For those who have struggled with the emotional, physical, and monetary stresses of trying unsuccessfully to start a family by using other people’s eggs or sperm, there is another option: embryo donation. Though a resulting child isn’t genetically related to either intended parent, the mother will be able to carry and give birth to the child, and the parents can be there from day one of the child’s life.
Typically, the available embryos are the result of in vitro fertilization treatments. People who don’t wish to give any of their “leftover” embryos to research or discard them have the option of donating them to another couple. In theory this kind of arrangement is a win-win for all involved: a happy alternative for the donors, and a new chance for a child for the recipients.
Several organizations have been established to facilitate these embryo donations. The reality, however, is that though there are hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in this country, few people opt to donate theirs to other intended parents, and there is a long wait for couples hoping to receive one.
“The California Conceptions Donated Embryo Program was started in hopes of changing this imbalance,” reads the informational page on embryo donation at the website of California IVF: Davis Fertility Clinic. But California Conceptions differs from other embryo donation organizations in a crucial way: They create the embryos themselves.
The fertility doctor who introduced this concept, Dr. Ernest Zeringue, reportedly saw it as a way to remain competitive in a largely unregulated fertility industry. He offers IVF with pre-created embryos for about half the cost of traditional IVF, and with an unheard of deal: Pregnancy for $9,800 or your money back. The Davis clinic says that nearly 200 couples have used this service already, with a 95 percent success rate.
Zeringue’s prospective patients are sent extensive profiles of sperm and egg donors before they commit; if there is sufficient interest, the clinic purchases the selected sperm and eggs and makes the embryos. Zeringue is able to cut costs because he creates batches of embryos, which he distributes among multiple patients, keeping any extras frozen for future use. When embryos are left over from IVF, they belong to the genetic parents; in this scenario, they belong to the clinic.
Zeringue doesn’t see a problem with this. He states that the embryos "are still treated ethically. They are no different than embryos that have a person's name assigned to them." But many believe that selling pre-made embryos crosses an ethical boundary.
Dr. Craig Sweet, medical and practice director of Embryo Donation International, sees Zeringue’s creation of “McEmbryos” as an unethical variation of the work to which he has given his life. He disputes Zeringue’s claim that this method can even be considered “embryo donation” explaining:
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