Reprogenetics: Advancing Health and Reproductive Justice

A new era in human reproduction is here. Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) present unprecedented opportunities in family formation for people with infertility, unmarried and single individuals, and the LGBTQ+ community. At the same time, they pose major risks for others – especially women who provide their services in contractual third-party reproduction.

ARTs and related commercial arrangements have given rise to a multi-billion dollar, largely unregulated global fertility industry and amplified global inequities. Despite the magnitude of their implications, they are, so far, largely under the radar of public awareness and absent from civil society discourse. When they garner attention, the complex issues embedded in these technologies, practices, and social arrangements are discussed as seemingly separate and niche issues that have little to do with the broader revolution that is underway and out of sight. Take, for example:

  • Employee benefits like egg freezing offered initially by trend-setting companies like Facebook, Intel, and Apple but now offered by about 1 in 10 companies with 500+ employees
  • The courting of young women at prestigious universities in the United States for their “Ivy league” eggs
  • The recruitment of women drawn by poverty to become “surrogate” mothers in places like India, Vietnam, and Mexico
  • The practice of “assembling the global baby,” as it was dubbed by the Wall Street Journal
  • The tacit acceptance of eugenically driven options, including sex and trait selection, offered to intended parents during fertility treatment.

Any one of these developments, examined separately, might seem inconsequential or too peripheral to warrant sustained attention, social action, or new public policy. Yet, taken together, this 21st century landscape of childbearing poses urgent societal questions: How can we make use of the enormous benefits of ARTs and related arrangements while ensuring we do not do so at the risk of our own and others’ health and human rights? How can we ensure expanded options for family formation for everyone and, at the same time, avoid new forms of marginalization and health risks for those who make these options possible?

Since the early 2000s, Our Bodies Ourselves has collaborated with a broad coalition of groups working to engage the public and advocate for responsible practice and governance of assisted reproduction. In 2016, OBOS created Surrogacy360.org, an educational website that serves as a clearinghouse for information on commercial international surrogacy and the effects on all parties: intended parents, gamete donors, gestational mothers and children. The site promotes transparency and best medical practices by documenting the health, legal, and ethical aspects of surrogacy arrangements. Our close collaborator, the Center for Genetics & Society, is now overseeing Surrogacy360.org.

Our Bodies Ourselves’ current work in assisted reproduction includes raising awareness among young women who increasingly assume their future childbearing will necessitate IVF or other expensive technologies and social arrangements. Further, with fertility clinics now offering “add-ons” for sex and trait selection, we are working with allies to get the word out about the potential rise of a market driven eugenics in which affluent consumers opt for presumed genetic advantages for their children. Specifically, our current work includes:

  • Engaging with allies on key ART/surrogacy bills as they arise across the country
  • Developing public education materials on surrogacy and human gene modification as these issues converge with the growth of the global fertility industry
  • Highlighting the work of our collaborators at We Are Egg Donors

Together with our long-standing networks – both domestic and global – we are working to ensure that biotechnologies hold promise rather than harm for the human future.

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