SPH Hosts a Talk on Surrogacy, Gene Editing, and Egg Provision

YEREVAN, Armenia – On November 12, 2019, the Turpanjian School of Public Health (SPH) of the American University of Armenia (AUA) organized a public health seminar titled “Global Commercial Surrogacy, Gene Editing, and Egg Provision by Younger Women.” The seminar was led by Judy Norsigian, a founding member of Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS) in 1971, its executive director 2001-2015, and currently chair of its board. She has co-authored all eight Simon & Schuster editions of this book, named by the U.S. Library of Congress as one of the “88 books that shaped America.” She also was a member of the editorial teams that produced Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause and Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth. Norsigian has appeared on multiple television and radio programs, and served on the boards of the National Women’s Health Network, Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, and the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA).

SPH had the privilege to host Norsigian. Last year, her presentation “Challenges in Women’s Health and Advocating for Change” received positive public attention.

At the recent seminar, Norsigian emphasized that global commercial surrogacy has expanded rapidly, often without consideration of the health and well-being of the most vulnerable parties of these arrangements, including gestational mothers and offspring. She talked about the importance of advancing best practices and human rights in commercial surrogacy and egg-retrieval-for-pay, with a cautionary note about gene editing for human germline modification.

“If edited embryos are used to start a pregnancy, the changes affect every cell in the body of any resulting child, that child’s offspring, and all future offspring. The health consequences might be devastating. Dozens of countries already prohibit any attempt to start a pregnancy with edited embryos,” mentioned Norsigian.

She highlighted general concerns about surrogacy, such as failure to reveal evidence-based information or adopt best practices, commodification of women’s body as a means for production of highly valued products (eggs and babies), and disingenuously relying on the language of “gifts” and “women helping women.”

Norsigian also discussed questions for egg providers such as potential health risks associated with the retrieval process, including the negative effects of drugs used to suppress ovarian function or hyper-stimulate ovaries, minimal or no collection of safety data, and many other issues. Her presentation explored some of these challenges in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

During the event, AGBU Papazian Library Director Satenik (Bella) Avakian thanked Judy Norsigian for the significant donation of some 200 books and CDs on Women’s Studies to AUA.

The slides and the video recording of the public health seminar are available online.

The AUA Turpanjian School of Public Health works actively to improve population health and health services in Armenia and the region through interdisciplinary education and development of public health professionals to be leaders in public health, health services research and evaluation, and health care delivery and management.