The commodification of life creation

An Cailín Rua

SHAMEFUL RECORD Ireland is the only country in the EU that currently does not provide publicly funded IVF.

An undeniably ugly consequence of capitalism

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Giving out about Liveline is a national pastime and indeed, one I cherish myself. But as much as I hate to admit it, it captures the zeitgeist, and a conversation last week about the promotion of fertility treatment caught both my ear and heart.
Now, I need to state that my only experience of infertility is watching close friends struggle with the heartbreak it brings. I have no personal experience but can imagine how challenging and difficult it is to navigate. My only knowledge of IVF treatment is second-hand, based on what I’ve seen, heard and read, but I know that it is not an easy process – physically or mentally – and that there are never any guarantees.  
The conversation on Liveline was a debate around the use of public figures Rosanna Davison and Richie Sadlier by Thérapie Fertilty – a company more commonly known for its beauty treatments – to advertise its services and highlight the need for awareness and education around fertility.
Both Davison and Sadlier have been admirably open around their families’ struggles with fertility, but the topic prompted an emotional reaction from callers objecting to the fact that they were being paid to promote the services of a particular private clinic rather than simply continuing to use their own platforms to raise awareness of the issue in general. The situation was not helped by the copy-and-paste format of the promotion and the lack of evidence that either party had actually used the clinic in their own fertility journeys. Such is marketing!

Lack of regulation
This is not the first time so-called influencers have been used to promote private fertility treatments. In April 2022, journalist Ellen Coyne in the Irish Independent wrote a feature noting that other companies such as ReproMed and Sims IVF had engaged the services of public figures, including Terrie McEvoy, Joanne McNally, Thalia Heffernan and Holly Carpenter, to promote their product and encourage the practice among young women of freezing their eggs.
Coyne noted in her article the private equity firms and shareholders who make money from these clinics, a point further emphasised by Paul Murphy TD, who has also been open about his own IVF journey with his partner, Jess. Coyne wrote of the lack of transparency around some processes, and this too was further acknowledged by Murphy, who highlighted the lack of regulation of fertility clinics here.  
Ireland is the only country in the EU that currently does not provide publicly funded IVF.
And this is the real issue, isn’t it? The problem here isn’t that influencers are being paid to promote private clinics in commercial deals – more power to them – it’s that these facilities are private in the first place, and by definition the treatments they offer are exclusive despite their nature. If you desperately want to start a family and are struggling with fertility issues, there is help at hand, but only if you can afford to pay – handsomely – to gamble on it.
Morally and ethically, this is wrong, and it needs to be rectified. Yet again, the State needs to step up. It needs to make fertility services accessible to anyone who needs them.

A distasteful business
It is likely that the reaction aired on Liveline is indicative of a wider negative perception of ‘influencer’ culture, where those working in the space are frequently accused of ‘selling out’ in return for paid advertisements, or having access to treatments or privileges the ‘ordinary’ person cannot afford, at no cost to them.
This perception of influencers is questionable; for years, those working with traditional media outlets have received products and experiences in return for reviews and coverage and have attended press trips and PR events without any objections. It could be argued that influencer culture is simply a democratisation of this process, and if there were no audience or demand for content, they wouldn’t exist.
But whatever about influencers being paid to promote skincare, hotels, jewellery or extortionately expensive homewares, it hits different when it’s healthcare – exclusive, private healthcare, at that. It is telling that when Ms Coyne was putting her feature together, she asked a number of the influencers involved to comment for the piece and they either declined or did not respond.
No one is entitled to or guaranteed to have a child. But surely everyone is entitled to try? Perhaps underneath it all, these influencers too know in their hearts that the commodification and promotion of desperately needed and wanted healthcare that is out of reach for so many is a distasteful business. Perhaps the fact that fertility clinics in Ireland are not regulated does not sit well, even when the pay cheque has been lodged.
Perhaps, underneath it all these influencers realise that enabling private healthcare providers to make money off the back of other people’s illness or misfortune and the failure of the State to provide adequate healthcare services on an egalitarian basis is one undeniably ugly output of capitalism. And above all, another shameful indictment of the government of the day.