Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm by Dr Rene Almeling

A short yet crisp book which deals with a unique perspective on the sub-unit of the reproductive market – the medical market for eggs and sperm.

Let’s start with the most remarkable part about the book, the title, which is an interesting wordplay. It depicts how sex cells constitute the market, and the sex (cells) – in fact – ‘sells’!

The massive demand and the extensive market is discussed in the book, along with some twist in gender narratives observed by the author — the same can be split in 3 parts, though, all comprehensively discussed in the book.

A. Perspectives of the Donors

Based on Dr. Rene’s research, female donors when asked about their experience, express that they feel great. They think of their act as ‘helping’ others have their own family. Whereas when the male donors were talked to, post donation, they often felt ‘lack of respect’ and as if they were just being used and being milked of a resource.

It is intriguing to observe how on one hand this process is flipping the gender narrative by making men feel like ‘objects’ and the women having an air of respect and control and on the other hand, it again reinforces a certain narrative of how it is all about ‘work’ and labour for men and about the caregiving and warm nature of the women.

B. Comparison in the pay scale

There is a huge difference in payment for a vial of sperm to a man and an egg of a woman.

The reasons are largely vested in the procedure and the scientific methods involved for extraction and collection of the egg and sperm.

Male donors just have to collect their sperms in a cup at a sperm bank, whereas female donors have to go through a surgical procedure to get their egg removed for donation – the procedure, risks, etc. involved are clear grounds for pay/costs disparity.

It is interesting to note, and imperative to point out, that there seems to be a reversal in the default narrative of wages/payments to men and women. Here women are being paid more than the men for the ‘same’ task performed (i.e. providing their gamete).

C. Usage of Literature

In the book, Dr. Rene has made a very interesting concept of calling sperm donation institutes ‘banks’ – “sperm banks” whereas egg donation institutes as ‘agencies’ – “egg agencies”.

She explains the reason, based on her field-research. Sperm donors make a deposition and their work is done; however, when male donors were interviewed regarding their feelings about the possibility of their ‘kid’ being around in the world, they often have a sense of attachment and consider themselves the biological ‘father’ of the child.

The women when asked about their feelings on the donation, have said that they merely consider themselves as ‘agents’ in providing others the opportunity to start and have their own family. The female donors do not (generally) associate themselves as the mother of the child in any way whatsoever.

This also highlights a different gender narrative than the usual. The women have no feelings of the maternal bond but the male donors can be seen experiencing the bond of ‘fatherhood’.

The book concludes by summing up these observations; it’s safe to say it’s been a refreshing and a challenging read to further analyse the interrelated concepts of gender, sex, and ethics.

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Kirit P. Mehta School of Law Publications