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Frozen human egg buyers may face prosecution

Canada's fertility industry operates in a legal limbo that offers no protection to women having treatment, lawyers say.

It's illegal to buy human eggs within Canada, but eggs frozen using new technology freely cross from the U.S. border without checks by Canadian regulators.

"There's no protection in place right now for women who are undergoing the treatment," said Sherry Levitan, a lawyer who specializes in assisted human reproductive technology in Toronto.

Egg freezing, or cryopreservation, is a new technological option that became available in the last few years, lifting the geographic barriers of using fresh donor eggs.

People simply click through an online catalogue that offers various eye, hair colour and blood type options for anonymous donor eggs. Clients pay a fee of up to $12,000 to a U.S. egg bank that ships the frozen material in specially chilled thermos.

"It is a big business now and the question Canadians have to ask now is, 'Do we want baby making to be big business?'" said Maureen McTeer, a founding member of the Royal Commission on Reproductive and Genetic Technologies between 1989 and 1991.

The royal commission debated reproductive technologies, touching on a quagmire of legal, social and ethical issues that included the exploitation of surrogates and the sale of sperm and eggs.

Now, 20 years later, selling human eggs is a reality. The precious cargo arrives at Canadian fertility clinics, where the egg is carefully thawed and implanted.

Neither Health Canada nor Assisted Human Reproduction Canada said it has jurisdiction to regulate eggs.

Provinces haven't stepped in. Provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons look at the medicine of reproductive technology, but not the law.
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