Crowdfunding has enabled the creation of some unique things over the years—the world’s largest jockstrap, wooden handbags, a $55k potato salad party–but a new campaign is hoping to back something a little more precious: human life.
This time the campaign revolves around a couple in the UK, who are hoping to rely on the kindness of strangers to find a surrogate so that they can have a child.
One of many who have attempted the feat in recent years, their request is a part of a growing trend to link fertility to the digital world. But pages like these may take crowdfunding to an entirely different—and potentially dangerous—level. Beyond unorthodox, the move raises ethical questions about how far is too far in using technology to bring new life into the world.
Lauren Marchant, 28, started her page after a life-saving hysterectomy ruled out the possibility of a natural conception. Following the birth of her son Logan via emergency caesarean, Marchant hemorrhaged and lost a great deal of blood, resulting in her being hooked up to a life support machine for several days. It was during this time that the procedure was administered, with Marchant only finding out what had happened when she later regained consciousness.
Hysterectomies often lead to recipients going through menopause far earlier, and at the six-week check-up following Logan’s birth, Lauren enquired about freezing her eggs in the hopes that she would be able to receive funding for fertility treatment in the future. Her plans were quickly dashed when she was told that, as she already had one child, she was unlikely to receive any financial support to aid the conception of another. “I can’t describe how awful it felt,” she told the Huffington Post. “It was just heartbreaking.”
A year later, Lauren got back together with her now-husband Ben, also 28, a former childhood sweetheart and friend who had been at her side during the post-birth complications. Desperate for a biological child of their own, the pair assessed their options and, two years later, decided to pursue surrogacy.
Lauren’s fears were confirmed, though, when they were told that they would have to foot the $29,000 bill without state help. They planned to save up the money themselves, but after further tests showed Lauren’s ovaries were operating at a severely reduced level, a crowdfunding page seemed like the only option for funding within a rapidly closing window.
“I know this is the right thing to do for my family,” Lauren says. “The reaction I’ve had from crowdfunding has been really positive. I’ve had women contact me for advice who want to do the same thing as us.”
While our current climate of asking strangers on the Internet for money means that the Marchants’s request isn’t entirely shocking, the concept of getting others to fund your family does raise questions about whether we should be held responsible for things other people want.
On Fordham University’s Ethics and Society blog, professor and bioethicist at the Center for Ethics Education Dr. Elizabeth Yuko explores a host of potential problems—from privacy to obligation. “Prospective parents may presume that in situations where funds are being raised from family or their own church, that the financial supporters are likely to share our values,” she writes. “Should they feel discomfort in not knowing the values of strangers on the Internet who will play such an important role in bringing a child into their life?”
Despite the remaining ethical questions, the trend continues to grow. A Seattle Times report from October noted at least 50 pages of this nature from surrounding towns. One couple, in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, was even successful—reportedly raising $13,000 for IVF and other procedures.
Though Marchant’s case is undoubtedly a deeply upsetting one, an inability to have a second biological child is something experienced by many, and is perhaps not the most obvious cause to donate to. “I don’t think you should have to be rich to have a family,” Merchant says. True, but one should not have to be rich to do an infinite number of things, like pay for cancer treatment, or get an education—yet exorbitant costs mount up regardless. Resting one’s hopes on other people’s willingness to fund your desires seems precarious at best, and selfish at worst.
As the reams of bizarre crowdfunders past and present show, though, the Internet has provided us an essential marketplace whereby ourselves, and our stories, can attract investment. And, if people are willing to donate almost $60,000 for a man to slice and dice a root vegetable, a small donation towards a family’s happiness is comparatively little to ask.