'Test-Tube Babies R Us': the instant parenthood factory

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Indy Lifestyle Online

If your own country won't allow you to use your own recipe to make a baby, some clinic in the reproductive wild west of the US probably will. As long as you come up with the cash.

Jeanine Salomone proved that when, forbidden because of her age to have IVF treatment in her native France, she bought an plane ticket and went to California. A donor provided eggs, her brother the sperm, a surrogate provided one womb, and Jeanine herself the other. For its efforts, the clinic was paid approximately £100,000.

There is no comprehensive regulatory scheme for IVF in the US, apart from some state laws. The technology has been developed and advanced in the private sector. Would-be egg and sperm "donors" can and do advertise. Selling points include "European features," "soft eyes," "trim," and "athletic." About two years ago, the advert for an egg donor published in several American college newspapers specified height (1.78 metres), intelligence (high score on an entrance exam given to all college applicants), and medical history (no major problems in the family). Reward: $50,000.

More than 400 clinics operate with no federal money and little federal oversight. Guidelines have been developed by the industry but compliance is voluntary. There is also no existing federal law against human cloning; there is only a ban on the use of federal funding for such research.

The US is not a pure democracy, but a federation of sovereign states. National power is a power of last resort, and along with American trust in the free market comes a corresponding distrust in government. Then there is the cowardice of elected officials when faced with what is often called "the third rail of American politics" ­ abortion. And anything that involves embryos. This includes IVF and embryonic stem cell research. The preferred course has been to leave this sort of thing to the private sector. It was just easier that way. Unfortunately, it will not be easier for at least some of the children produced for well-heeled, reproductive tourists. For the US, that should be an embarrassment.

Arlene Judith Klotzko, a bioethicist and lawyer, is writer- in-residence at the Science Museum. Her anthology, 'The Cloning Sourcebook', is published next month by Oxford University Press

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