British Flocking to U.S. to Buy Human Eggs

Internet and Lax Rules Creating a Booming Industry

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LONDON, FEB. 16, 2001 ( The number of infertile British couples buying human eggs over the Internet from the United States has tripled in the past two years, BBC reported today.

In the United Kingdom, where the practice of egg buying is illegal, couples can wait several years for a suitable donor to become available, BBC said. But the more relaxed regulatory system in the U.S. allows couples to be more selective about the donor, choosing a woman with desirable looks, background and good health history.

The emergence of the Internet has made the whole procedure easier, with couples able to browse prospective donors online, BBC noted.

For some childless couples, the chances of having a baby depend on them securing an egg from a donor which can fertilized in vitro before being implanted in the womb. But in the United Kingdom, where fertility treatments are highly regulated, this can mean a wait of up to three years before a suitable egg becomes available.

Now, British couples are turning in growing numbers to the United States, particularly California, where it is legal to buy and sell eggs. Information on donors, including pictures and educational details, is posted on the Internet by agencies.

United Kingdom couples can search this information and select a donor before flying out to America to have the egg implanted. The eggs themselves can be priced as high as $5,000 but legal and other costs will push the final bill for the trip up $20,000, BBC said.

Critics of the U.S. system have questioned the ethics of the egg market. They say it encourages couples to try to engineer the perfect baby. Certainly, the agencies themselves are quite open about the desire to give the new child the best genetic start in life.

Lyne Mackline, of Egg Donation Inc., said: «I tell couples when they are looking for a donor, whatever the husband´s family has a challenge in, be it depression, alcoholism, obesity, we don´t want a donor with any of those issues because we don´t want to have double indemnity for having very unsuccessful genetics.»

Shelley Smith runs the Egg Donor and Surrogacy Program in Los Angeles. She said: «The advent of the Internet and the ability to go online and view a little bit of information and a photograph of donors has started to make couples picky. They have become a little bit obsessed with what a donor looks like and what her qualities are.»

The Catholic Church condemns such programs. «Donum Vitae,» the 1987 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Father, notes: «The connection between in vitro fertilization and the voluntary destruction of human embryos occurs too often. This is significant: through these procedures, with apparently contrary purposes, life and death are subjected to the decision of man, who thus sets himself up as the giver of life and death by decree.»

In another place the document says: «Such [in vitro] fertilization entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.»

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