Baby Boom: The $50,000 Egg

With high-tech babies come high-tech quandaries. The latest: should people with bigger bucks be able to buy better genes? The question stems from an ad recently placed in Ivy League newspapers by an infertile couple seeking an "intelligent, athletic" egg donor who is at least 5 feet 10 and has an SAT score of 1400 or better. The payoff: $50,000 for one cycle's worth of viable eggs. "They want to be generous," says Thomas Pinkerton, an attorney for the "well-educated, tall" and anonymous couple.

The going rate for donors--whose eggs are fertilized with the intended father's sperm and then implanted in his partner's womb--is $1,500 to $5,000. That fee is intended not as reward money, says Dr. Benjamin Younger, head of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, but as compensation for potent hormone injections and minor surgery to retrieve the eggs. Some worry that upping the ante will turn the "gift of life" into a commodity. "We should not call this woman an egg donor," says Ruth Macklin of New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "She's a vendor."

The couple knows that money motivates. Last fall the same ad, with no dollar amount, got few responses. The new version drew 200-plus. But will they get what they pay for? A tall woman's eggs can harbor genes for shortness. "It's not like ordering a car with leather upholstery," says Macklin. Ethics aside, not even $50K can guarantee a genetic outcome-yet.

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