recall them being passed by Parliament but they must have been as the Commission insists it is trying to enforce them. What they say is this:

  • anyone wishing to assist in reproduction, i.e. be a surrogate, offer their sperm or eggs, is to be an altruistic participant
  • anyone caught paying for these services or ‘goods’ is subject to a fine of $250,000 and five years in jail

I have no idea how the Commission came up with these rules and who they polled about infertility. But the sum result of these rules is driving the search for surrogates and donors underground. The Star article cited a number of couples looking for egg donors — wait for it — online! They don’t even know what to ask; they certainly don’t have any kind of system in place to screen donors; it’s completely ridiculous. This is not a system that protects the infertile couple or that helps them in any way, shape or form.

I understand that some Canadians, being the milquetoast nation that we are (unable to call a spade a spade), want to “avoid” the commodification of anything related to human genetics. But the truth is, we are all commodities, even and perhaps especially, as adults. Those folks working to build your car, or serve your coffee, or take your money at the bank, and you — whatever it is you do — we are all just numbers in the big corporate game. Cogs in the wheels of our commercial society.

Also, have any of these Commission members gone through IVF? Do they understand the medical long-term consequences of it? Do they feel the pain of it, literally and emotionally? I cannot possibly imagine harvesting eggs out of the goodness of my heart. I cannot imagine that there are huge numbers of women lining up to carry babies for women that cannot. In fact, a very good way of maintaining privacy and anonymity is to commodify this. When there is a perceived fair exchange, everyone goes merrily on their way. Just as an example of the effects of these rules, my own fertility doctor recommended that we search out a donor in the US through a clinic that provides the service and then coordinate the donors cycle and our cycle in two different cities, then fly the donor to Canada for the retrieval. Well in fact, it’s easier and cheaper to just sign up with a US clinic and go there for one week during retrieval and transfer. On top of that, the donor can rest and recuperate in her own home.

While I’m on the topic, let’s also be honest about surrogacy: if we agree that abortion is a woman’s choice — and it is legal in Canada, thank goodness — then why is using your body to carry a child for someone not a woman’s choice and a service for which she can be paid?

It does not make any practical sense to limit reproductive efforts. By doing that you will always discriminate against someone, somewhere. Either your society supports assisted reproduction or it is against it. Grey areas only serve to create desperate situations that end up punishing the innocent.

For example, the same Commission recommended funding IVF for a prescribed set of infertile couples (age limits and the like) for three tries but limiting the transfer of embryos to one per try. I’m sorry, but who are we to judge and impose an age cut-off? On the one hand, you’ve got governments and society telling women to get multiple degrees and join the workforce and put off child bearing. Then you turn around and tell them, Oh, by the way, we won’t fund your IVF because we made a mistake. We now believe women should have children earlier in their career and worry about climbing the corporate ladder later in life. It also dismisses the 14 percent of Canadians that have unexplained fertility. It’s amazing that science can do so much to help couples conceive but we still can’t figure out why a great many folks can’t conceive with any type of intervention. All of these couples, who need help the most and go through the most pain and spend the most money, are being relegated to the margins of society with this potential new law. We are getting into Orwellian territory with such proscribed criteria; talk about the nanny state.

These recommendations were not developed to help infertile couples but to eliminate the apparently staggering number of multiple births that are supposedly draining the health care system. The debate also gets couched in terms of “being fair” and “providing service to the poorest to level out the opportunities” but that is not really true. If it were true, then we’d see opportunity at every level of fertility treatment (including donors) for every infertile couple no matter what their income or diagnosis.

I consider these laws and the thinking on this issue by the Commission as wholly lacking compassion and far-sightedness on the issue of commodification. Let’s just be honest: sperm and eggs are commodities. We should regulate their sale and sure, the price might go up, but if the government truly puts their money to back up their so-called beliefs, then perhaps they should cover part of the costs. If your population needsĀ  help reproducing for economic reasons, then step up and use this as a tool to build your country. Otherwise, suck up to the fact that Canada cannot be a one hundred percent welfare state and accept that there is such a thing as private health care choices, and hey, maybe offer a better tax deduction.