Ethical Concerns Around Elective Egg Freezing
Femtech: Exacerbating social inequality
In March, The Straits Times reported that the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development came after more than a year of discussions “aimed at ensuring a fair and inclusive society where all citizens can realise their full potential”. While this may apply to a great many proposed changes, is EEF really one of them?
For many women, EEF will be prohibitively expensive and the cost of healthcare will result in differential access based on financial ability. The cost of EEF makes this a luxury available only to the upper rungs of society who are capable of affording the expensive procedures and time involved in egg freezing. Needless to say, this raises significant ethical questions.
Lower-income women are unlikely to be able to access the option of egg freezing. Indeed, as it stands right now, awareness of EEF is sparse for women on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic totem pole. Is it fair that the wealthy are able to buy themselves time for pursuits which further enhance wealth, education and professional standing while other women cannot?
In fact, Kanwaljit Soin and Vivienne Wee of AWARE have correctly pointed out that, ”Reproductive technologies tend to have class biases, and if not supported by effective policy, would enable only a narrow category of women to reproduce, and thereby deepen inequalities among women.”
But then, why should public funds be used to provide subsidies for EEF when it is in the public interest to encourage young families? Further, why should public monies be a bailout in such a subjective arena where the reasons for one’s singleness later in life can accrue to many factors like a simple lack of effort or undue pickiness? It would also seem impracticable to make a case for why this case, in particular, is worth subsidy given its low success rates among other qualifying criteria. Further, if one were to push for EEF to be subsidised, would the pursuit of this gamble not take money away from more pressing bread and butter issues?
In the absence of state subsidies, what does the introduction of EEF leave us with? Quite simply, a case where the rich get richer because they are able to afford their motherhood offset to focus on career building, while those of modest means continue to do things the old-fashioned way which may imply career sacrifices for the sake of raising one’s children.
Elective Egg Freezing is a stepping stone to children’s rights violations.
Allowing Egg Freezing in Singapore will weaken the resolve against planned and deliberate single parenthood and same-sex family units, and encourage backdoor ways to get around them.
This is because elective egg freezing formalises the separation of sex from procreation. This is one step away from the legal separation of marriage from procreation. Combined with the contemporary argument that anyone has a “right” to a child (when in fact there is no such right), this sends the wrong message that it is acceptable for babies to be made in a lab, or by surrogate, by anyone who can afford it. This will likely lead to a growing clamour by singles and same-sex couples for similar “rights” to parenthood.
For example, a woman who is in a lesbian same-sex relationship, or a single woman with no intention to get married to a man, can, under the current framework, freeze their eggs locally, and have them fertilised overseas in the future through surrogacy or ART, and then bring the child back to Singapore to raise.
In proposing to allow egg freezing for all women, we can see that the Singapore Government is trying to resolve a practical problem for a number of women. It is also good that the Government is firm in its commitment to man-woman marriage, and supporting parenthood within marriage.
However, egg freezing for non-medical reasons opens a whole new range of social and ethical issues which we are only beginning to understand. They may create changes to society that might only manifest in years to come.
This article has made the case that the new EEF policy as it is currently proposed, though useful for some, is also replete with vulnerabilities and drawbacks. But one thing remains to be said. EEF is at best a therapeutic solution to a much deeper structural and paradigmatic malaise that Singapore faces.