A New York-based friend who is studying for her Ph.D. recently shared with me a LinkedIn notice she received. Upon logging into her profile, she saw that she had been invited to an “egg-freezing party.” As you might guess, the invitation had nothing to do with the kind of eggs you buy from the grocery store. Rather, it was an invitation to learn more about what has been dubbed by some as the “newest fertility trend.”
“Egg-freezing parties” have been on the rise over the past two years, as has been noted by the Scientific American and New York Magazine. These articles profile a typical egg-freezing party, in which women in their twenties and thirties gather at bars and sip drinks while a presenter explains the decline in a woman’s fertility when she reaches her thirties. The presenter then introduces attendees to the concept of egg-freezing, whereby a woman receives a number of hormonal injections to harvest and freeze her healthy eggs so that later, when she is ready to conceive, she can begin the IVF process and hopefully become pregnant. One company that offers this service charges $12,500 to harvest twenty eggs, and then $6,500 for one fertilization and implantation cycle. These charges do not include the many medication costs associated with the procedure or the costs of refreezing unused viable embryos fertilized in the first cycle. Another company that offers egg-freezing offers a chart profiling the most common reasons women are willing to pay such steep costs for a procedure that is only about fifty percent successful.
Chart found at www.extendfertility.com.
Here are three reflections on why this trend challenges the Church to respond to the needs of our times:
The phenomenon of egg-freezing fits into the macro-trend of today’s obsession with “transhumanism,” or the belief that with science, technology, and wealth, humans can make themselves into whatever they want to be. Transhumanism opposes the Christian worldview that a loving God designed our world in such a way that it reveals truths about him, about us, and about our relationships with each other. In the Christian worldview, the gift of human sexuality allows us to co-create human lives with God. If we tamper with this amazing gift, we shut ourselves off from truths God wants to reveal to us through his plan for creation. The desire to have children is entirely natural, and some women may feel like they have no choice but to freeze their eggs to fulfill this desire. As a Church, we need to ask ourselves how we can speak to young women in a way that dispels the despair or anxiety that tempts them to take things into their own hands instead of trusting that God has something wonderful in store for them.
With the common delay of marriage in today’s society—a trend I discuss in my post “Does Marriage Have a Home Among Millennials?”—it is no surprise that the number one reason women choose to freeze their eggs is the lack of a partner. If women do not see themselves getting married until their thirties, they are right to anticipate that they may have difficulty conceiving. This trend of delayed marriage is one that the Church must respond to. The Church, as a Community of Disciples, needs to witness to the joy of married life in a society that is more concerned with “marriage rights” than promoting marriage among young people. If young people come to see marriage as a good worth pursuing rather than a burden to be delayed, perhaps more will marry in their twenties. And if young married people see strong marriages that produce happy children, they will be more likely to embrace the adventure of parenthood sooner rather than later.
The second most common rationale cited by women for freezing their eggs is “Professional Reasons.” I think this indicates that a number of today’s young women are caught between the feminist call to pursue success (only) outside of the home and an intrinsic desire to bear and raise children. The two desires are not mutually exclusive, but any mother who has children and pursues a career knows that it is difficult to balance the two. The egg-freezing trend, along with recent debates surrounding the expansion of maternity leave policies, reveals that women are trying to find this balance between career and family. But such “fertility fixes” actually exacerbate the problem. Consequently, I think that the Church, as a Mystical Communion, should strategize to support women experiencing this dilemma who want and/or need to pursue their careers. Perhaps parishes and dioceses can develop programs for working mothers that uphold the dignity of the family—especially single-parent families and those who need to have two working parents for financial reasons.
Medical technology continues to advance exponentially, and Catholics must keep abreast of those advances that radically alter essential elements of human life. Sometimes, such advances propose at best “makeshift” physical solutions to issues that really touch on deeper spiritual and psychological needs. I would argue that egg-freezing fits into this category. The Church, as the visible sign of Christ on earth, must try to understand the underlying needs that drive the creation and use of these technologies and should explore opportunities to meet these needs without circumscribing God’s plan.