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Letter From Elsewhere: Get Your Embryos Here

Letter From Elsewhere

Get Your Embryos Here – No Strings Attached

By Anne Else

Those funky fertility gods are at it again. This week they scored a double bullseye. First they called for spare stored embryos to go to unrelated people who needed them to have a baby. Then they announced that New Zealand’s first official IVF ‘surrogate’ pregnancy had begun. (I say official, because it’s well known that there have been a fair number of unofficial, do-it-yourself efforts which didn’t require IVF.)

In the USA, eggs, sperm, wombs and embryos are big business. There are Internet sites where you can “adopt” an embryo, then hire a “host uterus” to carry it for you. Last week a BBC documentary called “The Price of Eggs” showed a string of fresh-faced American twenty-somethings lining up to supply eggs to agencies for between $3000 and $10,000 (US).

By the time these women want to have babies themselves, they could well discover that they are no longer fertile. The hormones they took to produce eggs for others may turn out to have unforeseen effects. Or they could just be too old – fertility declines sharply after 35. But hey, no problem – they can just go to back to the agency and get someone else’s eggs instead.

As far as I know, no one is proposing to set up such agencies here. But if they did, there would be very little to stop them. We have no law against selling sperm, eggs, and embryos, or renting wombs. What we do have is a law (The Status of Children Amendment Act) which instantly installs the users of donated sperm or eggs as the legal parents of the resulting child, leaving no official trace of the child’s genetic origins.

The Adoption Act forbids running ads or paying money in connection with adoptions. But we’ve already had two cases of paid surrogacy which managed to evade any penalties.

Oh yes – we also have an ethics committee that’s supposed to approve any new procedures, like using other people’s embryos. But some of its decisions have already been overruled by the Human Rights Commission.

Who owns stored embryos? How long should they be kept? What if the couple who produced them split up and disagree about what should happen to them? Or a single man fronts up to a clinic with permission to use a stored embryo, and a surrogate mother in tow? Both are happening overseas.

New Zealand law is silent on these and many other reproductive technology issues. And the fertility gods know that. But they’re not letting a little thing like a legal vacuum stand in their way, when there are babies and money to be made.


© Anne Else 2001

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