Medical professional warns of risk in surrogate, donor pregnancies

Denver, Colo., Sep 20, 2012 / 04:02 am (CNA).- Artificial reproductive technology is “absolutely” the commercialization of the female body and especially harmful to children, a medical expert and documentary filmmaker says.

“I am bold enough to go on record to say it's buying and selling children,” Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of Center for Bioethics Culture told CNA Sept. 18.

Lahl said that although the argument could be made that surrogate parents or egg and sperm donors are being paid for their “time and effort” and not the children they help produce, ultimately “there's money changing hands and there's children being passed around.”

“I think today, we've just become more and more concerned in our desire to be more tolerant and more inclusive, we've become so intolerant and so exclusive, especially when it comes to children.”

Attempts to popularize such forms of medical technology, as seen in NBC's new fall sitcom “The New Normal,” are “dangerous” because they “delude us into thinking there's no risk,” she said.

The show, which focuses on a same-sex couple who use a “desperate and broke – but also fertile” single mother to surrogate a child for them, touts the tagline of “Surrogate mother, surrogate family.”

“Here's a young woman who's a single mom,” who “needs money, here's these two gay men,” Lahl said. “They want the child, she needs the money, everybody is happy.”

However, artificial reproductive technology is not as simple as the sitcom lets on, Lahl said.

Aside from the known health risks, she said that with these methods have deconstructed men and women's bodies and reproductive capacities, which have in turn, “disintegrated the family to the point where the NBC show is saying, 'This is the new normal.'”

The show, which aired Sept. 11, has even received criticism from some secular media outlets as being overtly offensive.

Lauren Bans of GQ has described it as “gay characters excusing a cotton bale's worth of cringeworthy, racist jokes,” Sept. 4.

Willa Paskin of Salon wrote Sept. 10 that the pilot episode left her unsure of whether one of the main characters and fathers “wants a kid or a fashion accessory,” when it is revealed that his desire to have a child is rooted in wanting, “to have baby clothes and a baby to wear them.”

Lahl noted that because customers are paying large sums of money to produce a child –sometimes as much as $100 thousand– they would like “the best possible outcome.”

As a result, customers may have “children made by design,” since they can “pick and choose” which desirable traits they would like their child to have.

Another consideration that Lahl said people should take into account is the impression a surrogate mother has on any biological children she may already have.

“What does (surrogate pregnancy) do to a young child being raised by a mom who has babies and gives them away?” Lahl asked, “And who has babies and gives them away for money?”

Lahl, who has 25 years experience as a pediatric clinical care nurse, wrote and directed the 2011 award-winning documentary “Eggsploitation” exposing the dangers of the infertility industry. She also directed the 2011 documentary, “Anonymous Father's Day,” which features interviews with people who are the children of sperm donors.

Currently, she is in the pre-production stages of a documentary exploring the stories of surrogate mothers.

“There's really just a lot of people out there that aren't really happy about these technologies who have experienced them up close and personal,” she said.

Lahl said that one of her main concerns with egg donation is the lack of research on the long term health risks associated with powerful fertility drugs used on already fertile women and the danger of egg extraction on a woman's body.

Studies on the impact of fertility drugs on an infertile woman have been conducted, but none on women who are fertile, such as those who are used for egg donation or surrogate pregnancy, she said.

“One of the realities is that this is a relatively new practice,” Lahl said, “and we've never done any comprehensive, long term studies on the long term effects on young women who are taking these drugs and undergoing these procedures.”

Lahl said it is “appalling” that the infertility industry is “preying on young, healthy women who we know need the money to undergo a procedure we know has some risk.”

More safety and health precautions exist in for clinical trial participants than for egg donors or surrogate mothers, Lahl said.

“If you look at how clinical trials are done and how human subjects are used in research in a new clinical trial, there's all kinds of protection in place,” she said.

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