- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2000

DENVER - In cyberspace she is simply Profile No. 272: a white, 21- to 23-year-old with straight brown hair and average build. She has a flair for decorating and a facility for math. She doesn't smoke or drink and got B's in high school.

In the unwired world, she is Shevy Newman, a Fort Collins, Colo., single mother of a 2-year-old son, struggling to balance full-time work with full-time college. She is quick-witted, good-hearted and fertile.

On Oct. 27, Miss Newman became an egg donor, receiving $2,500 from an infertile couple living somewhere in the United States who also footed the bill for harvesting her eggs. She was picked from a list of more than 1,500 prospective donors on a Web site called Creating Families (www.eggdonor.net).

After a month of medical preparation, including a series of hormone injections to encourage her egg production, eggs were taken from Miss Newman's body and fertilized in a Colorado Springs laboratory with the unnamed husband's sperm. They then were implanted into yet another woman, who was paid $15,000 to act as a surrogate to carry the baby for nine months. She, too, remains anonymous; she was picked by the couple from a profile also posted on the Creating Families Web site.

It's too soon to know whether the pregnancy has taken. If it does, the couple's child will arrive next summer.

Egg and sperm donation is certainly nothing new. It's been around for years in clinics and doctors' offices as an alternative way to conceive. What is new is that the process has found its way onto the World Wide Web. With a click of the mouse, you now can scan the profiles of thousands of potential donors around the world, provided by agencies, clinics or individuals marketing themselves.

After studying pictures, personal profiles and medical histories, potential parents can pick from their computer screens the attributes they hope will show up in their children. Usually, people try to find donors who are similar to themselves.

Wendy Somers, founder of Creating Families, one of the nation's largest private egg-donor centers, says there is nothing creepy or nefarious about using cyberspace to help build families. "To me, it is just another medical choice," she says. "This is the future."

It all began 11 years ago when Mrs. Somers started Creating Families as an adoption agency because she, an infertile woman, was frustrated by the lack of resources available. It was a short leap to expand her business still run out of her home to also become the intermediary between would-be parents and egg donors or surrogates.

The idea of third-party egg donation is technically no different from what's being done every day at fertility clinics with in vitro fertilization. The only difference is that a stranger's egg is being used rather than the biological mother's. Creating Families does not work with sperm donations.

Five years ago Mrs. Somers went on line, providing basically the same information about potential donors, surrogates and families that she did before, but to a much wider audience. She says she serves about 50 clients a year, representing enormous growth in her business since 1994.

"Go to the Internet and see 1,500 donors, or go to a doctor and let them pick for you. Which is creepier?" she says.

Still, some medical professionals are wary of the commercialization of reproduction.

"Eggs and sperm shouldn't be sold; people shouldn't be bought or sold," says Dr. David Adamson, a California fertility specialist and past president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

Especially troublesome to him is the recent publicity surrounding California photographer Ron Harris' Web site that offers the eggs and sperm of female and male models to the highest bidder. That Web site (www.ronsangels.com) urges potential parents to dig deep into their pocketbooks to boost the odds that their children will be beautiful. Bids begin at $15,000 and go to $150,000.

"It comes down to pure exploitation," Dr. Adamson says.

He also worries that the public will see such exploits and believe all people using reproductive technology are trying to scientifically engineer the perfect child. He said that while he has no problem with the Internet's being used as a tool to get more chances and choices to frustrated would-be parents, he worries because it is unregulated.

Mrs. Somers says she is well aware of the potential problems in opening up assisted reproduction to a mass market. In her agency, a potential donor is asked for an extensive medical history dating back to her grandparents and undergoes a standardized psychological test. General health and gynecological testing is done by the prospective parents' doctor before the harvesting procedure.

As with adoption, the process involves trust on both sides, Mrs. Somers says. Although there are guidelines, she adds, there is no legal oversight of the industry. She urges would-be parents to operate on a "buyer beware" philosophy.

A couple in the District of Columbia turned to Creating Families after trying for five years to conceive. The husband, who asked that his name not be used, was searching the Internet for options when he found the Colorado agency offering egg donors. He liked the idea because his wife, 46, wanted to experience pregnancy.

Last summer, they flew to Colorado and the egg of a young woman was fertilized with his sperm and transferred to his wife's uterus. His wife now is 17 weeks pregnant and the baby is healthy. They have started shopping for the nursery and are enrolled in parenting classes.

A scientist himself, he said the technological aspects of the procedure didn't bother him. He is more concerned about the negative spin some news agencies and religious groups have put on the process, painting couples like them as self-absorbed and impulsive.

"Nobody does this as a first choice," he says.

In many cases, couples unable to conceive view egg donation and surrogacy as preferable to adoption because of the genetic link with the father.

There is some worry among all involved in the process that a donor or a surrogate will have difficulty giving up the child once her role is complete. Miss Newman said she knows that her link to the child she helped conceive is over. Although she needs the money, her reason for being a donor goes deeper.

"I am giving someone the gift of a child," she says. "I wanted to give someone what I was able to have with my son."

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