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New York Times story "Meet the Twiblings" has troubling implications

January 5, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
The New York Times has a piece this week about a well-to-do couple who, when they gave up on conceiving a child naturally, hired an egg donor and two surrogates to produce their so-called "twiblings," or babies born five days apart. The same couple and the surrogate mothers were on one of the morning news shows on Tuesday, probably to promote the story and possibly a book.

I find it troubling for a whole lot of reasons. I'm troubled not least because of how the children involved might react to their unusual origins when they grow up. It will certainly be harder to avoid the questions when the New York Times story will be online for the foreseeable future.

There's a lot of potential for exploitation here of the surrogate mothers and of the egg donor as well as of the children.

Paying for the whole shebang probably cost this couple upwards of $200,000, though the story doesn't give a dollar figure. The surrogates involved are not poor women, but neither are they as wealthy as the couple and they definitely could use the money. The egg donor, who was also paid for her tall, blonde, blue-eyed good looks and her "delightful personality" and engaging grin, put herself through a series of uncomfortable and invasive medical procedures that, among other potential side effects, could put her at greater risk for cancer someday or even of decreased fertility.

All of the women involved gave their informed consent to the procedure, but I can't help but wonder if the emotional and physical costs will take their toll at some point in the future. Even though the couple and surrogates and egg donor are on friendly terms and the surrogates will get to continue to see the children, I imagine it would be hard to have a truly equal relationship when money has exchanged hands. The two children involved are likely to have their own ideas about how they came to be and some of them might be more negative than any of the adults involved are bargaining on.

This couple has been asked a lot why they didn't simply adopt, and that thought came to my mind too. They said they were too old to be considered by many young women considering adoption and their age and health disqualified them from foreign adoption programs. They didn't want to adopt an older child from foster care because they didn't consider themselves equipped to handle the potential challenges.

Those are definitely valid considerations. I don't know that I would be capable of handling all of the needs of an older child adopted from foster care, either, and no one should adopt if they're not prepared to give their best to a child. On the other hand, any two people who have a couple hundred grand to toss around might have had an easier time adopting a child than the average couple.

Regardless of any misgivings that I or anyone else has, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to assisted fertility methods like this one. There are thousands of children out there who have been carried by surrogate mothers or conceived in labs using donor eggs and sperm. It's not uncommon for a lab to create a child using the donor egg and sperm of a woman and man who have never met and well might hate each other if they did, but who both have the good looks and high intelligence that a particular client wants in his child. Then the resulting embryo is implanted into the womb of a surrogate unrelated to the child or the couple, a surrogate who is paid many thousands of dollars, and the child is born and sent home with the couple or the single mother or gay father who set the whole process in motion.

This is what it means to be made to order these days, to be designed as much as is currently possible with today's technology. In another 20 years they'll likely be able to create a child using even more exact specifications. Maybe they'll even be able to do away with a human womb altogether and these children will be born from artificial wombs in some scientist's laboratory.

I can't be the only one who thinks it might be a good idea to put some brakes on the fertility industry that makes this all possible. I'm also not sure it's possible to do it. Troubling is the best word I can think of for it.

 
 

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