A few months ago I alluded to the fact that M and I had settled on a plan for moving forward if our upcoming FET fails. It's probably obvious to most of you that this plan involves donor eggs. What may not be so obvious is that for a long time, we didn't think that donor eggs were an option for us at all. That's because Canada has what are probably the most absurd laws ever to be crafted regarding assisted reproductive technology (ART), apparently written after someone watched Gattaca or Species one too many times and decided they absolutely had to protect the Canadian people from the horrible future that awaited them if ART practitioners were allowed to run amok. Since I'm a former lawyer with too much time on my hands, I decided to do a little dissecting and illustrate the sheer bullshittery that us poor northern infertiles are dealing with up here.
I'll start by saying that the principles behind the Assisted Human Reproduction Act are actually pretty reasonable. They're mentioned right up front, and include wonderful goals like ensuring the health of children born through ART, preventing discrimination in the provision of ART services, and protecting the health and well-being of women whom the law acknowledges are "more directly and significantly affected" by ART than men. Sounds good so far, right? We can all get on board with that! Let's set up a framework to make sure that all those great things happen!
Or...not. Instead we could just write a list of all the things that you're not allowed to do. Let's look at a selection of prohibitions from Section 5, which states that no one shall:
- create a human clone by using any technique - That's cool. People aren't sheep. And heaven knows the last thing we need is another Kim Kardashian.
- create an in vitro embryo for any purpose other than creating a human being or improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures - Also fair. No making embryos for shits and giggles. But embryologists gotta learn somewhere, so they get a pass.
- maintain an embryo outside the body of a female person after the fourteenth day of its development following fertilization or creation, excluding any time during which its development has been suspended - Wait, what?? Embryos can make it to Day 14 in the lab??? Well then how come none of mine can make it to bloody Day 5???
- perform any procedure or provide, prescribe or administer any thing that would ensure or increase the probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex, or that would identify the sex of an in vitro embryo - So gender selection is out? I don't personally care as I think most infertiles will take what we can get, but there are some cultures out there that have an unfortunate tendency to abort/kill female fetuses/children. This raises an interesting debate about whether allowing gender selection caters to that discriminatory mindset, or prevents a bigger tragedy down the road. I don't have the answer to this one.
- alter the genome of a cell of a human being or in vitro embryo such that the alteration is capable of being transmitted to descendants - Ah yes, the Gattaca scenario. Humans aren't to be bred like dogs. Pathetic that this has to be legislated, but it's a slippery slope. It starts with someone wanting a blond kid, and doesn't end until there's a race of super-intelligent white supremacists ruling the natural-borns with an iron fist. Because movies.
- transplant a sperm, ovum, embryo or foetus of a non-human life form into a human being - OK wait, this just got weird. Who would do this? What female is volunteering to give birth to a gorilla baby? Good God, there are people who would actually do that for money. I hate people.
- for the purpose of creating a human being, make use of any human reproductive material or an in vitro embryo that is or was transplanted into a non-human life form - So gorillas aren't allowed to birth human babies either. At least that's fair. It's a two-way street, gorillas.
- create a hybrid for the purpose of reproduction, or transplant a hybrid into either a human being or a non-human life form - A hybrid? Like a pig-baby? So you're telling me that pig-babies are out, then?
All joking aside, once you get past the prohibitions on pig-babies and birthing gorilla babies (or having a gorilla birth your baby, I don't care, you can't do it so stop asking), you get to the really stupid stuff. As in, this:
7. (1) No person shall purchase, offer to purchase or advertise for the purchase of sperm or ova from a donor or a person acting on behalf of a donor.
Soooo....yeah. There's that. Basically, what the Canadian government is trying to do here is create legislation in support of another one of their main principles, which states that "trade in the reproductive capabilities of women and men and the exploitation of children, women and men for commercial ends raise health and ethical concerns that justify their prohibition". Which, yeah, OK. No one wants anyone to be exploited. But I think we can all agree that there's a huge difference between having a warehouse full of illegal immigrants undergoing egg retrieval after egg retrieval for the financial gain of their underground egg-lord, and being able to pay a willing donor a couple thousand dollars for the pain and suffering of undergoing an egg donation cycle. As it currently stands, an infertile couple can only compensate a donor for her out-of-pocket expenses.
Sure, yeah, I'll spend several weeks injecting myself with mood-altering hormones, waking up early to have my vag probed, and undergoing a surgical procedure involving a giant needle poking into my lady-bits. That'll be $62.00 for subway fare. Thanks! Clearly, no one involved in drafting the legislation has ever undergone an IVF treatment. Lucky them.
What probably bugs me the most about this is that, when writing the Assisted Human Reproduction Act in 2004, the Canadian government had the chance to do things right. They could have instituted a set of controls on egg donation designed to ensure that no one is exploited while still making egg donation a viable option for couples struggling with infertility. They could have placed a monetary limit on donor compensation, making it less likely that desperate donors would put themselves in harm's way out of financial need or that recipient couples would offer ridiculous sums of money to encourage donors in financial straits. They could have put a system in place to ensure egg donor health, so that donors can't donate more than a specified number of times per year, or clinics can't put donor health at risk by attempting to retrieve more than a certain number of eggs per cycle.
But no. Instead, we have the current system which basically outlaws donor egg completely, unless you're able to find a completely altruistic donor. In my case that would have been my sister, up until she started having her own fertility problems about a year ago. The other alternative is to go online to the underground marketplace of donors offering their services on fertility message boards or Craigslist. And yes, both things exist. I wasn't even searching for them and I found them while researching donor egg options. Which means that the Canadian government has essentially created the very problem that the legislation was attempting to prevent in the first place. Way to go, guys. Stellar job.
As a result, if we want to do donor egg we won't be doing it in this country. I don't have anyone who can give me eggs for free, and I'm not willing to wade into the black market to buy some. We had initially ruled out donor egg entirely, based on the exorbitant prices that I was finding for clinics in the US. But then a co-worker told me about another colleague who did donor egg in Europe, and I started researching. And donor egg became an option again. We haven't settled on a clinic yet and we're still in the very preliminary stages of figuring it all out, but at least we have the comfort of knowing that our journey won't necessarily end if this FET fails. Which is enough to keep me going for now.