Made-to-Order Embryos Create New Legal Issues

by Rachael Rettner, MyHealthNewsDaily  |  published on April 15, 2013

People in the United States who want to have children have been able to purchase donated sperm and eggs separately for some time, but the relatively recent practice of selling embryos introduces new ethical and legal issues that should be addressed, experts say.

Most recently, a fertility clinic in Davis, Calif., began combining donor eggs and sperm to create embryos, which can then be used in fertility treatments for a price tag of $9,800 for a pregnancy, much cheaper than what it costs to become pregnant via traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF), according to the Los Angeles Times. The clinic is able to offer the treatment at a lower cost because it creates a batch of embryos from a single sperm and single egg donor together, and then sells the embryos to multiple patients, the Times reported. Couples who opt for this method of fertility treatment would have no genetic relation to their children.

“I am horrified by the thought of this,” Andrew Vorzimer, a Los Angeles fertility lawyer, told the Times. “It is nothing short of the commodification of children.”

For some time, couples have been able to adopt embryos left over from other couples’ IVF treatments in a process known as “embryo donation.” But in these cases, embryos are created with the initial intent of being used by a specific couple seeking fertility treatment, whereas, in the case of the Davis fertility-clinic, embryos are created for the explicit purpose of selling them. A fertility clinic in Texas provided a similar service of made-to-order embryos in 2007.

While the practice may be shocking to some, there appear to be no laws against it in 47 states, said I. Glenn Cohen, assistant professor and co-director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. What’s more, Cohen says it is an open question whether the practice covers muchnew ethical ground because the purchase of sperm and egg is already, for the most part, socially acceptable.

“Once you give it a hard look, it’s not clear that the ethical issues here are all that different,” from what’s already being practiced with the sale of sperm and eggs, said Cohen, who outlined his views in an article published today (April 11) in the New England Journal of Medicine.”If you’re ethically OK with buying the individual components, the question we ask is, in what way is it different than buying the final thing?” Cohen said.

Selling embryos made from a single egg and sperm donor does lead to the possibility that blood siblings could encounter each other later in life and unknowingly start a romantic relationship, which would be incest.

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