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RIP Leonard Nemoy – He Lived Long & Prospered

The New York Times has a fitting tribute to Mr. Spock:

Two-Father Babies Could Be Possible: No Egg Donor Required

Due to advances in science, we are closer to having the ability to use male stem cells to create an egg and therefore, two-father babies.

When two men wish to raise a child together, they must either adopt (where neither of them will have a biological contribution) or use an egg donor and surrogate (where only one of them will make a biological contribution). In the future, that might not be the case. A new paper published in Cell describes the role of genetic regulators which influence whether an immature germ cell differentiates into a male or female cell, and how that process can be manipulated. In the future, it could even be possible for stem cells from a male to be used to produce an egg, allowing an infant to have two biological fathers.

Primordial germ cells (PGCs) are the stem cells that are able to give rise to either sperm or egg cells. The body typically uses hormonal signals and certain transcription factors in order to determine whether to make the male or female germ cells naturally. While SRY is the gene most widely known for its sex-determining function, the paper describes the importance of another SOX family gene, SOX17. As it turns out, SOX17 is another regulator of human PGC-like cells, and altering the gene can alter the fate of those cells. Rather than just building on our understanding of sex-determining processes, this could potentially have staggering implications for a number of families.

In the coming years, researchers may be able to manipulate this process and make it possible for two men to father a child without the need of an egg donor. This could occur by taking PGCs from one father, manipulating SOX17 and inducing those cells to become oocytes. Because the male has all of the relevant maternal information on his one copy of the X chromosome, the resulting egg cell would theoretically be fully functional. The second father would then need to provide a sperm sample with which to inseminate the egg, though a surrogate would be required to carry the baby throughout gestation.

Of course, there is a laundry-list of logistical and ethical concerns before this can become a reality. Primarily, human genetic modification to this degree is a huge gray area, with many against the idea of “designer babies” that would lead to a Gattaca-like society. This technique wouldn’t be employed to avoid potentially devastating diseases, such as the three-parent IVF which was recently approved in the United Kingdom. Thus, it could be harder to justify such drastic means solely for procreation.

While it is unfortunate, there is another barrier: Those with prejudices against homosexual couples could block the development and implementation of this technology. Though the number of children being raised by same sex couples has nearly doubled since 2000, they are still far and away a minority and face many prejudices.

There is still a great deal of research that needs to be done before the time comes to decide how or if the technique will be implemented.

Thailand Bans Foreign “Surrogacy Business”


After the Baby Gammy controversy late last year, there has been a critical look at surrogacy in Thailand and they have officially criminalized commercial surrogacy.

Thailand’s military-picked legislature passed a law that criminalized commercial surrogacy and prohibited foreigners from seeking surrogacy services in the kingdom after a string of scandals last year, a lawmaker said Friday.

The law, which prohibits the act of hiring women commercially to carry fetuses to term, aims to stop Thailand from being a surrogacy hub for foreign couples, or from becoming “the wombs of the world,” National Legislative Assembly member Wanlop Tangkananurak told The Associated Press on Friday.

Thailand was rocked by several surrogacy scandals last year. One involved an Australian couple who left behind a twin baby who had Down’s syndrome. The other case involved a Japanese man who fathered at least 16 babies via Thai surrogates.

Previously, the Southeast Asia nation was one of the few countries in Asia where commercial surrogacy was not specifically banned by law. The medical council of Thailand has a regulation stating that doctors risk losing their license if they perform surrogacy for pay. Thailand became a go-to destination for couples from Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan and a low-cost alternative to the United States.

“Surrogacy business leaves too much long-term trouble for Thailand, so we are banning foreign couples from seeking surrogacy in our country to avoid being a hub and to prevent what we saw last year,” Wanlop said.

The parliament voted 160 to 2 to pass the law Thursday night.

Under the new law, a Thai couple is allowed to seek a surrogate to carry the fetus only if they are able to prove that they and their relatives are infertile. A couple with one Thai spouse seeking surrogacy must be married for at least three years.

