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Should IVF patients be allowed to buy embryos?

File photo of technician storing human genetic material at a laboratory in Munich May 23, 2011.

MICHAEL DALDER/REUTERS

Fertility treatments are often a financial and emotional gamble. So if a clinic offered to sell you a ready-made embryo – with a money-back guarantee that you would become pregnant – would you buy it?

According to Postmedia News, Canadian fertility doctors are concerned about this latest practice of selling embryos. While patients typically use their own eggs and sperm – or in some cases, embryos donated by other couples that would otherwise be stored or destroyed – a California clinic is creating "anonymous embryos," producing multiple embryos at a time from anonymous donors, and selling them to numerous patients.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the clinic, California IVF: Davis Fertility Center Inc., charges $12,500 (U.S.) and offers women under the age of 55 their money back if they don't become pregnant after three attempts within a year.

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Canadian doctors interviewed by Postmedia News said they are worried about the ethics of the practice, and noted that there is nothing to stop Canadians from traveling to California to use the service. (Canadian women are already traveling abroad to undergo IVF treatments, using paid donor eggs to sidestep a Canadian ban on buying human eggs, sperm and embryos. And Postmedia reports the RCMP has investigated at least two cases of alleged buying and selling of sperm, eggs or surrogate wombs.)

"Everybody I have talked to has much the same reaction, which is, 'Oh my God, you can't be serious?' " Roger Pierson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Saskatchewan, told Postmedia, in reaction to the California clinic's service. "Nervous isn't the right word. I think it's appalled more than anything."

And as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, critics of the practice liken it to the commodification of children.

But to women who have spent heartbreaking years and small fortunes trying to conceive, the prospect of buying embryos (and other genetic material) offers hope.

"It was an easy choice," Natosha Dukart, a client of the California clinic who recently gave birth to a healthy girl, told the Times. "She is absolutely perfect."

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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