Controversial Embryo Bank Lets Would-Be Parents Choose Traits of Children

Jan. 8, 2007 — -- Imagine a baby that was made-to-order, with eye color, hair color and other characteristics predetermined.

Thanks to a controversial new embryo bank, these "designer babies," as critics describe them, are no longer science fiction. They're reality, and they're fueling a heated debate.

The Abraham Center of Life in San Antonio lets parents choose the physical traits and even personality of the donors. Would-be parents unable to have children naturally say the bank is a dream come true.

"People want babies. We can make them babies. What's the big deal?" said Jennalee Ryan, who runs the center.

Ryan lets her clients choose the race, education, appearance, and other genetic traits of individual sperm and egg donors. So far, all of the embryos created by her company are white, from young, healthy, college-educated donors.

"As far as I'm concerned, [it's] not only ethical. What I'm doing, it's very moral," Ryan said.

Clients Say Genetic Perfection Isn't the Goal

One client emphasized that while she appreciated the ability to choose certain traits, she didn't care about genetic perfection.

"What I was really looking for was blond hair, blue eyes, so the child would look similar to me," she said. "What I'm looking to do is accomplish what might be more fulfilling in my life. I can't use genetics, so I need to turn to someone else for help."

Hopeful parents have long been able to find out the ethnicity, education and other traits about sperm and egg donors, separately. What makes this service unique is the one-stop shopping aspect -- the Abraham Center offers fertilized eggs -- and that worries some bioethicists.

"Human beings are not commodities. They're not products. They're not things that ought to be manufactured, and bought and sold. They're not subject to quality controls," said professor Robert George, a bioethicist at Princeton University.

But Ryan says she's just giving her clients what they want.

"People that come to me aren't doing it because they want designer babies," Ryan said. "They just want a baby."