Pop Culture

Orphan Black: The Evil Fertility Clinic Trope Needs to Die

Helena with the Proletheans
Helena with the Proletheans Screencap from "Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done"
We’re into the fifth and final season of Orphan Black, and frankly that’s a good thing. You can tell when a show has started to outlast its plot, and Orphan Black got there around the middle of last season. I’m sticking with it through the end, but the Sestra Saga is just about played out as far as cohesive storytelling goes.

However, I want to bring up a beef I have with this show and in other media. It’s the Evil Fertility Clinic trope. It’s gross, it’s mean and it needs to go the heck away.

I understand why shows like Orphan Black like to use the concept of evil science in reproduction. “Unnatural” reproduction is as old as horror writing itself. Frankenstein is essentially a story about malformed birth. Alien is a movie about the fear of impregnation. That’s not even getting into evil baby movies like Grace or the It’s Alive trilogy. The ending of Splice could definitely count here as well. Pregnancy and birth are scary. I get that.

That said, constantly portraying fertility treatments as fronts for sinister science is both cheap and harmful. I’ll give an example of how. In the late 1970s the number of organ donors in the United States dropped by 60 percent. Why? Well, right about that time, a very popular novel, Coma by Robin Cook, came out and was subsequently made into a hit movie. The plot involved hospitals killing patients and harvesting their organs for sale, and it all might just be a coincidence, but it’s pretty clear the meme of organ donors becoming unwilling victims in a medical conspiracy got planted in the public mind.

I worry that something similar will happen with infertility treatments. Take it from someone who has been there, fertility treatments are neither magic nor unnatural. They are painful, uncertain and damned expensive if you don’t have particularly good health insurance, but what they are not is mad science running amok. Yes, if you go through IVF, you might end up with more fertilized embryos than you want implanted, and you have to decide what to do with them. You can donate them to other couples, or offer them for research, or just throw them away.

It’s tempting, if you’re prone to morbid conspiracy nonsense, to imagine that there are unscrupulous doctors gleefully cackling over these science babies, growing them for macabre purposes once they have been safely acquired. When you see villains like Orphan Black’s Neolution or the Proletheans, it doesn’t take much to make you wonder just what might be going on behind the scenes in fertility medicine. I’m often told by readers that people can tell fact from fiction, but, again, a 60 percent drop in organ donors right after a movie came out. It is impossible to deny that we are influenced by the media that we consume.

Fertility is already hard enough to deal with in this country. It’s seen as elective and a luxury, and you get an awful lot of judgment from people who know about it only from television and movies. I could really do without virtually every portrayal I see of it as being some front for a body horror plot. There’s a reason we don’t make movies like Coma anymore, and “evil donated limb/organ” movies have been getting rarer for a while now. It’s time the Evil Fertility Clinic trope joined them in retirement. After all, the delusion that reproductive medicine is only a ghoul’s ploy can have devastating consequences.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner