Monday, August 07, 2006

'Fresh Embryos' -- On Sale Now!

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has been reluctant to invoke standards for fertility clinics, but maybe this latest development will prompt them:

Ethical row over world's first 'made to order' embryos

By Julie Wheldon, Daily Mail 21:46pm 4th August 2006

The world's first human embryo bank has been launched offering 'bespoke babies' for infertile couples.

For around £5,000 couples can buy ready-made embryos matched to their specific requirements - even down to choosing what eye and hair colour they would like their child to have.

In each case the embryos are made from eggs and sperm from two donors who have never even met. The moment of conception occurs in the laboratory and is determined by the genetic combination the clinic thinks will best meet the needs of the paying couples on its books.

'Special offers'

Ethical campaigners last night condemned the move as the "absolute commercialisation of human life." They said it was heart-breaking that babies are now being treated as the equivalent of a supermarket "special offer".

Currently in the UK where one partner is infertile a couple can use donated sperm or eggs to create an embryo to be implanted in the woman's womb. Some couples can also use left-over embryos no longer needed by others who have undergone IVF.

But the new service is totally different as it allows couples to buy fresh embryos that fit their requirements but which have no biological link to either of them.

The human embryo bank is being run by The Abraham Center of Life in San Antonio in Texas. Although the clinic is in the USA, British women are expected to fly over for treatment.

It boasts that its sperm donors all have doctorate degrees and most of its egg donors have college degrees, are under 25 and healthy. So far most of the couples on its waiting lists are happy just to get an embryo and have not set out detailed requirements.

Waiting list for Aryan children

However some have asked for - and been allowed to join list of recipients that will get - embryos made from blond haired and blue eyed donors.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

1 comment:

Kevin T. Keith said...

This is distasteful, and says something about the shallow values of the people seeking such services. But, as I have argued at the AJOB/ blog, in response to Art Caplan's outcry on the same subject, I can't see it as any different from genetic selection practices already in place.

It has been standard practice at sperm banks, for decades now, to screen donors for health and genetic history, and to allow "buyers" to select donors by such traits as eye and hair color, height, academic success, and so forth. IVF egg donors are also screened for the same factors, and large financial premiums are paid to young, attractive Ivy League women. This new program does nothing that isn't already being done.

The one difference is that infertile couples now get to choose the traits of both the sperm and the egg donor, as opposed to the normal IVF scenario where they choose just one gamete donor and then fertilization is accomplished with gametes from the fertile member of the couple. In other words, the only thing that is new here is that couples get control of both sides of the genetic match, not just one - but the type of control they are exercising is precisely the same as has always been offered by sperm banks or donor-egg IVF programs.

Add to this the fact that the couples are merely increasing their chances of getting certain traits, not guaranteeing it (most of the factors in question, like height, eye color, intelligence, and so forth, are polygenetic, and in some cases so elusive they can't even be measured objectively, let alone controlled). The result is that this matching is largely an exercise in self-indulgence, not a way to create "designer babies", let alone a master race. All in all, I agree that this program caters to the most self-centered impulses of prospective (lunkheaded, and over-rich) parents, but I don't think it's a great departure from contemporary practice.

If we don't object to parents' treating half their kids' genes as molecular contestants on American Idol, why should we care if they throw in the other half?