For years now, ever since the Assisted Human Reproduction Act became law back in 2004 and prohibited the purchase of donor gametes from a donor or a person acting on behalf of a donor, most donor sperm used in Canada has been imported via the U.S. or other countries. The problem? Here it is: at this point, most egg banks in the U.S. offer only anonymously donated eggs. To make a long story short, whether or not this is legal is a nuanced answer where the devil is in the details but suffice it to say that I think it is possible to carefully work within the confines of the AHRA to import ova into Canada in a legal manner.
There has been a veritable flood of articles in Canadian media recently about the practice of California IVF: Davis Fertility Center Inc. creating embryos to sell to clients to be used in IVF. Based on my conversations with fertility lawyers and clinicians, the ethical concern and associated uproar isn't about the sale of embryos per se, but about clinicians creating embryos at their discretion without any particular parents in mind, using the characteristics that the clinicians determine are most likely in demand. This is what is so upsetting to so many.
For the first time ever the majority of women giving birth today are over the age of 30. Statistics Canada reports this is about two and a half time the percentage in 1974. This matters as a woman's fertility starts to decline at age 28. In fact, one in six couples trying to have a child are infertile. Do these medical facts mean that we should stop encouraging women to be fully contributing members of our economy? Absolutely not! On the contrary, it means government policy must begin to keep pace with modern realities and available medical technologies.
"Reproductive tourism" is the practice of infertile people crossing international borders to receive technologically advanced reproductive services. Indeed, the international fertility trade is now big business, with India having recently emerged as the likely world leader in providing services -- most controversially the hiring of surrogate mothers -- at comparatively low costs. In our recent paper we attempted to elucidate some of the factors that make the maternal surrogacy industry ethically troubling to many people. On one hand, it's hard not to celebrate a poor woman's opportunity to pull herself out of poverty by exercising her autonomy over her body. On the other hand, there's no denying that when the poor and illiterate enter into a commercial relationship with people of greater wealth and power, there's usually more than a soupcon of exploitation involved.