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Beyond the making of altruism: branding and identity in egg donation websites in Spain

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Abstract

The availability of women willing to donate eggs in Spain is one of the cornerstones that has led the country to become the most desirable European destination for cross-border reproductive care. The reasons for this success are usually attributed to legal and socioeconomic conditions. Much less attention has been paid to the online strategies that fertility clinics in Spain use to inform and recruit young women to become egg providers. This paper addresses this gap by analysing online communication strategies in egg donors’ websites and social media. The narratives and rationalities they underpin are conceptualised as revealing ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’ around egg donation which coproduce new societal interests among young women. The results show that the language used recycles and repurposes egg donors’ motivations towards a normative discourse that puts altruism at the core, while, at the same time, explanations of medical processes and risks generate incomplete and misleading narratives. Finally, this paper describes how these discourses are embedded in a particular kind of branding where not only the notion of altruism is produced but also a complete identity framework. In this framework, donating eggs would not just be an act of solidarity, but would also imply belonging to a community of progressive empowered women, in control over their bodies and with modern consumption capacity: a neoliberal rationality of optimization, self-care and consumerism as forms of liberation.

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Notes

  1. The case was later revised by the Supreme Court of Spain, which considered the assault a group rape (and not an abuse) and elevated the sentence to jail from 9 to 15 years (Rincón 2019).

  2. The terminology surrounding ova ‘donation’ is debated (Beeson et al. 2015). While in most countries (like in Spain) egg provision is embedded in the framework of altruistic donation, it seems obvious in most ‘reprohubs’(Inhorn 2015) that referring to these women as ‘donors’ is a misnomer (Nahman 2008) that hides both the economic interest and the reproductive labour that is embedded. We also agree with the argument by Sara Lafuente-Funes (2019), that the term ‘egg donation’ puts the responsibility of the nature of the activity on egg providers rather than on clinics commercial management of those eggs once they are outside women’s bodies. Far from a naïve position, we believe that the altruist discourse promoted by the clinics relates to the normative opinions that some women claim around egg donation, and this article in part aims to support this statement. However, we observed that in the Spanish context most women who underwent the process, regardless of their motivation, used the term ‘egg donation’. Whether this was just because this is the official name of this practice in Spain or because they had embraced this rather pleasant subjectivity, is not the object of this study. In this article we decided, to respect the emic term ‘egg donation’ used by participants, acknowledging its problematic potential.

  3. Original version of the online content displayed throughout the article: (a) A todas las mujeres: ¡sed fuertes, sed independientes, sed felices! ¡Feliz Día de la Mujer! #LaRevolucionDeTodas #MujeresEn- Huelga #ParoDeMujeres. (b) Ayudar a otras mujeres, compensa. Conoce todas las ventajas de convertirte en donante. Pedir Cita. +20 Años De Experiencia. Estudio Fertilidad Gratis. Equipo De Expertos. (c) Dona óvulos y ayuda a otra mujer a ser madre. Tu esfuerzo será recompensado. Compensación Económica. Profesionales Médicos. Ventajas: Libre, Voluntaria Y Anónima, Compensación Económica Fijada Por Ley, Profesionales Médicos A Tu Disposición. (d) Donar óvulos en nuestra clínica en Barcelona es anónimo, seguro y compensado económicamente según la ley. ¡Dona óvulos! Pregunta por tus beneficios. (e) La donación de óvulos es un acto generoso en que una donante ayuda a una mujer a cumplir su sueño de ser madre. (f) Tu motivación para donar tiene que ser ayudar a otra mujer, nunca puede ser por interés económico. (g) La punción folicular es una intervención muy sencilla que hacemos a través de la vagina, mediante control visual continuo con ecografía. En la punción aspiramos los folículos maduros que hay en tus ovarios. Para no causarte ninguna molestia en (nombre de la clínica) utilizamos una anestesia muy suave (sedación). Así, tú estás dormida, y no notas nada de nada. Con la sedación tu despertar es rápido y agradable. La punción suele durar entre 20 y 30 minutos. La realizamos en un quirófano, para mayor seguridad. No requiere ninguna incisión abdominal y no deja cicatrices externas. (h) 6 ejercicios para reafirmar los pechos. (i) ¿Los orgasmos múltiples son un mito? Descubre la respuesta a esta y más preguntas sobre sexualidad aquí. (j) ¿Comer después de salir de fiesta? Las famosas también lo hacen. (k) 13 viajes que podrían enamorarte. (l) Cuidemos el planeta, ¡es el único que tenemos para vivir! (m) Mucho más que una web de donación de óvulos: un movimiento. Únete a él y ayuda a mujeres como tú a ser madres.

  4. The fieldwork in Catalonia included semi-structured interviews with egg donors (25), IVF professionals (24), one focus group with egg donors, and participant observation in one clinic.

  5. The most common risk of egg donation is the hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS). When occurring to women undergoing egg donation, it consists of a hyperreaction to the stimulation treatment of the ovary. The Spanish Society of Fertility (SEF) indicates that the frequency of the pathology varies between 0.6 and 10% within the women undergoing ovarian stimulation. It involves a significant growth of the ovaries, liquid accumulation in the abdomen or thorax, and alteration of renal and/or hepatic functions. In severe cases, it can be life threatening for egg donors, with the possibility of respiratory failure or coagulant alterations, for which it might require hospitalisation and surgical treatment. Other risks and complications might include intolerance or side effects due to the medication, abdominoperineal infection, and hemorrhage due to an accidental puncture on the blood vessels, abdominal pain, anatomy accidental puncture and ovarian torsion (SEF, explanatory statement, modelo 24). While some studies have suggested correlation with egg donation and certain kinds of cancer, long-term effects remain unknown due to the lack of studies (Beeson and Lippman 2006; Schneider 2008; Woodriff et al. 2014). The use of the informed consent itself has been called into question by some who instead “call for more realistic explanations to egg donors about the lack of knowledge of long-term risks as well as more transparent informed consent documents” (Schneider et al. 2017, p. 480).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the egg donors and the staff at the fertility clinics in Spain who shared their experiences, thoughts and knowledge with us. We are also grateful to Paul Mason, Narelle Warren and Laura Perler for their insights on the earlier versions of this article. We would like to acknowledge as well the feedback received by the participants in the panels “Parentescos, biotecnologías y donación reproductiva” in the IV AIBR Congress, “Critically Mapping Cross Border Reproduction” in the BSA Human Reproduction Study Group Winter Conference 2019 and the Social and Political Sciences Graduate Research Symposium 2018 at Monash University. Finally, we want to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their generous and thoughtful feedback.

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The authors confirm that the manuscript is comprised of original material that is not under review elsewhere, and that the study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review by the Monash University Human Research Committee. The authors had no competing interests—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript.

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Molas, A., Whittaker, A. Beyond the making of altruism: branding and identity in egg donation websites in Spain. BioSocieties 17, 320–346 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-020-00218-0

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