It also says that anyone involved in commercial surrogacy will face a maximum jail term of 10 years and a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($6,100).
Read our previous posts about Baby Gammy and surrogacy in Thailand:

Baby Gammy Granted Australian CitizenshipThai Surrogate Claims Australian Couple Demanded Twin Abortion After Learning Baby Gammy Had Down SyndromeThai Parliament Votes to Ban Commercial Surrogacy Following Baby Gammy Case

Sperm Donors Are Winning Visitation Rights

At least that is the conclusion that can be drawn from the case of Sheena and Tiara Yates, a married lesbian couple in New Jersey. They’ve had their parenting expectations upended—twice—by the sperm donors of their two kids. Both men agreed, in writing, to provide their raw materials and to leave the parenting to the women. But then they decided that, after all, they’d like to have some role in the lives of their biological children, so they applied for visitation rights. As of now, the bio dads are winning. Their case is just the latest reminder of how perilous and confusing assisted reproduction cases can become.

How did this happen? It’s tempting to blame the women’s do-it-yourself approach to the agreement, which they crafted without legal assistance. But that’s not the problem: Attorney or no attorney, under New Jersey law, even if the sperm donor renounces his rights with a ritual blood oath and a document sealed with wax, the agreement won’t be enforced unless the sperm donation takes place under the direct supervision of a physician. Of course, going the clinical route is more expensive than the more informal methods used by some couples, who might be ignorant of the law, or of limited financial means, or both. Since the Yates’ kids were conceived at home, the physician supervision law doesn’t apply—and the bio dads have been able to come forward to claim rights to see their kids.

And it’s not only the fathers who can reinsert themselves into a family snapshot that one might reasonably think they’d been Photoshopped out of. A Kansas case currently making its way through the courts involves the state itself, which has come forward to demand that one William Marotta, another sperm-supplying bio dad, pay back the public assistance money that two moms had received for their daughter. (The guy had helped the couple out after answering an ad on Craigslist.) The Kansas law is similar to New Jersey’s, and the state’s demand is a logical extension of the two biological fathers’ visitation petitions in the Yates cases: If Marotta is the dad, then he has both the usual rights and the usual obligations of a parent, which include supporting his children. (Indeed, the New Jersey county judge who granted visitation rights to Shawn Sorrell, the father of the younger of the Yates children, also required him to pay child support of $83 a week for his biological son.)

Would these cases be any different if the couples consisted of a man and a woman? Not necessarily. To see why, it’s instructive to separate the Yates’ first and second cases. When they found the first sperm donor, their relationship wasn’t legally recognized, and after losing their argument that the agreement should be enforced, they acceded to the (unnamed) bio dad’s visitation request. But at the time of the second insemination in 2013, Sheena and Tiara were in a civil union, which confers all the legal benefits of marriage. (They married in 2014, after doing so became legal in New Jersey.) And they’re appealing the judge’s order in this more recent case, claiming that their legal union should mean they’re the only parents with legal rights. They’re also focusing on the fact that a doctor signed the agreement. Since they didn’t follow the rules, though, it’s possible they’ll lose.

The same thing could happen to a married, opposite-sex couple, in a case where, say, the couple sought an outside contribution because the husband was infertile.

Does this make sense? From one perspective, no: Shouldn’t a legally married couple—straight or gay—be able to use the services of an outside party to conceive in any way that makes sense to them, and perhaps by the only means that work for them financially? And shouldn’t that third party expect that, when it comes to parenting, three’s a crowd and that he would be the odd one out—especially when the sperm donor expressly agreed to butt out?

In fact, the rule that a sperm donor is fenced out of a family only when certain procedures are followed is in sharp tension with an older, firmer rule of family law—the presumption of paternity. In general, the husband is legally assumed to be the father of any child born to his wife. But it’s unclear that the presumption will apply in the case of a couple that conceives with the help of a donor, for two reasons. First, in most states, including New Jersey, the presumption can be overcome if there’s strong evidence that someone else was the dad—and there’s obviously such evidence in many cases involving outside sperm donors. In that sense, too, the Yates are no different from any straight couple.

