Human Exceptionalism

Freezing Eggs to Extend Childbearing Years Should Not be Paid By Insurance

The practice of medicine increasingly involves providing (what I call) “consumerist” services in the clinical context. And that can cost a lot of money and redirect resources (doctors, nurses, facilities, medicines, etc.) away from truly “medical” treatments and procedures.

Case in point: If women want to delay childbearing for career or other purposes, they can undergo egg extraction, freeze the eggs, later thaw them, fertilize them via IVF, and then have the resulting embryos implanted or hire a surrogate–these days often dehumanized as a “gestational carrier”–to do the hard work.

Now, that procedure has been declared safe and no longer experimental. From the CNN story:

Egg freezing has been marketed as a means for women without fertility issues to preserve their fertility beyond their peak childbearing years. Yet the American Society of Reproductive Medicine says its decision to drop the “experimental” label should not be interpreted as an endorsement for women without infertility issues to freeze their eggs for future use. “We think we should proceed cautiously in using this as an elective technique, especially in older patients,” said Dr. Eric Widra, chairman of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology practice committee. “There is an inherent conflict between the desire to freeze eggs and the need to freeze eggs. Freezing eggs for the future sounds like a good insurance policy but may not be an insurance policy that needs to be cashed in.”

Let’s leave aside for the moment cases in which women preserve their eggs because they have to undergo cancer or other treatments that will render them infertile–which could certainly be construed as medical.  Purely consumerist egg freezing should be on the dimes of the women, not insurance companies or government-funded health care. Whatever our collective obligation may be ensure that our fellow Americans have reasonably priced access to “basic healthcare,” this ain’t either.

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