Monday, August 30, 2010

The market for human eggs

Here's a multifaceted article on the global market for human eggs and fertility treatment, with medical tourists flowing from countries with more restrictive laws to those with few or none: Unpacking The Global Human Egg Trade

"According to a 2010 study by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, nearly 25,000 egg donations are performed in Europe for fertility tourists every year. More than 50% of those surveyed traveled abroad in order to circumvent legal regulations at home. The Cypriot government estimates that, each year, 1 in 50 women on the island between the ages of 18 and 30 sells her eggs. One NGO analyst says that among the island's Eastern European immigrants, the rate may reach 1 in 4, and some women give up their eggs several times in a year. By comparison, only 1 of every 14,000 eligible American women donates.

"Donation is described as an altruistic act, which means no payments," says Savvas Koundouros, a Cypriot embryologist, as he draws heavily on a cigarette. "It sounds strange to all of us that a person would receive so many injections over weeks and then undergo general anesthesia just because they are kind people." Koundouros has impregnated more women than Genghis Khan -- and thanks to a system that does not in any way rely on altruism, he plans to seed many, many more. He recently invested more than 1 million euros in a state-of-the-art IVF clinic in the resort city of Limassol.
"Peter Singer, the Ira V. Decamp professor of bioethics at Princeton, doesn't necessarily have a problem with the sale of eggs. "I don't think that trading replaceable human body parts is in principle worse than trading human labor, which we do all the time, of course. There are similar problems of exploitation when companies go offshore, but the trade-off is that this helps the poor to earn a living," he says. "That's not to say that there are no problems at all -- obviously, there can be -- and that is why doing it openly, in a regulated and supervised manner, would be better than a black market." Note that he says "would be."

"While the clinics of Cyprus sometimes feel like frontier outposts, the ones in Spain can seem like established fortresses. Spain has been the top destination for European fertility tourists since the mid-1980s. At Barcelona's Institut Marquès, a 14th-century carriage house in one of the poshest parts of town, you can understand why....

"In 2007, the U.K. banned payments to egg donors. In 2009, the Institut Marquès opened a satellite office in London, offering full-service, pregnancy-guaranteed packages for as little as $37,000 for three IVF cycles. The stream of foreign customers has become so steady that the clinic no longer waits for patients to sign on before tracking down appropriate donors. Instead, it keeps a bull pen of women on hormones, ready to give up their eggs. "Sometimes we will lose the eggs if we can't find a customer, but it's a trade-off," says embryologist Josep Oliveras. "This way, we can guarantee a steady supply."
"Perhaps more than any other company, Elite IVF has transformed baby-making into a globalized, industrialized process. For Sher, outsourcing is simply the inevitable outcome of the science that allowed procreation to move out of the bedroom and into the lab. Like the Petra Clinic and the Institut Marquès, Elite IVF offers clients cheaper access to eggs and a full suite of fertility treatments; unlike those more-localized operations, Elite operates worldwide, with offices and partner clinics in Britain, Canada, Cyprus, Israel, Mexico, Romania, and the U.S. Sher plans to expand soon to Turkey, taking advantage of new bans on egg donation there.

"Sher sees the regulatory and price differentials in eggs as an opportunity to reduce the cost of raw materials, pass the savings on to his customers, and offer them virtually any fertility service that they can't get at home. Want sex selection, which is illegal in most countries? A Mexican clinic can help you. Too old for IVF in the U.S.? Cyprus is the answer.

"Today, Elite IVF's network of clinics, egg sellers, and surrogate moms produces between 200 and 400 children per year, helping create families like Aron and Shatzky's. And it's just going to get more complicated. "The future is designer babies," says Sher. He describes an offer he once received from an investor interested in partnering with Elite IVF. "Surrogates in Asia would carry the eggs of superdonors from America -- models with high SAT scores and prestigious degrees who would be paid $100,000 for their eggs. Those babies could sell for $1 million each -- first to his friends, then to the rest of the world."

"Sher declined the offer, but says it is only a matter of time before someone moves in that direction. At that point, maybe governments will get more involved. McGee, the bioethicist, predicts that "we will soon begin to recognize the danger of an ant-trail model of reproduction whereby strangers without any responsibility to each other and clinicians able to vanish in a puff of smoke meet in a transaction that culminates in humanity's ultimate act: creation."

HT to MR


Jennifer Lahl said...

The company in Cyprus is run by a Chicago based company. The globalization and the international trafficking in human eggs is a real problem. Now with states like New York, payer egg donors (with taxpayer dollars) for donated eggs for scientific research, we see an expansion of the market with real forces of competition. Of course the egg donor is caught in the middle and only more at risk for negative health impact.

Jennifer Lahl

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