Ethics debate over “cheap” embryos

Dr Ernest Zeringue, a California-based fertility specialist, has found a way to overcome the most common obstacle between prospective IVF parents and their offspring -- the high price. In late 2010 he started advertising for a deal at his Davis clinic which was unheard of -- pregnancy for US$9,800 or a refund. That’s equal to about half the standard rate for IVF at most clinics, which do not provide a refund policy. Insurance coverage is usually limited, and patients have to pay over and over until they give birth or stop trying. Those patients use their own eggs and sperm, or carefully select donors. The two are combined in a petri dish, some are implanted, and the remainder belong to the customers.

However, Zeringue cuts costs dramatically by producing a single batch of embryos from one sperm and egg donor, and dividing the lot between several patients. The clinic controls the embryos, not the customer, and usually makes babies for 3 or 4 patients while paying only once for donors and laboratory work. Patients at Zeringue’s clinic must settle for having no genetic connection with their children -- and accept that those children are likely to have full biological siblings born to other parents.

Unsurprisingly, the practice sparked debate on the ethical boundaries of creating life. “I am horrified by the thought of this,” said a Los Angeles fertility lawyer, Andrew Vorzimer, who was concerned about the fact that a company controls embryos, not the would-be parents. “It is nothing short of the commodification of children,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Zeringue said his clients are fresh out of money and patience when they arrive at his clinic: “They're kind of at the end of the line.” The clinic’s business model and the ethical questions it poses will be discussed at a meeting in January of the ethics committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. ~ Los Angeles Times, Nov 20

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | assisted reproduction, commercialization, IVF

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