Purchasing a human egg in the U.S. is a complex decision clouded by confusion over the cross-border trade, says an Ottawa woman pregnant with such a donor egg.
Claudia is 37 weeks pregnant and eagerly awaiting parenthood. She wouldn't allow CBC News to use her name to protect the privacy of her forthcoming child.
"You have to weigh the different options in front you, which are today egg donation or adoption," Claudia said. "Once you realize how complex, how complicated, how lengthy the entire adoption process is, then egg donation looks very good."
'We see disproportionately a good number of Canadians and the principal reason is the restrictive law about egg donation in Canada.' —N.Y. fertililty specialist Dr. Gleicher Norbert
Claudia has premature ovarian aging, and she said it would be almost impossible to conceive naturally.
For her, choosing the anonymous egg donor was similar to choosing a mate. She weighed the personality, educational background, ethnic background, medical and genetic aspects that could affect the child.
A frozen egg donation wasn't yet an option when Claudia was looking. Cryopreservation or egg freezing technology lifts the geographic and timing restrictions of using fresh eggs.
A royal commission, several parliamentary committees, an act of Parliament and a federal agency have all debated reproductive technologies, touching on a quagmire of legal, social and ethical issues that include the exploitation of surrogates and the sale of sperm and eggs before the advent of cryopreservation.
Prof. Françoise Baylis, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University in Halifax, advised the royal commission and later sat on the board of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada before she quit in frustration in 2010 over concerns about its management.
Officially, it is against the law to pay for eggs and sperm in Canada, but enforcement of the rules is unclear. It was Health Canada's job to write the regulations, but that never happened, Baylis said.
"If it was seen to be important, if children and women mattered, we would have done something," Baylis said. "We are in a shameful place."
Baylis believes that women, couples, children and the Canadian population overall are worse off without a clear context for using reproductive technologies that are grounded in a core set of ethical values, such as preventing exploitation.
"We have had basically an unregulated situation in Canada even though we have legislation," said Maureen McTeer, a founding member of the Royal Commission on Reproductive and Genetic Technologies.
The unregulated landscape of the industry is a problem, said Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews.
"I think clearly there is a gap," Matthews said. "I think it is important that the federal government catches up with the improvements in technology" that were not anticipated.
"We are seeing tremendous strides being made so that more people can have the family that they dream of and government needs to keep up with those changes."
At the Center for Human Reproduction in New York City, fertility specialist Dr. Norbert Gleicher has Canadian patients arrive every week.
"We see disproportionately a good number of Canadians and the principal reason is the restrictive law about egg donation in Canada," said Gleicher.
By not allowing payments for egg donations in Canada, the availability of eggs is limited, Norbert said. Patients from Quebec are also coming to his clinic instead of facing that province's restriction on multiple embryo transfers.
For her part, Claudia thinks it would be better to pay a Canadian for an egg rather than face the extra burden of turning to the U.S.