But of course there’s another challenge for lesbian parents—the presumption of “paternity” doesn’t fit, at least not literally. A mater isn’t a pater.

While the New Jersey Supreme Court hasn’t addressed this issue, courts in some states, like California, have read presumptive paternity laws broadly, to include lesbian-headed families. That’s because the presumption is intended to strengthen families and marriages, keeping third-party interlopers out. And because same-sex couples share those interests, once marriage equality is achieved, gay and lesbian spouses should be entitled to the same deference as their opposite-sex counterparts.

Still, I expect lesbian couples to continue to have problems in these cases. States will come after any money they sniff, and at least some men will become uncomfortable with the renunciation agreements they’ve entered. The Yates and Marotta cases provide yet another illustration of the plain fact that marriage equality hasn’t solved all the problems that same-sex couples will face. In Kansas, if the couple were a straight couple, the state probably would never have learned that a third party was involved.

And had the Yates been a male-female couple, Sorrell would have needed to make a reasonable case that he was the bio dad before a court would even order genetic testing that might substantiate his claim. Where two women are involved, though, it’s clear from the get-go that outside help was needed, and often—as in these cases—the father’s identity is clear. (It’s worth pointing out that this whole mess could have been avoided if the couple had used the services of an anonymous donor, usually through a sperm bank.)

Don’t underestimate, either, the likelihood that a judge will look at the child of lesbian parents as missing one of the necessary ingredients for a family—a father.

So it’s possible that courts in New Jersey and elsewhere could end up following the lead of one state legislature—California, again—and formally recognize three legal parents.

Sheena and Tiara Yates have appealed the visitation award, and the case seems ticketed for the state supreme court. Whatever rules the court establishes for these complex cases, it needs to recognize the legitimacy and equality of couples like the Yates, and to begin to advance the tough task involved in sorting out the complexities of assisted reproduction cases.

Miracles Egg Donation Owner, Allison Layton, Pleads Guilty to Ripping Off Would-Be Parents

Justice was finally served for Intended Parents who were defrauded by the owner of a Glendora Egg donation and Surrogacy company.

LOS ANGELES – The owner of a Glendora egg donation and surrogacy company pleaded guilty late this afternoon to a federal wire fraud charge and admitted defrauding would-be parents, egg donors and surrogates over the course of more than three years.

Allison Layton, a 38-year-old resident of Star, Idaho, pleaded guilty before United States District Court Judge George H. Wu.

Layton, who owned and operated Miracles Egg Donation and sometimes used the name Allison Jarvie, lived in Glendora during the course of the scheme.
Between August 2008 and January 2012, would-be parents – who in the surrogacy and egg donation world are known as intended parents – paid thousands of dollars for egg donation and surrogacy services that Miracles promised to coordinate. Layton took money – often tens of thousands of dollars – from the intended parents, but, instead of putting the funds into escrow accounts to be withdrawn only for certain costs related to the surrogacy or egg donation, Layton used the money for her own personal expenses or to cover unpaid costs related to other clients.

As a result of Layton’s misappropriation of client funds, egg donors, surrogates, attorneys and others often were not paid for all the services they provided and intended parents often did not receive all the services for which they had paid. At least one investor in Miracles also lost money.
When the donors, surrogates and intended parents sought to recover their money and costs, Layton would lull them into believing they would be repaid through false assurances that payments had already been made or would be made soon.

As a result of the fraud scheme, more than 40 victims lost more than $270,000.

As a result of her pleading guilty to wire fraud, Layton faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Layton is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Wu on May 28.

The investigation into Layton was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Read more about this story in our previous posts: New Allegations Against Miracles Egg Donation & Surrogacy , Serious Allegations Of Misconduct Leveled Against Miracles Egg Donation and Surrogacy, Inc and Miracles Egg Donation Update: Fraud Alleged in Human Eggs.

Bill O’Reilly – Combat Correspondent

Maybe he was telling the truth…..

