Designing Babies? Embryos from 'Ph.D. Sperm' and 'Attractive Eggs' for Sale

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Our modern fertility industry allows couples to shop for sperm donors like an online dating service. They specify hair and eye color, educational background…even screen for genetic diseases.

Egg donation is a growing option, with ads placed in Ivy League student newspapers, but no service had actually taken the next step of putting human embryos up for sale. Until now.

An Unconventional Matchmaker

Jennalee Ryan sees herself as a pioneer. She runs a fledgling company, the Abraham Center of Life, out of her spacious San Antonio home.

"We are the world's first donor-created human embryo bank, in that we're the only service out there that's actually creating embryos as a company for the purpose of infertile families to adopt," she explains.

Ryan is an unconventional matchmaker who buys sperm from labs that require donors to have doctorate degrees. She hires only attractive egg donors in their 20s with college educations. She then sends both the sperm and eggs to a doctor who creates the embryos. Price tag? $5,000 for a pair, which is what Ryan recommends.

But there has been some concern from the medical community that Ryan's company is not just selling embryos, but it is actually selling babies.

"Well, I think when somebody goes to an adoption agency, and they pay $40,000 to adopt a child, are they going to then say, 'I just bought my baby for $40,000?'" Ryan asked.

But there are bioethicists who say that what Ryan does comes very close to designing genetically desirable babies and putting them up for sale.

"In adoption you get kids that are here," said Art Caplan, a bioethicist from the University of Pennsylvania. "And they do need homes. In embryos, you're making something; you're creating something for sale."

'The Better Baby Angle'

And what about Ryan's claim that she's merely putting together egg donors and sperm donors?

"She's basically saying, 'I got Ph.D. donors. I got women who are college graduates. I have people who are gonna get you -- somehow or another, the suggestion [is] -- a better baby,'" Caplan said. "I think if she just said, 'I got embryos, wanna buy 'em?' she wouldn't be able to command a business. It's the 'better baby' angle that's really pulling people toward her operation."

Ryan disagreed, saying that it's harsh to judge couples who are desperate to have children and are willing to pay.

"Bioethicists disturb me," said Ryan. "An ethics committee made up of infertile couples will tell you that this is the most ethical thing in the world. The same committee with families who can have children are going to throw rocks and say it's not. So it depends on who the bioethicist is."

Let's Have a Family

Sherrie and Mike Baggett are Ryan's case in point. An attractive, college-educated couple in their mid-30s, they were high school sweethearts who at first put off having kids in favor of careers. Ryan says they are in the top 200 of a list of 450 clients from all around the world.

Mike Baggett is candid about his early thoughts on parenthood.

"I hate to say it, but I was probably kind of a little selfish at the start. And it took a little while for [my wife] to convince me that, 'it's time…let's have a family.'"

After five years of struggling to get pregnant, the Baggetts were forced into the emotionally fraught world of fertility treatments.

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