The face of the modern fertility industry is not hard to characterize. Soothing phrases like "infertility cure," "new hope," and "altruistic donation of life" are illustrated by blissful parents coddling picture-perfect newborns. All of this is crafted to reassure us that assisted reproductive technologies are, simply and purely, a good thing.
However, the fertility industry is just that: an industry. Fueled by billions of dollars of commercial interests worldwide, the booming ART marketplace is fraught with allurements that distract any notice of its practical, social and ethical downsides.
Case in point: The Fertility Show.
This past weekend, thousands flocked to London's Olympia where over 100 exhibitors, primarily local and overseas fertility clinics, proffered their latest wares. Among the numerous booths, one could buy anything from "IVF Holiday" packages in Barbados to Skype consultations with Nicky Smuts, "the fertility astrologer."
Fertility-related clinicians and marketers from far and wide helped ART seekers negotiate the kind of pregnancy they want and/or can afford. Shoppers were offered choices of location (UK or abroad), options (ability to choose the baby's sex; latitude for multiple-embryo implantation; etc.) and cost (ranging from thousands to several thousands of pounds).
Fertility Show organizer Jonathan Scott wryly described it as showcasing "an unusual marketplace." Unfortunately, it's becoming less and less unusual to glamorize pregnancy as a customizable commodity. And in the process, the fertility industry too often obscures the health risks to mothers, surrogates and children posed by aggressive hormone treatments and elevated multiple birth rates. It also routinely masks the ethical and human rights implications of outsourcing ART treatments and surrogate wombs to other countries where regulations are scant and exploitation is already a reality.
As the global fertility business booms, public structures for oversight of ART are not only lacking but also deteriorating. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK's government outfit for regulating fertility practices, is up for disbandment in the next few years. Though the UK government plans to parse out HFEA responsibilities to various other departments, there is no doubt that ART regulation and oversight in the UK (not to mention in the US, which is way worse off in this area) is on very shaky ground.
The Fertility Show, while no doubt providing useful health information and services to some, brings the ART industry's disturbing trajectory into stark relief.
Previously on Biopolitical Times: