April 12, 2024

Social egg freezing adverts are often sheer puffery, claims bioethicist

Promotion is mostly persuasive, not informative

Social egg freezing has become another money-spinner for fertility clinics as women try to reconcile their career ambitions and their desire to have children. In 2014, Facebook and Apple announced that they would subsidise their female employees’ elective — or ‘social’ — use of egg freezing. Since then other tech companies have jumped in the bandwagon, including eBay, Google, Uber, Time Warner and Intel.

But are fertility clinics advertising their product responsibly? According to a bioethicist who did a content analysis of internet advertising, the answer is No. Writing in The New Bioethics, Christopher Barbey, of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, reports that “many fertility clinics engage in biased advertising — i.e. they advertise the service persuasively, not informatively, emphasising indirect benefits while minimising risks and the low chance of successfully bringing a child to term.”

Barbey studied advertisements of clinics servicing the San Francisco Bay area. He found that much of the advertising was persuasive rather than informative. Statements like “Everything changes. Life moves quickly. The future is unpredictable” or  “Your reproductive potential will never be as good as it is today” fail to give this faintly alarming information proper context. As well, they fail to alert women to the fact that 94% of client end up never using their frozen oocytes.

These clinics utilise puffery — i.e. linking, through imagery, suggestive language, and the use of unsubstantiated claims, the utilisation of their service to traits that potential clients may desire. They also couple undesirable traits with the consumer’s condition prior to using the service. They use language that appears designed to potentiate any sense of anxiety a woman may hold about age-related fertility decline. This anxiety may engender a potentially outsized sense of need for egg freezing in the minds of potential clients. Clinics are also shy about including straightforward information about the success rates of the procedure, preferring to focus on the speculative indirect benefits of utilising the technology. 

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