Gay Couple in Legal Limbo Following Birth of Surrogate Twins

Luis Delgado and José Antonio Fernández, a gay married couple from Spain, decided to have a child via a surrogate mother in Mexico. Their twins were born on January 6, but the four of them have found themselves unable to return together to their home country.

Due to a legal anomaly, they cannot secure passports for their children, given that the state of Tabasco, Mexico, where the surrogacy took place, recognizes surrogate births, while the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE) – the government department responsible for Mexican passport applications – does not.

It is illegal for couples to have children via surrogates in Spain

The couple say they have heard “very positive words” from the Spanish authorities, but nothing more.

It is illegal for couples to have children via surrogates in Spain, but if the country where the surrogacy takes place officially confirms that the couple (whether they are homosexual or heterosexual) are the biological parents of the children in question, they can be registered in Spain and obtain Spanish passports. If not, the mother must appear on the paperwork. But Delgado and Fernández cannot produce an acceptable version of that certificate for the authorities.

The pair signed a surrogacy contract in Mexico last year, and when the babies were born they registered them in Tabasco with José Antonio as the father, and on another part of the form, Luis as the other parent. The part of the form where the mother should have appeared was left blank.

The agency they hired for the process helped them invalidate the original birth certificate

When they got to the SRE office in the Mexican capital, their problems began, and they were denied Mexican passports.

The agency they had hired for the process, Ayudando a Crear Familias (or, Helping to Create Families), helped them invalidate the original birth certificate, and they requested a new one in Mexico City, upon which they appeared as the two parents. On Monday, they traveled to the offices of the SRE in Cancun, accompanied by the Spanish consul in the city. “They told us that our case has been put on hold,” explains Luis.

The diplomats from Spain say Spanish passports can be issued if they include the name of the mother on the certificate. “But that is not going to happen,” says Luis. “We are the parents – we are not going to lie.”

23 Hollywood Moms with the Same Sperm Donor Take Vacation

 

And that’s just one fertility story out of Hollywood, where new technology (Pick the eye color! Freeze your ovaries!) and gay-friendly parental rights have spawned a booming baby business.

ILLUSTRATION BY: PETER ARKLE

When Sarah Fain, a TV writer-producer for The Shield and The Vampire Diaries, decided at 37 to be a single mom, she started online sperm-donor browsing. “It’s like online dating, only you don’t have to have a relationship with the person,” she says. “It’s not: ‘What if this is the love of my life?’ It’s: ‘This person doesn’t have Alzheimer’s in their genetic history.’ ” Fain lined up a fertility entourage that included a therapist, acupuncturist, nutritionist and private chef for when she was too busy developing shows for Warner Bros. to cook. “I did acupuncture, herbs, teas; I juiced wheatgrass daily for months because my reproductive endocrinologist [RE] said anecdotally people who did got pregnant,” she says. Despite her efforts, Fain required two years and nine rounds of intrauterine insemination (or IUI, which involves “washing” the ejaculate to up the sperm quality before injecting it into the uterus, at about $1,500 a pop to conceive). At age 40, Fain had a girl named Violet.

When Violet was a toddler, Fain took her to a music class, where “two women walked in with two boys about Violet’s age,” she says. One of the boys looked familiar. Fain went home and checked her Facebook group comprising 15 families who had conceived with her same open donor. (Open donation, in which the donor’s info can be released on the child’s 18th birthday, is a growing trend.) She recalls: “There they were,” just a mile and a half away.

Now they all have dinner every Sunday. “They’re my family,” says Fain. In September, the Facebook group rented a vacation house. “Talk about crazy — there were 12 2-year-olds,” says Fain, who adds: “It’s one of those things that feels incredibly bizarre for half an hour. Then it feels totally normal.”

