Conceptual dilemmas Designer embryos: Egg and sperm selection create vexing choices for infertile couples.

November 28, 1997

THERE WAS a time when an infertile couple had only two choices: Remain childless or adopt. Now, the choices are both numerous and bewildering.

A woman can undergo in vitro fertilization, using her own egg and her husband's sperm. She can be artificially inseminated with the sperm of another man. Or a man can use his sperm to fertilize the egg from another woman, with embryo implanted in his wife's uterus who will then carry the fetus and give birth.

The latter option neatly circumvents the problems that can arise with a surrogate mother. But none of these options comes free of ethical dilemmas. The latest news from the fertility front involves the ability of some clinics to offer childless couples the chance to choose among frozen embryos that suit their own preferences.

The choices include information on the genetic parents' color of hair and eyes, national origin and educational background. Not too long ago, the notion of embryos made to order would have sounded far-fetched. No longer.

There are potential parents for whom these choices bring a sense of security. But giving birth to and rearing a child is inherently risky, no matter how confident parents might be of the genetic make-up of the child.

And despite the potential joy for childless couples, new fertility techniques bring with them ethical problems. To cite only one: Do children born from these frozen embryos have a right to know whether they have biological siblings and who those siblings are?

For those who firmly believe that life begins the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, there are even more troubling problems as frozen embryos become more common.

Medical science has clearly brought us many miraculous advances. Just as clearly, advances in fertility treatments are bringing plenty of troubling conceptual dilemmas.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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