There is probably no harder contest to judge than the one being hosted by a Nevada-based fertility clinic, which will award a free cycle of expensive IVF treatments to one lucky couple who has had difficulty conceiving naturally.
There are also probably less controversial ways to donate an IVF cycle than by making a public competition out of it.
Hopeful, anguished couples have so far submitted a total of at least 61 videos to the Sher Institutes for Reproductive Medicine's website, each making their case in a variety of ways why they are most worthy of the IVF cycle, which is valued at around $10,000 and rarely covered by insurance.
Watching their heartbreaking stories, you will get chills. You will cry. And, if you're a parent, you will appreciate all over again just how fortunate you are.
A panel of judges selected by the clinic has, what would appear to be, an exceedingly unenviable task of selecting a winner, of essentially deciding "Who is more worthy of having a baby?" How do you even begin to make that sort of a decision? When framed another way, it becomes even more difficult: How do you eliminate entries, essentially deciding "Who is less worthy of a baby?"
Judge: 'It felt like playing God'
The clinic has hosted several of these contests before and a former judge told Time magazine earlier this year she found the process unsettling. Erika Tabke said, "It felt like playing God. Who’s more worthy? Whose loss is more tragic? Who are any of us to judge each other?"
The contests are undeniably well-intentioned and carry the potential to forever change the life of their deserving winners. But you don't need to be a judge to possibly feel uncomfortable with the idea of turning these couples' wrenching desire to finally conceive a baby of their own into something resembling a reality show.
The clinic even addresses those responses in a press release announcing this new giveaway. "Many have claimed that these "contests" are unethical and take advantage of vulnerable, desperate people with this unique kind of video voyeurism," it states.
The Institute is run by Dr. Geoffrey Sher who declares in the same statement that "we considered the ramifications of this carefully for several years before deciding to offer our first free donations in 2010. What I can say after nearly 50 such donations is that the reaction from all but a very small handful of detractors has been overwhelmingly positive."
From 'a dark place' to 'two beautiful angels'
A 2011 contest asked couples to submit an essay. It was won by Vicki Lyons and Walter Hankel, who are now the new parents of twin girls born just last month. On the Sher Institutes' Facebook page, Lyons recently commented on a post about the current giveaway.
"I was in such a lonely dark place," she writes. "I had just miscarried for the second time, the holidays were coming, and there was no money left to do another cycle...ever! I never thought it could happen to me, I though (sic) our chances were as good as winning the lotto! Well I won something better then the lotto, I was given a cycle that resulted in two beautiful angels!"
Dr. Sher's network of clinics also host fertility seminars around the country, where free IVF cycles are awarded through random drawings. Giveaways like the one going on right now extend the opportunity for a free cycle to people who may not live in any of the cities where these seminars are held.
We've included some of the beautiful, powerful videos submitted by prospective couples below. Watch them and let us know in the comments whether you're in favor of these IVF contests or have misgivings about the way they're being conducted.
Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN