Canadian couples with fertility problems can buy frozen eggs online from U.S. egg banks and have them shipped to clinics here, thanks to advances in reproductive technology and a void in government regulation.
It is technically illegal to buy human eggs from a donor in Canada. But people can chose an egg donor from an online catalog full of hair and eye colour options, send up to $12,000 to an egg bank in the U.S. and have a frozen egg couriered to a Canadian fertility clinic, CBC News has learned.
Clinics worldwide are using new technology to dehydrate eggs, freeze and then thaw them to use for in vitro fertilization by couples or by women with diseases like cancer that threaten their fertility.
Egg donor Rebecca Schippe of Phoenix was paid $3,500 each of the six times she’s has had her eggs harvested. Two of Shippe’s eggs have travelled to Canada.
"I just thought if I’m wasting these eggs every month, why not help someone to get pregnant?" said Schippe , who first thought of the idea after a girlfriend with endometriosis was having trouble conceiving.
Schippe said it was "pretty emotional" knowing someone would have a baby from her egg.
The time-consuming process took a lot of medical visits, missed work and injections, she said.
At the ISIS Regional Fertility Centre in Oakville, Ont., Dr. Matt Gysler said he has a dozen pregnancies underway using frozen eggs from the U.S.
"There's no travelling involved, there's no timing involved," Gysler said. "Everything becomes quite independent because because you can separate the egg collection process completely from the patient going through in order to achieve the pregnancy."
Even though it's illegal to buy or sell human eggs in Canada, eggs are imported from the U.S. with impunity.
Eggs are under legal limbo since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 16 months ago that provinces, not the federal government, should regulate most of the fertility industry.
Canadians have been able to buy frozen sperm from U.S. sperm banks for years and Gysler believes the rules should be the same for eggs.
Health Canada has a long list of rules about importing frozen sperm but none for the new area of frozen eggs.
"We don't have any jurisdiction over the eggs," Health Canada said.
Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, the agency that was supposed to roll out the regulations, oversee it and educate the industry, was shuttered in the federal budget.
"The AHR Act does not regulate the import of eggs," the agency said in an email.
It leaves a gaping hole for enforcement, said fertility lawyer Sherry Levitan in Toronto.
"No one is in charge of fertility regulation in Canada right now," said Levitan, who fields questions from the RCMP on the subject.