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Choosing Sex, Compensating Donors and Egg Banks: The NHMRC is calling for our thoughts on IVF

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Australia is reviewing its policy on IVF sex selection, compensating egg donors and egg banks. They have asked for submissions with our thoughts on this. My submission is below. The Working Committee has developed a range of case studies that illustrate the issues that arise. You can read more about each of these case studies here:
http://consultations.nhmrc.gov.au/files/consultations/drafts/artdraftethicalguidelines150722.pdf

You can also make your own submission here:

http://consultations.nhmrc.gov.au/public_consultations/assisted-reproductive-tech

Also, I invite you to read this illuminating article by Tereza  Hendl on the topic of sex selection in The Conversation:

https://theconversation.com/choosing-childrens-sex-is-an-exercise-in-sexism-45836

Appendix 3a Sex selection for non-medical purposes

I am heavily in favour of the existing laws remaining as they currently are. This is largely due to the inherently forceful application of gender norms upon children whose sex has been chosen. I wholeheartedly agree with the 2007 guidelines which state that admission to life should not be conditional upon being a particular sex. I address the case studies in the following ways:

Family Balancing: none of the four scenarios in this case study present a strong enough argument for sex selection, in my opinion. Rather, all four of the scenarios demonstrate an assumption that gender is tied to sex, and expectation that an child of a particular sex will display particular gender characteristics. This is a problem because it reinforces gender norms.

Replacement of a Child: While this case carries much more sympathy that the scenarios in the Family Balancing case, they essentially come back to the same problem – that there is an assumption that a child of one sex with ascribe to a particular gender, and will be somehow similar to the previous child who was or was not of that gender. I cannot support sex selection in this case.

Travelling Overseas for Sex Selection: In these scenarios we are presented with good evidence for why IVF in Australia should be more readily available and cost effective, but not good evidence for why sex selection should be allowed. While some patients will continue to travel overseas for treatment, in order to gain sex selection, it is my opinion that Australian clinics should counsel patients as to WHY they wanted sex selection, and continue to offer them safe and regulated treatment NOT including sex selection. This would mean that more parents might be encouraged to stay in Australia for their treatment, and have the opportunity to address any assumptions they have about gender and their future child.

Respecting Parental Autonomy: These scenarios present exactly the problems I have been outlining in the previous three case studies. Parents should be counselled to realise that their happiness does not depend on their child fulfilling certain gender expectations, and to try and do so is potentially detrimental to the child’s own mental health.

Other potential Uses: The is an obvious flaw here in that sex selection will not determine whether the child will or will not inherit the condition that the parents do not desire. However, there is a more significant problem, in that parents and society more generally are not able to value individuals who are seen as ‘disabled’ in some way. We must work against this assumption, just as we are with gender norms, to realise that those who have been diagnosed with some form of ‘disorder’ are not limited, or lacking potential. Rather, these people possess incredibly valuable personal qualities that can make them hugely significant contributors to our communities.

Appendix 3b Compensation of Australian women for the reproductive effort and risks associated with donating their eggs

It seems that the important distinction to be made is how much egg donors are compensated and what constitutes the difference between compensation and inducement. I would suggest that it is currently common practice for donor-recipients to compensate their egg donors all the costs referred to as ‘reasonable out-of-pocket’ expenses, including medical, counselling, loss of earnings, travel, accommodation, insurance and legal advice. It may be useful then, to have some kind of regulation around these costs, to make the line between ‘reasonable’ and ‘unreasonable’ costs clearer for all parties. So long as the egg-donor was only reimbursed, and not able to actually make a profit from donating, I see no reason why these regulations should not be brought into place. This would increase options for donor-recipients greatly, as more women might be willing to donate, particularly to not-previously-known donor recipients. However, I suspect that the numbers of voluntary donors might still remain low, since this system would not essentially be any different from the current system based on altruism, just more regulated.

Appendix 3c 3c Establishment of an Australian donor egg bank

An egg bank would have the benefit of regulating how children may continue to access their donors, and information about them throughout their lives. Donors would also be able to continue to access information about any children that were born as a result of their donation. However, donors should not be able to contact children unless parents and children have specifically requested this.

I am in support of the establishment of an Australian donor egg bank, under certain conditions. Eggs which have been frozen, but unused, by women who undertook their own IVF cycles, should be available for donation, but not for any compensation. This should only be the case once that woman has completed her own family, to reduce the risk of her regretting the decision to donate. Since the woman’s costs involved in the procedure have already been covered by herself, she should not incur any further costs in choosing to donate the eggs that she no longer wants to use. This would essentially mean that she would not be compensated more than other egg donors, who would be provided with nothing beyond ‘reasonable out-of-pocket’ expenses.

