Jennalee Ryan of Texas advertises "The World's First Human Embryo Bank" online. There's no need for would-be parents to settle for already-born babies or leftover embryos from couples with fertility issues. Ryan sent out a letter that explains, "Recipient parents will receive pictures of the donors as infants, and sometimes as adults; full medical background and health reports, and a family history." Her group, The Abraham Center of Life, uses sperm donors only with college degrees -- although "most of them have doctorate degrees" -- while most egg donors have some college.
O Brave New World that has such Petri dishes in it. Prospective parents can pick the sperm and the eggs to produce their designer babies. Ryan even says she can find a surrogate mother to carry the fetus to term.
Ryan would not give me the names of any clinic or any doctor with whom she works -- so I could not verify that she can deliver on her claims. Buyer beware. But her announcement has bioethicists in a lather. In response to a British story on Ryan's work, the Weblog for the American Journal of Bioethics wrote, "Welcome back to the Wild, Wild West of Assisted Reproduction."
Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that even if Ryan is operating out of her own freezer, even if she is -- excuse the pun -- a "mom-and-pop entrepreneur, there will be bigger fish swimming in pretty soon." Why? "The demand is there. The behavior of people selling sperm and eggs is wild enough; there's no reason to think this isn't the natural next step in making babies: embryos to order."
Aren't you selling designer babies? I ask Ryan over the phone last week.
"Designer babies? Yeah. Why not?" she replies with a laugh. For years, she adds, sperm banks have required college degrees from donors, and she often uses a sperm bank that requires sperm from Ph.D.s. "Does that make it a designer baby because they have a Ph.D.? But why wouldn't I use someone with a Ph.D. versus a truck driver? It's all the same cost."
"You know why I did it? Because I could." Ryan explains. She started Abigails Silver Spoons Adoptions, Inc. years ago, and while that enterprise continues, Ryan saw a new market in embryos.
If a couple tries to adopt a baby, but the birth mother changes her mind, that couple can be out $10,000 -- with no baby to show for it. If a couple wants to adopt a frozen embryo, the couple usually is screened by the embryo's parents (if you will) -- and with frozen embryos the success rate is around 30 percent.