April 12, 2024


 The US Federal Drug Administration says that it will not investigate a Texas woman who is running a embryo brokerage business. However, the controversy over Jennalee Ryan’s company, the Abraham Center of Life, has highlighted the increasingly commercial nature of the American IVF industry. Ms Ryan, who used to be in the adoption business, says that selling embryos is far more convenient for prospective parents because they do not have to "kiss the butt" of alcohol and drug-addicted birth mothers or endure the humiliation of being screened by an adoption agency. Furthermore, it offers them choice. "Who wants an ugly, stupid kid?" she asks. "I mean, come on, if you choose yourself…"

Ms Ryan’s business is based on the economies of scale of creating a large number of embryos from a few women. She charges US$2,500 for each implantable embryo — far cheaper than a normal IVF procedure. She also guarantees high quality embryos: sperm donors must have PhDs and egg donors at least a college degree.

In a perceptive column in Slate, William Saletan predicts that the profit motive will extend the range of reproductive services that Ms Ryan and others like her will offer. "The logic of what Ryan is offering — more control, more customisation, higher quality, fewer hassles, lower cost, and lower risk — won’t end here." He foresees higher prices for higher IQs and integrating surrogacy into the process. "PhD embryos will cost more than BA embryos," he says.

Bioethicist John Robertson took an optimistic view. "People are already choosing sperm and egg donors in separate transactions. Combining them doesn’t pose any new major ethical problems." But Thomas Murray, of The Hastings Center, described it as a disturbing sign. He said that it privileged adults’ preferences and ignored children’s and established a "ludicrously inadequate standard for evaluating new reproductive technologies and practices — that it is okay to create a child as long as that child would not have been better off never being born"