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Freezing eggs: clinics' pursuit of profit may lead them to mislead or create false expectations

  Foto: Unsplash/helloquence

Foto: Unsplash/helloquence

14/05/2019
Ainhoa Sorrosal
UOC researchers conclude that biased information hampers objective decision-making

The study The narratives of fertility clinics’ websites in Spain by the UOC–IN3’s Learning, Media and Entertainment Research Group (GAME) shows that the information provided by fertility clinics is based on a business model that follows marketing logic and does not prioritize giving objective information to help women make decisions aligned with their personal situations when faced with the option of freezing their eggs. Websites are one of the main resources used by clinics to recruit customers and, as researcher Leila Mohammadi reported, they present egg freezing as the “only technological breakthrough that offers a solution to the dilemma of delaying motherhood as an exercise of freedom, in preference to other alternatives”. The researcher insisted that this is a reductionist approach, as delaying motherhood and having less children should be viewed as a social problem. In Spain, on average, women have 1.2 children and give birth to their first child when they are 32.5 years old, while in 2005, the average age for having the first child was about 30 (Eurostat 2018; INE 2017).

 

Commodification of motherhood

Mohammadi acknowledged that one of the reasons that led her to explore this subject was a concern about the commodification of motherhood caused by structural social problems. Together with her colleague Daniel Aranda and fellow researcher Silvia Martnez-Martnez, she analysed 19 fertility clinic websites from a total of 100 selected by a search engine specialized in health centres and by Google.

After analysing these websites’ structure and messages, the researchers highlighted the attempt to “create a connection between the technology that enables eggs to be frozen and the social hurdles that women face in today’s neoliberal consumer society”, with the result that the perfect solution seems to be to delay motherhood by freezing eggs. To give form to the idea, the websites reiterate concepts such as “preserving fertility”, “no need to give up anything”, “delaying motherhood for social reasons”, “become a mother when you want to” and “success rate”. And to give added robustness to the perception of the clinic’s professionalism and services, mention is made repeatedly of the teams’ quality, or formulas are used such as “the best experts”, “excellent success rates”, “competitive fertility rates” or “the clinic’s previous experience”. “The guarantees, along with testimonials such as articles, interviews and comments, confirm these contents’ sales slant”, the expert added.

 

Biased information

The researchers complained that information given to attract customers “is not based on scientific sources and, instead of giving the information that prospective customers need, it is written with the intention to persuade women to buy the services offered”.

One clear example is the information given on the process’s success rate. All of the websites visited showed a high success rate, which is presented as objective evidence. However, no explanation is given as to how this is calculated, nor is any information given about the complex process involved in freezing women’s eggs. “The messages we see on the websites are defined with the objective of convincing women without offering any scientific data”, the researcher summarized. Indeed, Mohammadi alerted, the information given by the clinics is not sufficient to make the correct decision on such a sensitive subject and, furthermore, “this type of message can mislead women in the decision-making process”.

Mohammadi offered a final reflection: “Offering a process like this as a preferential option puts all the responsibility on individuals, and especially on women. Motherhood is not just an individual responsibility, it is a collective responsibility, and the social challenges it entails should be answered with social solutions and by making changes to the job market, public services and the very conception of the family institution”.