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Davis, California

Friday, October 15, 2021

Column: Google Baby

One cow-smelling day in Tercero, I returned to my dorm to find one of my floormates puzzlingly staring at a copy of The Aggie. As I peered over her shoulder, a series of strange sentences stared up at me in the “Employment” section.

“Egg Donors Needed! Monthly compensation $5,000-8,000. Call now!”

My face probably looked like I just saw a Basilisk. Let me try to take you through my thought process: 1) Should this really be in the paper? 2) Are eggs some kind of commodity now? 3) Wow. That’s a lot of zeros.

I had never seen anything like this before. And when I say “this” I mean an employment ad that wasn’t for a tutoring gig or waitressing job, but something so human. One of my friends decided to call.

The woman on the other end shared that my friend would need to submit some information if she wanted to proceed. This included typical census facts like age and race. But there were a couple of standout requirements that were rather shocking: SAT score and height.

Intelligence and size. These are two characteristics that may not exactly be relevant when you’re filling out a voter registration form (OK, maybe intelligence), but they apparently matter if you’re donating your eggs to a mother who intends on having a baby.

In the past decade, popular culture has picked up on the idea that in our Jetsons-esque future, parents will be able to “design” their babies. The general concept is that prospective possessors of small humans will be able to “pick out” their child’s sex, eye and hair color, IQ, as well as their height. This means that we could ultimately create a world of black-haired, brown-eyed, 5-foot-8, healthy genius-children. Sounds like a period in history no one wants to repeat.

Today, the most common practices in terms of fertilization are sperm and egg donations. While these processes are not exactly “design” oriented, they are getting dangerously close.

My family recently recommended the documentary “Google Baby” to me. I was immediately intrigued when my sister explained the premise, and that’s not just because I like documentaries and babies. The film follows a gay Israeli couple on their path to becoming parents. There are two primary steps in their process: obtaining an egg donor and finding a surrogate mother.

As for egg donation, a potential candidate is required to submit a series of relevant facts about themselves, just as my friend learned. In ads that advertise egg donations, it is common to see phrases like “musical ability” and “above-average height.” These preferences are usually accompanied by extremely high prices.

According to the New York Times, egg donation ads were initially placed in newspapers at the nation’s best schools, including Stanford, MIT and Caltech. The ads offered $50,000 to a smartie who was athletic and at least 5-foot-10. When the ads went public, the organization began getting calls from women across the globe, including some who were supposedly “too short or whose S.A.T. scores [were] too low.”

Now that the option is out there to have a child that won’t be asked “Do you play basketball?” everyday, or one that won’t be called a munchkin, it seems like people are choosing to let the outliers fade away. It was clear in the film that height was a factor that the parents did indeed consider.

I can go on and on about how this shouldn’t matter, but it’s pretty obvious that it does. Ensuring that your child won’t get teased for height, but instead blend in with the crowd, may simply reflect a parental desire to keep a child safe. It nevertheless remains unfortunate that height has become a criterion, a sort of deciding factor, when it comes to these donations. Even if a man makes an anonymous sperm donation, he is still required to submit his height.

Size sets us apart. We wouldn’t have coxswains and rowers if everyone was the same height. Nor would we have step stools or ladders. A world full of equally-sized people would just be plain boring. We wouldn’t be able to grow to our fullest potential on the inside.

MAYA MAKKER goes into baby-talk mode when she talks to her dog. Please tell her she’s not the only one at mgmakker@ucdavis.edu.

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