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International Baby Maker

August 18, 2010|

David Sher.jpg

David Sher, CEO of Elite-IVF gets ready to enter a sterile lab in Cyprus.

David Sher, CEO of Elite-IVF gets ready to enter a sterile lab in Cyprus.

As the global market for human eggs grows more international each year, the future of fertility markets may be in the hands of people like David Sher, the founder and CEO of Elite IVF a fertility services company that connects international clinics and donors with paying patients in Western countries. The sales pitch is simple; it all comes down to money. The introductory message on Elite IVF's website boasts, "Egg donors from across the globe are coming to a clinic near you." Or, if patients are willing to jump a plane to another country, they could save 30% on egg donation. Depending on the type of services they want, costs range from 14,000 to 24,000 dollars.

"The technology is at a point now where we could basically FedEx you a baby," he says as we sit at a swanky seaside hotel in Limassol. His network of hospitals connects patients all over the world to clinics in Cyprus, Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Romania and Canada. His staff of 14 oversees the connecting flights for patients and donors negotiating favorable rates with fertility clinics in different countries and locating egg donors and surrogate mothers for patients. "Donors are always in short supply, if someone wants to donate and they are qualified, you don't want to let that go," he says, adding that recently Elite has cut down on flying donors in because of logistical difficulties and quality control, where some egg donors were improperly prepared in clinics abroad. "In the past we had an aggressive program for bringing in donors from outside of Cyprus, from Russia and the whole Eastern European bloc. Patients prefer to come here because no one wants to go to Bucharest for IVF. All of the action is here."

As nations around the world try to regulate fertility markets, Sher plays something of a spoiler, looking for loopholes between international regulations that allow paying customers to gain access to treatments that are too expensive or illegal in their home jurisdictions. According to a report released this year by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology there are almost 25,000 IVF cycles preformed on fertility tourists every year in Europe alone. More than 50 percent of the people travel for fertility treatments in order to circumvent legal regulations in their home countries.

Elite-IVF follows a well established business model to divide labor and production costs across jurisdictions and keep prices low. The same way that a sneaker can be made in a Chinese factory for less, Elite IVF has removed the production of children from a discrete and sweaty encounter to something that takes place in a laboratories and wombs across the world. The results can be bewildering.

Take for example two of Sher's most recent customers: Dr. Lavi Aron and his partner Omer Shatzky. They are an Israeli gay couple living in Tel Aviv who desperately wanted children but were confined by both biology and legal regulations that outlawed surrogacy. Through Elite-IVF they flew to Mexico City where they used the eggs of an Eastern European woman and created three fertilized embryos with both men's sperm. They implanted the embryos into the womb of an American surrogate mother and the embryos developed into fraternal twins one girl, one boy—and one from each father. The surrogate then traveled back to the United States where surrogacy contracts are enforceable. The surrogate delivered twins (defacto American citizens) and then the new parents returned to Israel with their child.

When I ask him what he thinks the industry will look like in ten years, he sits back and muses on the possibility. He says that American parents are extremely particular about choosing the types of babies they want, from eye color, to genetic history, college background, attractiveness and SAT scores. "The future is designer babies." Adding, "A former patient of mine, a man with more than 100 million dollars, said he wanted to start a farm for babies. Surrogates in Asia would carry the eggs of super donors from America—models with high-SAT scores who get paid $100,000 for their eggs. We would charge one million dollars per baby and sell them to his friends. My answer was a flat no. It's just too strange. But there is a market for that. It is only a matter of time until someone does it."