Jennifer Lahl and the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (CBC) are working to raise awareness of the harmful effects that third-party reproductive technologies - such as egg and sperm donation and surrogacy - can have on the parties involved. The CBC has recently created a documentary called "Breeders," detailing testimonies of women who have been mistreated and children who have suffered as a result of surrogacy.
Jennifer Lahl worked as a pediatric nurse for over 20 years before founding the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. She has seen first-hand both the medical complications and emotional struggles that arise from third-party fertility technologies. In an effort to warn women about the short and long-term effects that selling their eggs can have on them, she created "Eggsploitation," a documentary which examines "the lives and stories of women who sold their eggs for much needed money, and who suffered serious health complications as a result." She also created "Anonymous Father's Day," a film about anonymous sperm donation. Her newest documentary, "Breeders," is about the corrupt side of surrogacy - a procedure that many women enter into with good intentions, not being fully aware of the potential medical and emotional difficulties that can arise from such arrangements.
"I am very sympathetic to those struggling with infertility; it is tremendously painful," Lahl assured Kathryn Lopez in an interview with National Review Online. "We would be remiss if we only looked at the issue from the perspective of those who want a baby. What about the needs and concerns of the child? What about the use of women - very often women who are of low income - as surrogates," she says - some of whom are referred to as 'incubators' or 'breeders.'
The CBC documentary, "Breeders," exposes manipulative motives within the multi-billion-dollar fertility industry in the name of "hope" and "good intentions." Many are unaware that impoverished women can be manipulated into giving infertile couples what they desire without being fully aware of the complications of the procedure and the burden that it can place on them. Young adults are also often targeted for reproductive technology; youthful men and women are "recruited and targeted to sell their eggs or sperm or rent out their wombs as a means of helping others while earning money," Lahl says. Many egg donors and surrogate mothers are misinformed about the short and long-term health problems from the procedure and the administered drugs - "In my 20-something years of nursing, I never watched someone give truly informed consent to medical risks while staring at a check for $20,000-$30,000, which is what a surrogate can easily make," says Lahl.
What's more, mothers and parents-to-be often give little thought to the impact that surrogacy will have on their children. Whether or not the child was conceived by the surrogate mother, the child is immediately "separated from the only person that the baby has ever known," says Lahl - "We've learned from adoption history that babies know their birth mothers, and that both mothers and babies experience a loss from such separation." Children can suffer both emotional and medical problems later on in life when brought forth through these technologies. "We are learning more and more about all the important things that happen those nine months in the womb," Lahl says - "but in surrogacy, we simply ignore the importance of maternal-child bonding, treating it as irrelevant because someone who desperately wants a baby gets one."
More couples are pursuing "gestational surrogacy," where the surrogate mother is not the biological mother of the child, perhaps because of the potential litigation problems that arise when the surrogate mother's egg was used to conceive the child. "The less a woman can claim a link to the child (i.e., a genetic link), the less intended parents worry that the surrogate will be allowed to change her mind," Lahl explains.
"Breeders" documents horrific stories of surrogate mothers who were told to abort the baby they were carrying (and refused to do so), and of the manipulation of impoverished women from places like Thailand, Mexico, or India who agree to carry someone else's baby without fully understanding what the contract that they have signed means.
Jennifer Lahl hopes that America will one day be "a society where we want mothers to connect with their babies and not turn their bodies into objects to be used, bought, or sold," she says. The CBC is raising awareness of the dangers of third-party reproductive technologies, and is fighting to prevent surrogacy legislation from being passed in congress.
"Before you sell your eggs or your womb listen to [Jennifer Lahl], and ponder 'Breeders,'" retired preacher and Christian author John Piper tweeted this morning. The documentary can be pre-ordered for $5.99, and is expected to be available the week of January 20.