In defence of social egg freezing

By Thomas Søbirk Petersen.

In my latest JME article I defend social egg-freezing. Social egg freezing (or ‘non-medical egg freezing’) is, roughly speaking, the process whereby healthy women freeze their eggs to preserve their future fertility for reasons that have nothing directly to do with medical issues. However, some feminist bioethicists worry that women’s legal access and use of social egg freezing is morally problematic.

Some of the central ethical objections against social egg freezing that have not been clarified and discussed in any detail, before my article, are a class of arguments that we can call individualization arguments. The core of individualization arguments is that women should not use social egg freezing as it is an individualistic and morally problematic solution to the social problems that women face, for instance, in the labour market. So, instead of allowing or expecting women to deal with these social problems on an individual level, by means of, for instance, social freezing, we should address them by challenging the patriarchal structures of the labour market. For example, by securing equal pay, or paid maternal/paternal/partner leave and affordable childcare.

In the article, I make clear that we first have to differentiate between three different versions of this type of argumentation. First, the non-address view, which holds that social freezing cannot address the social problems women are faced with. Second, the distraction view, which holds that women’s use of social egg freezing obscures or draws attention and effort away from a social solution to the social problems that women face on the labour market.  Third, the further oppression view, which holds that women’s use of social egg freezing worsens the oppression of women as technological solutions to social problems often lead to further oppression of disadvantaged groups.

I argue that all three views rely on unsupported empirical claims and morally problematic reasoning. For example, I argue that we, from a moral point of view, should not reject women’s use of social egg freezing in order to better focus on collective solutions to social problems for women on, say, the labour market. We should instead direct resources (time, effort and funding) both to help women gain reproductive autonomy and improve the labor market for women. Given that social egg freezing is safe to use, and assuming that women are informed about its consequences, we should accept that women are entitled to use this technology. At the same time, however, we ought to combat an unfair labour market through politics and social change, and thereby try to make that labour market as attractive for women as it is for men. To believe that we can only do one without the other is a problematic form of ‘all or nothing thinking’ that may diminish women’s reproductive autonomy. Especially if it takes decades (or an eternity) to establish a more women friendly labour market.

Paper title: Arguments on thin ice: on non-medical egg freezing and individualisation arguments

Author: Thomas Søbirk Petersen.

Affiliations: Roskilde University, Denmark

Competing interests: None

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