Egg sharing, where women are compensated costs for IVF in exchange for donating some of their eggs should not be allowed. Women who need IVF to conceive should have completed their own families before being able to donate to the egg bank, particularly if they have not been able to conceive easily themselves. This will reduce the likelihood of women who are currently undergoing IVF, donating their eggs, and later feeling that they ‘lost’ the ‘good’ eggs to a donor-recipient. This is a separate issue to women who wish to donate to an egg bank prior to choosing to start their own families. This should be allowed, so long as they have received significant counselling about the impact of potentially donating eggs, if natural conception does not come so easily for them later. In this case, women should be compensated, just as they would be if it were an altruistic donation to a known donor-recipient.

Self-Awareness for Goddesses

I recently read this thought-provoking article entitled Dating a Yoga Goddess and it’s resulting comments. I couldn’t resist responding.

Right off the bat, let’s address the term ‘Goddess’. In many yoga classrooms throughout the West, women refer to themselves as ‘Goddesses’. As a political move, there is nothing wrong with this, it does the feminist work of reclaiming our bodies and celebrating them, denying traditional patriarchal control over them. However, remember that the use of this term is to remind us that everybody has a piece of the divine/universal love/cosmic within. This means that the limber ladies who do yoga everyday are Goddesses to the same degree as those outside the studio smoking and drinking a coffee. If we really want gender equality than we should be talking about ‘Gods’ just as much as ‘Goddesses’, and realise that neither is discriminatory.

This also leads us to the idea of following an Eastern Philosophy/yogic path within a Western world. If you believe you are leading an ‘authentic’ yogic life, or are a yoga ‘purist’, you may need to look into the history of yoga more. There is no and never was one true, authentic, pure form of yoga. The first yogis to pen their practice did so in the Upaniṣads (written between 800 and 400 BCE), Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras (between 500 and 300 BCE) and the Bhagavad Gītā (between 500 and 300 BCE). The Maitrī Upaniṣad details a six-fold yoga method, namely, breath control (prāṇāyāma), withdrawal of the senses (pratyāhāra), meditation (dhyāna), placing of the concentrated mind (dhāraṇā), philosophical inquiry (tarka), and absorption (samādhi). Five of these six elements (excepting tarka) are also found in Patañjali’s Sūtras. But Patañjali introduces three new elements: ethical conduct (yama), self-discipline (niyama), and physical postures (āsana). Mark Singleton is right when we says that modern yogis usually cite the Sūtras as the canonical text of yoga, but ‘confine their discussion of the text to the [incredibly brief] aṣṭāṅgayoga section (II.29–III.8) as if this were the sum of Patañjali’s message’ (Yoga Body 27). Meanwhile the Bhagavad Gītā lists only a three-fold path of yoga.

In fact, if you are a woman who jumped in a tardis-style time machine and found yourself practicing yoga in India 2000 years ago, you would likely feel very out of place. Yoga was a purely male practice until the 20th Century. The first women to practice yoga were not in India. They were in church halls and school gymnasiums in Britain. Caught up in the broader physical culture movement of the early 20th Century, colonialist Brits aided Indian men to bring the practice to the mother-land and meld it with calisthenics and gymnastics. This was also the first time that yoga was taught to groups of people, rather than one-on-one, guru-to-student style. At the time, the only other place that that happened was in Indian public schools, where the British introduced military-style group exercise, in a effort to raise the moral and physical ‘worth’ of the Indian ‘race’ through training young boys. Women first started to become yoga teachers only about 60 years ago, and only since 1970s feminism has it become a popular and acceptable profession.

And yes, I do mean acceptable. In her article, Alex Smith claims that yoga ‘Goddesses’ ‘don’t like societal rules and conventions. And most of us don’t adhere to them and have dedicated our lives to living outside boxes in some way or another.’ I am afraid to point out the obvious, but if you have a reasonably stable income, take money from your students/clients as they enter the door, pay rent and wear lululemon you are smack bang living within societal rules and conventions. You may have rebellious streaks which deny certain restrictions/conventions but please open your eyes enough to realise that most people do this in some way, not just people who practice yoga. Smith pins the tail on the donkey when she says that yoga ‘Goddesses’ are material girls who have grown up on a diet of fairytales featuring prince charmings. There is nothing wrong with that, they are conventional ideas but that doesn’t make them more or less valid (or feminist) than the yogic path you aspire to.

Finally, in addressing the main thrust of Smith’s article, that yoga ‘Goddesses’ challenge men in such a way that relationships become difficult, I would like to respond both yes, and no. Yes, I see many self-identifying yoga ‘Goddesses’ who cook their partners dosha-balancing meals and ask them ‘Where do you feel it?’ and ‘Have you surrendered?’. But the only relationships I see where this works are when the ‘Goddess’ genuinely doesn’t think that their partner needs raising up to the same level of spiritual devotion that she has. This is simply a yogic take on trying to improve someone rather than accept them. A good relationship, like good teaching, is about meeting the other person where they’re at, having empathy, and thinking through the world in their terms. The best relationships are founded on the knowledge that neither person is better than the other, just different, but with common concerns expressed in different ways. This is another way of reminding us of two of Patañjali’s yamasahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness). Practice the deepest form of non-violence by understanding the other person, and be truthful with yourself about who you are.

Namaste.

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