At a time when Apple and Facebook are picking up $20,000 tabs for employees to freeze their eggs as well as offering other generous high-tech fertility benefits, it’s clear that professional women have more and more options with assisted reproduction technology. Many of them will need it: At least one in eight couples overall suffer from infertility, and much of that is due to delayed childbearing. Even as the U.S. birth rate is at an all-time low, multiple births have skyrocketed from fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization treatments involving multiple embryos. In 1980, there were 70,000 twins born in the U.S.; in 2012, there were 131,269, along with 4,598 triplets and 276 quadruplets.

Credit goes to the 450 high-tech fertility clinics in the U.S., 75 of them in California. The Centers for Disease Control keeps statistics on IVF success rates by age; many clinics in Los Angeles beat the national averages. “California is widely regarded to be the most friendly state in terms of assisted reproduction,” says attorney Richard Vaughn, whose twin sons with actor husband Tommy Woelfel (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) were born with the help of an egg donor and surrogate mother: “Our courts are very friendly to the intended parents and their rights.” In California, case law makes clear that “regardless of genetics, intended parents are the natural parents,” adds Vaughn. “If not for their intent, the child would never have come into existence.” His firm, the International Fertility Law Group — along with some of the world’s most famous fertility clinics, sperm banks, egg donation agencies and surrogacy brokers — has made L.A. a capital of high-tech fertility.

Even so, media coverage of glowing older celebu-moms — from Halle Berry, who just had her second child at age 47, to Laura Linney, who gave birth to her first child in 2014 at 49 — can mislead. “My concern is when celebrities in their mid- to late-40s announce they’re pregnant,” says Guy Ringler of California Fertility Partners, one of Southern California’s most in-demand clinics. “It gives many people false hope that you can get pregnant at any age. It’s not realistic.”

L.A. women in particular have misguided expectations, adds Ringler: “Many of our patients eat well, exercise, are very health-conscious.” Then they realize physical health and appearance largely are irrelevant to the viability of their eggs. Desperate Housewives actress Brenda Strong, who in her late 30s and early 40s struggled to get pregnant with a second child (known as secondary infertility), adds that Hollywood hyper-vigilance about weight can create its own issues. “Dr. Ringler said, ‘Your hormones are off-kilter because you’ve lost too much body fat,’ ” recalls Strong. After her successful first pregnancy, which she attributes to yoga and fertility acupuncturist Daoshing Ni, the actress and American Fertility Association board member suffered a miscarriage at 40 and decided not to pursue more treatments: “They’ve done studies that found going through infertility is equivalent in stress to cancer or HIV.”

Though TV writer Fain achieved success using IUI — the first choice for single moms and lesbians — a growing number of doctors feel it’s “becoming a dinosaur,” says Jeffrey Steinberg, a veteran of the team that produced the first “test-tube baby,” Louise Brown, in 1978, and head of the Fertility Institutes, a clinic in L.A. and New York that specializes in cutting-edge genetic procedures. In states where insurance is required to cover infertility, some plans require that a patient fail several IUI rounds before moving on to in vitro fertilization. IVF is a more complicated process in which sperm and harvested eggs are joined in a petri dish to become 100-cell blastocysts. The best one or two embryos are implanted; the rest are frozen for later use. A round of IVF costs from $15,000 to $18,000; most women in their late 30s or 40s require more than one round.

Alicia Wyld, senior vp field publicity at Paramount, had five failed IUIs and IVFs (including one in which her RE transferred seven embryos at once) before finding a new RE, Sam Najmabadi, who said her body was overstimulated from too many fertility drugs. A few months after reducing her meds, and a year and a half into her fertility struggle, Najmabadi extracted 18 eggs, implanting two embryos. “Just two, that’s normal,” says a relieved Wyld, who gave birth to twins at 40. “Going through all the IUIs and IVFs felt so isolating. I felt my body was failing me and my husband.”

