"Win a baby" contest exploits life, family

  • November 2, 2011

When an Ottawa radio station hosted a “win a baby” contest last month, pledging to pay for fertility treatments for whoever wrote the best pitch about why they deserved the treatments, station officials claimed they wanted a catchy promotion that would shine a light on the cost of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which OHIP does not cover. In the end, five couples won $35,000 each for a series of treatments. Hundreds of entries were received, with tens of thousands reportedly voting online for their preferred candidate.

It is true that Quebec covers IVF treatments while Ontario does not, but the reality is there are a great many things that OHIP does not cover. Most of them (prescription drugs, dental care, a lot of eye care and eye glasses, to name just a few) are used by a great many more people than use IVF. This is not to comment about what public health insurance should or should not cover, only to point out that there are many exclusions under OHIP that can cause hardship. The likelier reason for the contest is the opportunity for headline-grabbing publicity, particularly through those catchy ads with a cute baby and the disclaimer “may not be exactly as shown.”

Fertility and ethical experts questioned the morality of a contest where listeners voted for the candidates they found most “deserving” of a chance to have a baby. As Margaret Somerville, director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and the Law, wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, “The radio station is putting a price on a baby’s head — up to $35,000. This breaches the foundational societal value that human life is priceless and ‘hors de commerce’ — it’s not commensurable in money and must not be commercialized. To act otherwise is to disrespect both the life of the person treated in such ways and human life, in general.

“Making conception of a baby a competition prize overtly cuts across any idea that the transmission of human life requires deep respect and, perhaps, should be governed by some sense of the sacred, even if just the ‘secular sacred.’ It involves a trivialization of the transmission of human life, of conceiving a child, and of becoming a parent,” says Dr. Somerville.

It is partly because of this trivialization that the Church opposes IVF. Obviously non-Catholics need not adhere to this teaching when the practice is legal, and everyone sympathizes with good people who would make wonderful parents but have difficulty conceiving. Nevertheless, this contest is yet another example of how several decades of unrestricted choice on the full range of “reproductive rights” has helped create a mentality, at least in some people, that parenthood is just one of those “lifestyle choices” that we’re entitled to make at the time of our own choosing. The fact that nature doesn’t always co-operate is seen as a burden that should be easily solvable, not a biological reality.

It’s perhaps fitting that a commercial media outlet was the host of this contest, given that most media have been champions of choice in reproductive matters, especially abortion. While some won’t see a parallel between the desire to have a child and the desire to abort one, the fact is that a sense of entitlement on both topics has developed rapidly — and for many people, logically — from legal and cultural forces of the past several decades that have overwhelmingly favoured “choice.”

I suggest some soul-searching is in order for the station, and others looking for their next off-beat, stop-the-presses promotion. Presumably this contest was based on the belief that the ethical concerns raised by IVF are the business of the couples involved, and that, after all, everyone who wants a baby should be able to have one.

However, this contest went quite a bit further than that. By dangling such a “prize,” it exploited for its own promotional purposes an emotionally vulnerable group of people who have already had their hopes dashed time and again in their effort to begin a family. While hundreds had their own reasons for writing their story, only five would be chosen. Again, only the hardest of hearts would be unmoved by some of the stories. But how has this contest really helped? The station stood by its claim that wealth is an unfair way to determine who will access fertility treatment. Submitting to an online poll is no improvement.

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