They say that history is written by the winners. A new twist on this maxim is that bioethics is written by the powerful. But what if bioethics were written by the disempowered?
They say that history is written by the winners. A new twist on this maxim is that bioethics is written by the powerful. But what if bioethics were written by the powerless?
Alana Newman, founder of the Anonymous Us Project, a support group for the children of anonymous sperm donors, has written a introductory chapter in the on-line journal Public Discourse. In a scathing analysis of sperm and egg donation, she argues that young women are threatened by “the new sexual predators” – older women and gay men who seek their eggs.
Historically, she says, women have been taught to be on their guard against predatory men.
“But now there are new predators on the scene, for whom we do not have a script. There are new characters eager to exploit our daughters’ bodies, who enjoy unsullied reputations, passing detection even as they blatantly hunt for eggs and wombs with checkbooks in hand. And historically they have been the people women should fear the least. These new players vying for access to young women’s bodies are older or infertile women, and gay men—quite often our friends and members of our family.”
Ms Newman looks at egg donation and surrogate motherhood from a completely different standpoint from conventional discourse about autonomy and altruism. Older women have squandered their fertility through contraception, abortion and postponing maternity. Now, she says, they want to take advantage of a younger generation:
“Older women with more power and resources put their interests ahead of younger women’s and make up for their past mistakes or misfortunes by risking the health and well-being of their successors. The attack comes from close range—dressed in words of altruism and generosity.
“The women who seek other women’s children often carried the torch for gender equality, women’s rights, and so many other wins for their side in the gender wars. Out of respect for their ambition and challenge to the glass ceiling, younger women feel pressured to give their children to older women as gestures of appreciation for their life trajectories.”
Similarly, gay men – “the only men in the world we thought we could trust because they weren’t interested in our bodies” – also want young women’s eggs and wombs.
Ms Newman’s subversive critique rattles the complacent image of donor conception as life-affirming. Unsurprisingly, it was immediately attacked by Leia Picard, of Canadian Fertility Consultants, a surrogacy agency, as “homophobic nonsense” and “phony fear-mongering”. A gay rights blog, Equality Matters, indignantly repudiated her argument: “Same-sex couples that go through the difficult process of surrogacy deserve to be commended for their commitment to raising children — not called sexual predators.”
These comments may fail to capture the originality of Ms Newman’s perspective. She writes not as a culture warrior but as a disempowered creation of the assisted reproduction industry. The number of voices supporting her point of view is sure to grow.
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