On Tuesday the Mirror reported that an egg donor bank had opened in London; it has been operating on a trial basis since the beginning of the year. In my health news email digest, it stated that women would be able to choose characteristics of the baby, such as eye colour. (It has got a little more difficult to review these stories since the newspapers realised that people were accessing their articles free online and that they were clearly missing out and should start charging.)
Choosing eye colour might seem harmless enough, and I understand that a woman might well want a baby to bear some slight resemblence to her, but we have already seen the tragic consequences of sex-selection of babies, and allowing and encouraging any sort of picking and choosing definitely sets us on the path to designer babies. Having children is not a right, it is a privilege. Babies are not convenient: they do not sleep or smile or eat when we want them to, they are hungry and tired when we don't want them to be. They are people, and like all people they are creatures. We are created. We are fragile. We are dependent. There are some things that we don't get to choose because we are not in charge.
This was as far as I got when I actually went and read the Mirror's article. I was struck by the fact that the director talked about the 'needs' of people 'needing' donor eggs. Need is not the right word - children are a privilege, not a necessity. It would be more accurate to talk about desire and want. I also took note of the 53 year-old woman who said that she'd always wanted to have children but had never met the right person. There is in that statement a clear understanding that the 'right person' is a necessary part of the process of having children. There is no mention that she has now met that person, but she's decided to have a child anyway. In the same way that we have separated sexuality and procreation (see Humanae vitae and if you haven't read it, then read it) we have also separated the concepts of children and family. Sometimes there are ways of doing things which are just different. Other times there are right ways and wrong ways, and being created and finite we also don't get to choose what is right and what is wrong. We can choose whether to do right or wrong, between good and bad and frankly that is a complete misuse of the precious gift of our freedom. Right use of our freedom is using it to choose between good and better, not between good and bad.
It was at this point that I discovered the Telegraph's article on the same subject and realised how incredibly naive I am. It may be couched in terms of altruism, but this is not some benvolent institution, set up because of tragic needs which we cannot ignore (like, say, a food bank). The donors (something of a misnomer) will receive £750 for providing eggs. How long before we see young women funding their way thorough university by selling their eggs? And the profit margin is presumably quite high, as treatment (purchase of eggs) costs £10,000.
Whilst I have thrown words like right and wrong around, and asserted that children are a privilege and not a right, I do empathise with older women. And I do not wish to generalise or assume that it is only single women who seek IVF in later life, I know women who did not meet and marry their husbands until they were in their 50s and 60s and therefore never had children. My great uncle's second wife told me cheerfully that she had no regrets over not having met her husband sooner as he, a widower, had been married to someone else. There are also couples who are sadly, persistently infertile. Women are called to be mothers, whether biologically or spiritually, and the inability to answer that call for whatever reason must bring heartache. But we also need to remember that our actions always have consequences. The consequences of delaying children by prolonged, repeated use of contraceptives in order to advance a career, go on holiday more often and generally 'enjoy life' might be infertility. We are not in charge and we cannot have it all.