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Fertile Ground: The Business of Baby-Making

The Vancouver Sun,  Jan 15, 2011
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As more Canadians are turning to science to help start a family, the country’s fertility laws have fallen behind the times, with few rules governing what’s legal or morally acceptable when it comes to artificially making babies — and what’s not.

Some fertility doctors are still routinely implanting three or more embryos into women, increasing the risk of twins, triplets or quadruplets, as well as the risk of fatal outcomes or lifelong complications among the babies that survive.

The RCMP is investigating at least two cases of alleged buying and selling of human reproductive material — sperm or eggs cells, or surrogate wombs. And women in India are bearing babies for infertile Canadian couples who are travelling abroad to circumvent the criminal ban against the hiring of surrogates in this ­country.

An Ottawa doctor and Order of Canada recipient, Dr. Norman Barwin, is also facing two civil lawsuits alleging he inseminated two women with the wrong sperm, allegations he denies; the families are seeking a court order requiring the doctor be tested “to conclusively rule out the possibility that he is the donor whose sperm was used.”

Fertility doctors are offering women the chance to bank their frozen eggs for “reproductive safekeeping,” even though many members of their own profession say egg freezing for fertility preservation is experimental and unproven.

The list of controversies continues to grow.

A sperm-injecting technique that allows once-infertile men to father a child is increasingly being used despite concerns over its safety. The adult children who were born decades ago to anonymous sperm donors are going to court to find out who their fathers are. And alarms are being raised about the growing and aggres­sive use of drugs that stimulate a woman’s ovaries to churn out more eggs than she could ever produce on her own.

In the 33 years since Louise Brown, the world’s first baby conceived in a petri dish, was born, advances in artificial procreation have made once-unimaginable conceptions possible. A single sperm can be plucked up in a glass pipette and injected head first into an egg, allowing men who produce almost no sperm to father a child. Egg donation is making it possible for women with poor or ­zero ovarian function to carry a baby. Babies are being “conceived” using donor eggs, donor sperm and surrogate mothers — meaning with no genetic ties whatsoever to the “recipient” parents.

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