Is It Ethical to Market Egg Freezing as Female Empowerment?

Egg freezing is a burgeoning business. But some ethics experts question marketing messages such as “Stop your biological clock” and “Own your fertility.” In a recent essay, Elizabeth Reis, a professor at Macaulay Honors College, along with her son Samuel Reis‐Dennis, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University, argued that although these messages may sound empowering, they are overly optimistic, misleading, and stoke fear.

The essay was published in The Hastings Center Report.   

Reis, who teaches a class on the ethics of reproductive technologies, came to the topic after seeing a Facebook ad for an “egg-freezing party.” “The advertisements (and the physicians themselves) are sending messages to women that egg freezing is an easy and effective way to have a baby some time down the line. They make it sound as if women would be crazy not to do this,” said Reis. Some companies including Facebook, Apple, and Google pay for egg freezing for employees.

Yet the ads downplay the medical risks of the egg retrieval process, which requires hormone injections and sedation. They also downplay cost and success rates, estimated at only 2 to 12 percent per frozen egg for a woman under age 38.

The authors argue that this marketing might lead women to delay having children without fully understanding that frozen eggs often don’t result in successful pregnancies.

There are also subtler messages at work. In a culture that emphasizes the importance of motherhood, these ads “encourage women to fear infertility and childlessness,” the authors wrote. If a woman decided to pursue her career and either adopt later in life or not have children at all, now she needs to justify not freezing her eggs.

“Ideally, egg freezing should be presented as one option among many, with accurate and realistic information, free from overly optimistic marketing strategies promoting female empowerment, and in a broader cultural climate that values the ideal of autonomous reproductive decision‐making over the ideal of having biological children at any cost,” the authors wrote.

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Elizabeth Reis (Professor, Gender and Bioethics) | Profile

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Macaulay Honors College

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