It’s been illegal for 10 years in Canada to buy sperm or ova, but Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête has learned that some clinics and agencies are helping infertile couples circumvent the law.

Alexis Rainwater, who lives in Missouri, came to Montreal in August to make a special delivery  her eggs.

Rainwater got $6,500 when she delivered them to an infertile Montreal woman, and said the recipient wanted to keep the transaction confidential at all costs.

“She wanted no paper trail that I had gotten paid. So the attorney was wired the money, and the attorney wired the money to me,” Rainwater said.

Canadian law prohibits buying or trafficking eggs, and offenders could face severe penalties, although there is no penalty for selling one's eggs. 

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Alexis Rainwater, an American from Missouri, came to Montreal last summer to sell her eggs for $6,500. (Radio-Canada)

Anyone who violates the Assisted Human Reproduction Act could be fined up to $500,000 or face 10 years in jail.

The law has led to a shortage of egg donors, and the trend of cross-border trading seems to be expanding to meet the growing demand.

When an Enquête employee called about 30 fertility clinics across Canada, posing as an infertile woman seeking an egg donor, five clinics referred her to specialized agencies based in the United States.

Many of the agencies send donors to Canada — and some even offer Canadian egg donors.

Blurred legal lines

The legalities surrounding the use of American egg donor agencies are unclear.

Health Canada told Enquête in a written statement that “in general, there may not be any violation of the law if the financial transaction takes place entirely abroad.”

Officials at the McGill Reproductive Centre say they prefer to adhere to strict rules.

“When we know that donors were remunerated for the process, we do not accept to take them on for treatment here,” said Lise Doiron, a managing nurse that the McGill Reproductive Centre.

The Canadian fertility clinics that referred Enquête’s caller to U.S. egg donor agencies refused to comment.