Imagine surfing the Web and running across this advertisement: “Eggs for sale! Come and buy your eggs! A dozen beautiful eggs for $1.8 million!” While this obviously isn’t your everyday Internet vendor selling your everyday eggs, this cry of commerce will actually hatch into existence. Today marks the premier of www.ronsangels.com, fashion photographer Ron Harris’ Web site from which he will auction off models’ ova to potential parents willing to bid from $15,000 to $150,000.
The Web site’s index page features a sexy and alluring young woman with the words “Come up to beauty” printed above her photograph. Delving deeper into the Web site, you find rows of gorgeously photographed models just waiting to sell you their eggs. Clicking on a photograph yields each model’s age, bra size, hip and waist measurements, mother and grandmother’s ages and other personal facts and goals.
In the site’s introduction, Harris sings the virtues of beauty to those who find themselves lacking. He encourages women to find “better-looking versions” of themselves and tempts “millions of men from around the world who would love to have their genes combined with the most beautiful women.” He particularly targets rich, ugly men — are you listening, Bill Gates? — who cannot find a suitably attractive mate.
Claiming that “beauty is its own reward,” Harris describes his business as fulfilling humans’ urge to “improve their genetic offspring.” These impulses are deemed to be “Darwin’s natural selection at its very best” and can increase parents’ chances of creating children with the evolutionary advantage of good looks. But later, Harris elaborates that “it is not my intention to suggest we make a super society of only beautiful people. This site simply mirrors our current society in that beauty always goes to the highest bidder.”
Not only is Harris endorsing the worship of beauty and the commodification of the human body, he is also bamboozling vulnerable infertile couples for his own profit. And he has somehow deluded himself into believing he’s serving mankind’s evolutionary future.
How preposterous can Harris be, claiming that such a superficial quality like beauty is an evolutionary advantage? Does it increase longevity? Does it strengthen immunity toward certain diseases? Does it enhance overall success in life? The answer is obviously a resounding no.
While our society is obsessed with beauty and youth, Harris capitalizes on this fault and contributes to its continued practice. Yes, those blessed with incredible looks are often given preferential treatment, but this makes it no less deplorable. Living in the contrived world of fashion photography and modeling, Harris has obviously become overwhelmed by style and underwhelmed by substance.
Although Harris’ idolization of beauty is extreme, fixations on “superior” human characteristics are nothing new in the world of egg and sperm donation. Infertile couples are often provided with detailed profiles of potential donors and given the opportunity to request desirable traits for their child.
A particularly successful case was described on one fertility Web site. One California sperm bank is nicknamed the “Nobel Bank.” Only 15 men are registered as sperm donors, and most are scientists who have an IQ of more than 130. Afton Brake, a 40-year-old woman who chose to become a single parent, selected a sperm donor with an exceptional IQ. Her child Doron, born in 1982, has an IQ of 180 to 200. At the age of two and a half, Doron assembled a computer. At age six, he read Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
In another instance, a couple advertised they would pay $50,000 for an egg from a tall, athletic college student with high SAT scores.
But merchandising human qualities, especially more superficial ones, leads to dangerous territory. By paying more for certain characteristics, you implicitly set standards of superiority and inferiority. Smart people are “worth more” than stupid people, beautiful people are “more desirable” than those who are ugly and tall people “have an advantage” over short people.
Given the opportunity to essentially construct their children according to specific guidelines, parents might place unfair expectations on them. Even in a normal pregnancy, hopes and dreams run wild, but for a contrived birth, they might become outrageous.
Suppose a couple decides to purchase an egg from Harris’ Web site, and for nine months they fantasize about how gorgeous their little child will be. What kind of disappointment will they face when their baby is born only average-looking or even worse — ugly? Considering how high their hopes have climbed, even a beautiful child could fail to meet their expectations.
The repercussions on the child are even worse. Setting prenatal standards for a child takes humanity out of parenthood and childhood. Children become fetishized for their characteristics and must forever live under the pressure of meeting their parents’ fantasies.
What if someone purchased a donor sperm from the Nobel Bank? Can you imagine the poor kid coming home with a less-than-desirable report card and having to face his parents’ accusation: “We didn’t pay $15,000 for you to be getting C’s and D’s!” And while a child can strive for intelligence, physical beauty can only be achieved through cosmetic surgery. But who would want to place those pressures on a child?
Ron Harris, for one.
Harris practically sets up parents and children for these exact scenarios. Overlooking logic, he claims, “Choosing eggs from beautiful women will profoundly increase the success of your children and your children’s children for centuries to come.” But the purchased egg is only one-half of the formula. The husband will usually produce the other half. Whether a child will resemble the donor or the husband more is a roll of the dice. Suppose you paid $150,000 for a gorgeous model’s egg, and then your child ended up a spitting image of your husband?
Another issue Harris’ Web site fails to mention is artificial enhancements. Hair dyed blond, lips made plump by collagen and body shapes improved by plastic surgery are not genetic. Your child could be born with mousy brown hair, nonexistent lips and a pear-shaped physique.
While many recognize the drawbacks and have condemned the site, one couple has already bid $42,000. Whether you support the idea or not, the site is a product of our society’s values: the adulation of celebrities, the admiration of beauty and the obsession with frivolity. If we refuse to change our values, maybe we owe it to our children to equip them as best as possible to survive in the society that we have created.
Samantha Pace’s column appears alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments at [email protected]