Ryan says that with proven egg and sperm donors, "medical experts predict that the pregnancy rate is closer to 70 percent." I'll ask the American Society for Reproductive Medicine about that, I tell her. Ryan says they'll confirm her number, but ASRM Sean Tipton spokesman flatly refuses to do so.
He wonders if Ryan is a third-party broker, because she is not a member of his medical group. No, she says, she is "a business."
It also turns out that the embryo bank is not really a bank. "When we say an embryo bank, it's not like a closet," Ryan explains. "We have embryos at different clinics." How many? Again, Ryan would not supply their names, but she says she has 32 embryos and "they're all spoken for." When she has another backlog and knows what her clients want, she'll cook up a new batch.
Caplan can't stand the language used in the embryo biz. Don't call them egg donors and sperm donors, he says. Call them "egg sellers and sperm sellers." (In case you're wondering, Ryan's site lists the egg donor's fee as $3,500 to $15,000, although, "exceptional and repeat donors will often receive higher compensation.")
As for Ryan's statement that, "Egg donation is a safe, simple procedure that requires little more than several scheduled doctor appointments and the administration of fertility medication, " Caplan disagrees. "That's too kindly a description," he says, citing women who have died using fertility drugs.
Caplan believes that the United States should be regulating the embryo trade. He asks: "Who the hell are they and how do we know that these numbers are true?"
William Hurlbut of Stanford University, a member of the president's Council on Bioethics, a White House advisory council, looked at Ryan's Web site and noted that the practices she advertises are happening, although, "This would be one of those realms where it would be pretty hard to detect fraud."
Caplan asks, "How do we get to the point where you go to jail if you go up to someone on the street and say, 'Do you want to buy my child for $10,000?' You'd think they were barbaric, immoral, heinous people. But if they come down the street and say, 'Hey, there's an Internet site. Do you want to buy an egg, sperm and surrogate mother?' We think they're just entrepreneurs. What's going on here?"
I wonder: If would-be parents choose sperm and eggs to design an ideal child, what's next? Will there be a world led by designer babies and serviced by us undesigned folk?
Ryan tells me, "As of right now, there is no regulation. You know how it works? If there is no law against it, it's legal."