The Ethics of Social Egg Freezing: In Conversation with Angel Petropanagos

In Frozen eggs and heated debates, Angel Petropanagos reflects thoughtfully on the way both individuals and the media frame the practice of social egg freezing (nonmedical egg freezing). The assumptions we make about women’s reproductive choices influence social pressures and norms that can ultimately have harmful effects. These assumptions are driven by things like the idea of a nuclear family structure, heteronormativity, and the notion that a woman must reproduce to fulfill her womanhood. Petropanagos ultimately argues that we must “move beyond analyses of individual women’s choices” because social egg freezing is “a result of social and systemic structural problems that influence decision-making” (Petropanagos, 2016).

Overall, I am convinced by Petropanagos’ argument. The social pressures surrounding women’s reproductive capabilities, media coverage, and clever marketing certainly influence women to become engaged in social egg freezing where they may not have before. She notes that companies such as Apple and Facebook provide employee benefits for egg freezing, and that it is publicly funded by the government in Japan. These factors, as argued by Petropanagos, are responsible for the prevalence of social egg freezing within our society. According to Petropanagos, this is a social problem rather than a personal one. She is concerned that discussions had by the media surrounding social egg freezing and other social factors emphasize the need for young women to “prevent losing out on motherhood” — something that is not every woman’s priority or goal. When we think of social egg freezing we often picture a young professional woman who wishes to advance her career before considering the option of children. Many of these women may not want children at all, but social egg freezing undermines this as a choice and allows women to put off the decision.

While egg freezing can promote reproductive autonomy, it also poses risks to both the women and resulting offspring. Many critics are also concerned that women will freeze their eggs and never use them — resulting in pointless procedures and a surplus of stored biological matter (Petropanagos, 2016). For these reasons, I believe it is unethical to advertise or frame social egg freezing in a way that contributes to the already present social pressures on women to reproduce. According to Petropanagos these pressures largely arise from the aforementioned assumptions we make about women who may engage in the use of this technology.

Despite largely agreeing with Petropanagos on this issue, I believe her argument is weakened as she does not present any statistical evidence to support that there is a correlation between media, marketing, and other social pressures and the prevalence. While I don’t doubt that this is true, her argument would be more effective if she could quantitatively show the increase of social egg freezing due to social factors such as media coverage, marketing, and influence from employers and the government. It is obvious that these factors significantly contribute to the prevalence of social egg freezing, but if we do not know the extent to which they do it is hard to imply that this is strictly a social and systemic structural issue rather than one rooted in a woman’s personal choice (something that Petropanagos’ argument hinges on). It is counter productive to assert that women are unable to decide for themselves and that those engaging in egg freezing are succumbing to societal pressures. This is an issue that Petropanagos walks a very fine line with, as she does not acknowledge personal motivations a woman may have to make use of the controversial technology.

In conclusion, Petropanagos raises pertinent and thought provoking concerns about social egg freezing — particularly about societal assumptions surrounding women who use these technologies, and their implications. While I agree with her stance that addressing concerns about the choice of delayed parenthood demands social change, I believe it is wrong to ignore personal motivations to use this technology (and that some women will use this regardless of the social climate surrounding egg freezing). Further research into the correlation between media representation, marketing, and employer and government support for the practice would be valuable in determining the extent to which this is a social issue as compared to a personal one.

Reference —

Petropanagos A. Frozen eggs and heated debates. Impact Ethics 2016 (12 July).

Graduate of the University of Toronto Health Studies Program.