Law against paying egg donors drives couples to U.S.

Some Canadian couples trying to conceive say the country's laws prohibiting compensation for egg donors is driving them underground or across the border.

Some Canadian couples trying to conceive say the country's laws prohibiting compensation for egg donors is driving them underground or across the border.

Although it is illegal to compensate egg donors in Canada, women told CBC News they would undergo a fertility drug cycle that usually results in about 20 human eggs for $5,000 and $7,000.

Under the Assisted Human Reproduction Technology Act passed in 2004 to prevent cloning, it's not illegal for women to sell eggs, but it is illegal to buy them. Seeking donor eggs or sperm is legal.

Anyone convicted of buying eggs can face a fine of up to $500,000 or 10 years in jail.

Many fertility experts agree thatfew women will go through the intense drug therapy necessary to donate eggs for free.

Couples go on fertility vacations

After repeated attempts at expensive in vitro fertilization with negative results, Anne and her husband did what many infertile couples are doing: went on a fertility vacation to the U.S., where compensation services are legal.

"You feel like you're doing something wrong," said Anne, who does not want her last name used because of the circumstances surrounding the birth of her baby girl.

"You do know that it's not accepted in Canada, soyou dofeel a little bit like you're breaking the law. You're kind of reluctant to really say exactly what you're going there for, or coming home from. You do feel a little bit like a criminal."

The couple contacted an American clinic, went through its list of donors, picked one they liked and eventually did IVF twice with donor eggs, paying $25,000 US each time. Each time,about $3,000 of the fee went to the donor as payment for her eggs.

No one is sure how far the Canadian law reaches. For instance, while clinics in Canada refuse to deal with anyone who has paid for eggs in this country, it's a different matter if they've paid a donor in the U.S.

A couple may use an American clinic, pay for eggs from a younger donor, whichare more likely to produce a pregnancy, create embryos on the U.S. side of the border, pack them in a freezer tank and drive them back to Canada.

'Is that a violation of the law or not?'

Canadian clinics will then implant the U.S.-made embryos.

"Is that a violation of the law or not?" asked Dr. Roger Pierson, a fertility doctor in Saskatoon who is with Canada's Fertility and Andrology Society. "There are many, many technologies that would be deemed illegal in Canada, but are easily circumvented by simply driving across the border."

"We don't have customs agents trained to ask questions beyond 'Have you bought new tires for your car?' We don't have them ask people if they achieved a pregnancy while they were abroad."

Pierson is frustrated with Canada's laws, which he calls "political quavering" on an emotional issue that is based in everyday science.

In the meantime, American agencies field calls from Canadians who want to be parents, asking which services are available and how the law works in Canada.

"I'm constantly getting calls," said Stephanie Scott, who runs the Texas-based agency Simple Surrogacy, whichmatches couples with surrogates willing to carry their babies.