Couple lead rush for `smart babies'

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INCREASING NUMBERS of infertile British women are travelling to the United States to buy "intelligent eggs" from Ivy League students for up to pounds 15,000.

One young, professional couple from London has just conceived after selecting a donor with an IQ of 152 on the Internet. British law does not allow a woman to be paid for donating her eggs and the demand far outweighs the supply. Currently, 5,000 women are waiting for donor eggs.

Fertility clinics in the US are offering eggs from students at top universities with high IQs who identify themselves as having drive and ambition.

"Intelligence is one of the main attributes people are looking for. Future parents are often more willing to be flexible on health history than they are on academic achievement and intelligence," said Teri Royal, director of the California-based Options National Fertility Registry.

The woman who bought eggs via the Internet, a 31-year-old lawyer, said: "We wanted someone with a good college education, who was intelligent with a cheerful personality."

The woman, who has been married for six years, had failed to conceive using fertility drugs. She turned to the service in the US because she did not want to wait for an egg donor in Britain - a minimum of three years. "I have wanted to be a mother all my life and was devastated when I could not conceive naturally," she said.

One in six couples in Britain has problems conceiving.

In 1997, 800 egg donors came forward but the discrepancy between supply and demand means that many couples wait several years for an egg.

Money is usually the incentive for the American college students who donate eggs. Mary Johnson, a 26-year-old accountant from Los Angeles who has an IQ of 150, has donated eggs three times at pounds 2,000 each time.

"The first time was at the end of my final year at college when I was desperate to pay off my university debts," said Ms Johnson, who is single and childless. Two sets of twin boys have been produced from her donor eggs.

"I would not have done it if there had been no financial compensation. There is a lot of time and effort involved and it is a difficult physical process. You really have to want to help people, too, to go through with it," she said.

Fertility clinics in Britain say that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's rule of allowing only egg donors' expenses to be paid was ambiguous. "We can pay their expenses but we cannot pay them directly," said Professor Ian Craft, director of the London Gynaecology and Fertility centre. "It is not very honourable; a controlled payment would be much more satisfactory. We should be able to offer a selection of donors here. It is not right that couples are forced into going abroad for fertility treatment."