Ova for Sale: Sperm Now Included

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Over at Slate, Will Saletan considers the business logic of embryo selling:

What if you hired two highly fertile and desirable donors, combined their eggs and sperm in one IVF round, made a big batch of embryos, and sold the embryos a pair a time? Why buy retail when you can buy wholesale?

[Jennalee Ryan] charges $2,500 per embryo. Two women split the first batch; a third has signed a contract for two embryos from the second batch. Ryan figures each batch costs about $22,000 to make. The yield from the first round was 26 embryos. With 300 buyers on her waiting list, Ryan is well positioned to sell out each lot. At $2,500 per unit, a batch of 26 viable embryos would gross $65,000 and net $43,000.

Why the flat fees? It's a lot easier to get away with using the word donation if prices don't fluctuate with demand. Officially, the company is just compensating donors; selling tissue is arguably illegal. And yet as Ryan herself notes, she is stockpiling desirable traits: white skin, blue eyes, blond hair. The flat fees, as Saletan points out, won't last. Payment for eggs can range from $3,500 to $35,000 or more, and sperm prices vary as well.

Other than the possible avoidance of legal trouble, there is no reason to sell the finished product at a fixed price. I get the feeling Ryan is just testing the water here, and she'll soon be basing the price of the embryos on the SAT scores, race, and physical desirability of the donors.

That said, I'm not at all convinced of a huge market for ready-made embryos. Women buy ova not to make superbabies, but because of infertility issues and heritable disease. They want babies that look like them, and more to the point, like their partners. The entire process of anonymous ova donation is geared toward erasing the identity of the donor, of reclaiming the baby as a product of the partnership between the intended mother and actual father. Collecting genetic material from two strangers, rather than one, will make that process more difficult and the product less desirable.

Ron Bailey was onto JennaLee Ryan's embryo-Mart back in August, and I put my eggs on the auction block in October.

NEXT: Too Darn Hot

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  1. “The entire process of anonymous ova donation is geared toward erasing the identity of the donor, of reclaiming the baby as a product of the partnership between the intended mother and actual father. Collecting genetic material from two strangers, rather than one, will make that process more difficult and the product less desirable.”

    The whole notion of spending oodles of money to make a baby is a little odd so start with. I am certain there are a few people willing to mix up a batch of “strange” and just love the little progeny to death nine months later. Sanity is defined at the margins.

  2. As a libertarian I am all for personal rights, so I think a woman should be able to Taylor a baby like she wants, if she wants. It should never be forced, no matter what, even if they want to get rid of a disease.

    However I find nothing wrong with good old baby making, if it doesn’t work keep doing it, at the very least you’ll be happy after each try.

    If you want a smart kid, try reading to him as early as possible, reading will increase his intelligence. Be a parent and he will end up smart and a “good citizen”

  3. I don’t see any reason to do anything about it, but this business has a rather high ick factor to me. Maybe it’s that she defines ‘desirable traits’ as blue eyes and blond hair. Of course, I also think the biggest problem she’s going to have was well-articulated in a joke about the supermodel egg bank and the Nobel prize sperm bank. “What if the kid gets his looks and her brains?”

  4. Of course, I also think the biggest problem she’s going to have was well-articulated in a joke about the supermodel egg bank and the Nobel prize sperm bank. “What if the kid gets his looks and her brains?”

    Then you terminate that embryo in utero and start again. Maybe they will even make the 2d fertilization at half price.

    Disappointed that Fyodor didn’t show, but, as with our last conversation on the subject, I am worried that they will set the price point on intelligence really high because the customers who care will be willing to pay for a degree of exclusivity.

  5. “selling tissue is arguably illegal”

    Is that in the constitution or just the bill of rights?

  6. Whatever happened to adoption?

    Also I though buying and selling of people went out with the civil war…

  7. “What if you hired two highly fertile and desirable donors, combined their eggs and sperm in one IVF round, made a big batch of embryos, and sold the embryos a pair a time?”

    Don’t give Brad and Angelina any ideas.

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