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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 9, 2000. All rights
Turning Back The Biological Clock: Julie Drawbridge
Every working woman has heard about the "biological
time clock," and some recognize its sound more than others. Now
some doctors are saying that they can turn back the clock using
Reproductive Technology (ART), such as in-vitro fertilization.
ART may sound like the feminist dream-come-true. Now a working woman
in her mid-30s can hold off motherhood in favor of her career for
another year or two — her chances of having a baby seem that much
It may sound like the next best thing to birth control, but there
is a dark side to ART, too, says Julie Drawbridge
professor of biology at Rider University who lectures on "Barefoot
and Pregnant in the New Millennium: A Curmudgeon’s View of Assisted
Reproductive Technology," on Thursday, February 17, at 6 p.m.
at the Swiegert Auditorium at Rider University. Call 732-274-4607.
Doctors may mislead desperate patients, desperate patients may exploit
young egg and sperm donors, and donors may unwittingly concede to
a vast experiment in eugenics — the science of improving a
Lab technicians can already choose the sex of a child — how much
longer before they can produce the genetically flawless baby?
"Assisted reproductive technology is the only unregulated branch
of medicine I can think of," says Drawbridge. "It’s not
for you to go to a hospital and say `I want an embryo — what have
you got?’ And you can pick one out for $4,000. If you’re a couple
that’s wealthy enough, you can go in and say `we want a boy or we
want a girl.’ Is that the type of society that we want to create?"
One couple’s search for a "Grade A" egg donor at the nation’s
Ivy Leagues stirred up some controversy over these issues back in
January, 1999. The couple put an advertisement in student publications
requesting a donor no shorter than 5′ 10" with a minimum of a 1400
SAT score. Several Princeton women were chosen as finalists. The going
price for the egg: $50,000.
"I think we need to think about this," Drawbridge says.
is not a technology that should be driven by a desperate, wealthy
patient population. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of sexual
as well. It’s been going on for ages in other societies — it’s
called infanticide, and that’s why we’re missing thousands of girl
Drawbridge grew up in Camden, Maine, and received a BS in biology
from the University of Maine, where she met her husband. She earned
a PhD in zoology from the University of Texas, and came to Rider in
1996, specializing in kidney development. She began research on ART
for a course on developmental biology she teaches at Rider. That’s
when she came to the conclusion that unregulated use of ART may do
more to harm women, both physically and socially, than it does to
For one reason, ART favors the rich, says Drawbridge, at the expense
of the poor. "The economics can be very exploitative," she
says. At Rider the student population is relatively low-income.
you see a $5,000 offer for an egg, that’s a pretty enticing ad."
What most young women egg donors fail to understand, however, is that
the procedure of extracting an egg can by physically and emotionally
complicated. "It’s extremely uncomfortable and there are lots
of hormone adjustments," says Drawbridge. "But there’s not
a lot of insurance liability. I think damage to patients is
in this context. The medical profession’s response has been largely
knee-jerk — someone says I want this and they do it."
Hopeful recipients of in-vitro fertilization are also often duped
— even after they have shelled out the money for the perfect egg.
Lab technicians may be able to produce an embryo in a dish, but
no guarantee that it will survive once it’s introduced into the
"There’s a very small chance really," says Drawbridge.
actually pregnancy rates at these clinics is 20 percent," and
not every pregnancy results in a baby.
In the larger debate over women’s reproductive rights, from Roe v.
Wade to the more recent ban on certain third-term abortions
the fact that ART has existed unfettered, unregulated, for this long
seems to suggest, says Drawbridge, that our society still values a
woman’s right to reproduce over her choice not to do so. "We’re
limiting access to preventing pregnancy, but creating this huge
around promoting it," she says. "Methods for ART are getting
more and more heroic, while options for abortion are getting
As a biologist, and mother of two, Drawbridge says she understands
how powerful, even irrational, the desire to have children can be,
but ART is not necessarily the answer. "We have this evolutionary
history that you don’t succeed in history if you don’t reproduce —
biological baggage that we’re carrying around. I understand that —
I’ve got two children," she says. "I think it’s really
to say that it is an urge, but we also need to value the adults, the
women, in other contexts. Ultimately, the message we are sending women
here — it’s back to Henry VIII: If you’re not fertile and you
don’t bother to go through this method, you’re not trying. There’s
6 billion people on the planet. Is it really necessary that we view
people without children as defective?"
"I don’t think we’re creating a society where a woman can step
back and say, well, there are other things I can do — being
is not the pinnacle of my existence," she says. "Do you want
a society where your daughter or my daughter, if she’s diagnosed
has to do those things? Hopefully my daughter will have more
than to think that the only way she can leave a legacy is to have
Ultimately, once ART crosses into the realm of eugenics, and
of ART are no longer rolling the evolutionary dice like everyone else,
it’s no longer a technology to help people. "We have to ask the
question about any technology: What problem does this solve?"
she says. "What problem does being able to select the sex of your
baby solve? From the perspective of a feminist, I don’t see one."
— Melinda Sherwood
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