Bargain priced IVF with a money back guarantee

An infertility clinic in California has come up with a new marketing strategy for IVF. The Los Angeles Times reports that the clinic offers up to three rounds of IVF using embryos produced in batches from paid sperm and egg donors and uses the embryos to implant in multiple women to reduce the cost of having an IVF baby to $12,500 with a guarantee that if the recipient is not able to achieve a pregnancy after three tries the fee will be refunded. The lower than usual cost is achieved by splitting the cost of obtaining the eggs and sperm between 3 or 4 recipients for each batch of embryos, and the success rate of 95% with half of the recipients having twins makes the money back guarantee feasible. The high success rate is due to the use of eggs and sperm from healthy young adults without known fertility problems. It appears that mass production and industrial efficiency has found its way to the IVF clinic.

The ethical concerns are legion. The embryos are created as a product to be sold by the clinic and belong to the clinic, not to parents until they are implanted. The selling of eggs and sperm is concerning because it commodifies a part of a human being. This process commodifies the embryos themselves. The recipients are given profiles on the sperm and egg donors and it does not take much imagination to see how this process could be used to order the child that a couple desires from a catalogue. At this point the money back guarantee is for a successful pregnancy, but it opens the door to a guarantee of an acceptable child. Can you take the child back in adolescence if he or she is not what you expected? Some parents may already be tempted to think about that.

The use of eggs or sperm that are not those of the parents who will be raising the child causes confusion of family relationships for the child. One wonders if the clinic should be considered a fifth parent for the child in addition to the two biological donor parents, the gestating mother and her partner (assuming she has one). How is the child supposed to react to the knowledge that he or she has multiple fraternal twins (octuplets or more) in existence being raised by unknown families who he or she may run into in the future?

As long as the production of babies is seen as an industry it is inevitable that manufacturing efficiency will play a role and human lives will be sold as commodities. And the value of all of us as human beings is diminished.

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Jon Holmlund

Well, I imagine that the cost reduction will be hailed as a major step in the direction of economic justice and cost control. After all, as I read elsewhere (don’t recall the source or link at the moment), NICE in Britain has approved PHS payment for IVF for infertile or same-sex couples while still being reluctant to pay for some quite effective medicines, particularly for cancer. To the excellent list of ethical concerns we might add selective embryo “reduction” (we aren’t told how many embryos are obtained), and the ethics of egg donation, in particular, in light of potential risks… Read more »