August 08, 2006

John Robertson on Hyperventilating Over Embryo Banks

Guest blogger John Robertson of The University of Texas at Austin law school writes:
I’m mystified by the recent kerfluffle over the purported “made-to-order” embryo bank in San Antonio, Texas. The Director of the Abraham Center has cleverly generated international publicity for her center without giving us any proof that people are using it or would to any significant extent. Here are a few thoughts on why a center that brokers coordinated egg and sperm donations to treat a subset of fertiliy patients should not divert us from more pressing topics.

The first reason is that there is likely to be little demand for it. Cases of simultaneous gametic insufficiency with ability to gestate are a very narrow subset of infertility patients. Couples in that category might prefer two separate egg and sperm donations over the medical and social complications of leftover embryos from infertile couples. Since it is logical and reasonable to allow some selection in obtaining sperm and eggs, the fact that they chosen together and then are combined in vitro before transfer should not in itself be a problem.

A doctor will be involved in obtaining the eggs from the donor and transferring them to the recipient. That is a fiduciary relationship, with duties to protect donors and recipients. Duties to offspring are less clear, but professional guidelines and ethical duties require some attention to whether the recipient will be able to provide child-rearing.

Aside from the sirenic horror of “selling” embryos, the idea of brokering arrangements between egg and sperm donors and recipients makes sense. Adoption agencies are brokerage agencies. So are the sperm banks that procure sperm and distribute it to recipients, and the individuals getting surrogates and couples or egg donors and couples together. The Abraham Center appears to be an adoption agency that is now branching into gamete and surrogacy brokerage.

Surely one is not objecting to all brokerage arrangements for gamete donation. There is room for abuse and consumer protection is needed. But brokering coordinated egg and sperm donations seems no more offensive than brokering separate egg, sperm, and gestational surrogacy arrangements. The Snowflake organization does it for embryo donation, just as adoption agencies do it for born children.

My guess is that it is all hype. If there is a problem, let’s fix it. But no one has shown what the problem is.

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