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Eggs for Sale?

Brace yourself for the human embryo market.

May 20, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 34 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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AB 926 will also provide new business opportunities for the infertility industry by allowing qualified IVF companies to sell embryos and eggs “in excess of those needed for fertility.” Not only that, but the bill authorizes institutions to pay more to the IVF companies than they pay women directly, so long as the patient undergoing infertility treatment decides she does not need them “for her own reproductive success.” Once she signed a waiver, the clinic would be entitled to sell the remaining eggs or embryos for research at whatever price the market would bear. Talk about creating a financial incentive to make excess quantities.

There’s an irony here. Those pushing for egg and embryo selling tend to be on the political left, e.g., politicians and advocates who claim to be most supportive of “choices” for women. Indeed, assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, the author of AB 926, claims that the bill is about guaranteeing “equal treatment” for women in research.

But establishing egg and embryo commodities markets would actually lead to unequal exploitation opportunities for buyers. Those lining up to be superovulated for pay are unlikely to be members of the professional class. Rather, they would primarily be the poor and/or unemployed, women in such dire financial need that they are willing to risk their health, fecundity, and lives for a relatively small stipend. The real money in the embryo/egg industry would be made by the companies and scientists who succeeded in using the reproductive substances of women and embryonic cells to achieve fame and fortune.

And if eggs and embryos can be transformed into commodities, once artificial wombs are developed, why not also create a market in human fetuses? Scientists are already experimenting with the ovaries of later-term aborted female fetuses to determine if they can be used as sources of eggs. If fetal organs ever prove to be useful in transplant medicine, companies manufacturing genetically designed fetuses for harvest could be worth a fortune.

I can imagine an advocacy article in the New England Journal of Medicine 10 years or so from now asserting: “It is not clear how the sale of made-to-order fetuses differs ethically from the sale of made-to-order embryos or oocytes.” Why not? Once we demolish ethical barriers against the commercialization of nascent human life, there would be no end to the entrepreneurial possibilities.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults with the Patients Rights Council and the Center on Bioethics and Culture.

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