Genetically testing the embryos, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, is one way to stack the odds in favor of a pregnancy. Nearly every embryo that Steinberg transfers has been tested to confirm that it has the correct number of chromosomes; other tests confirm the lack of certain inheritable-disease genes such as BRCA, the breast cancer gene that Angelina Jolie carries. Steinberg says PGD reduces miscarriages: “What that’s done is eliminate Down syndrome. We can’t guarantee a perfect baby, but we can guarantee that anything you’re concerned about isn’t there.” (Including the wrong eye color: In 2009, after admonishment from the Vatican and the medical community, Steinberg stopped allowing parents to choose their babies’ blues — the most popular color — but quietly started up again with 15 infants last year: “There’s a huge interest. Even when we retracted, the emails just kept coming in.”

Despite genetic testing, IVF still has significant limitations. “A woman in her 40s has a less than 5 percent pregnancy rate per treatment cycle,” say Ringler, while a woman in her early 30s has up to a 70 percent rate. One proven way to conquer fertility decline from aging eggs is using a donor egg. (A woman’s eggs start to decline in fertility in the late 20s. “At 40, most women drop off the cliff,” says Steinberg.) “For a woman in her mid-40s who uses a donor egg, her pregnancy rate jumps up to 75 percent per treatment cycle,” says Ringler, who thinks donor eggs are the best option for “all women 44 and older, an age when 95 percent of eggs are chromosomally abnormal.” Adds Steinberg, “Nature won’t let abnormal embryos make babies.”

Egg donation, however, is a largely unregulated industry. Says the owner of an entertainment PR firm that reps top actors and musicians who experienced secondary infertility at age 41, “Nothing’s done to say the donor’s fertile, sane or healthy.” After spending $2,500 on tests for a donor who proved to have low fertility, the publicist and her husband chose a second donor who produced eight eggs: “She looked like me, had a great GPA and was athletic.” Two embryos were transferred, and she had twin girls at 44.

Most donor eggs come from women in their 20s, paid $5,000 to $10,000 to undergo egg retrieval. “Bloating was the biggest downside,” says an egg donor named Sara, who first donated eggs in 2007 when she was a 22-year-old acting student. (Sperm donors are paid $75 to $150 a go for a vial of sperm that might sell for $700 or more.) Regardless of the number of eggs produced, they all belong to the intended parents. Sara knew nothing about her client except that he wanted an Italian baby and she’s Italian. “You don’t sign up to be part of someone’s family,” she says. “You do it because it is selfless and you are strong enough to deal with the idea afterward.”

Disclosure is one of the stickiest issues with egg-donor use, which one L.A. mom, who suffered three miscarriages on the way to a biological son at 42, calls the “last bastion of shame” in fertility medicine. It’s common for couples to seek out a donor who resembles them to “pass” — letting family, friends and the kids themselves believe they are the genetic parents. Several Westside fertility doctors say that about half their patients plan to keep their offspring’s origins under wraps; Steinberg estimates 70 percent of his patients do. The PR firm CEO is one of them: “I carried them. My blood ran through them,” she says. “I don’t want them to think they’re not mine.”

Clinics that see more gay couples and single women are likely to report more openness; those parents have to explain their children’s origins somehow. Says psychologist Elaine Gordon, author of Mommy, Did I Grow in Your Tummy?: “What we’ve learned is that for children who know and know early, it’s not that big a deal. There’s no ghost living in the house with them.”

Oddly perhaps, hiring a stranger to carry a child for you has become less taboo than buying an egg. Nicole Kidman used a surrogate for her youngest child, born when she was 43. Sarah Jessica Parker used a surrogate to carry her twin daughters, who went home to a 44-year-old mom. Both actresses were effusive in their thanks to their carriers but avoid discussing the genesis of the eggs.

The evolving norm is that the gestational carrier (the preferred term over surrogate) and egg donor — assuming there is one — should be two separate people. Agencies with the strictest standards recruit only carriers who have completed their own families. Paid between $20,000 and $30,000, a carrier might go through as many as five pregnancies, sometimes returning to work with the same family when they want a sibling.

“Personality-wise, both egg donors and surrogates are motivated by a mix of altruism and healthy narcissism,” says psychologist Kim Bergman, co-owner and co-founder of Growing Generations, a top surrogacy and egg donor agency with a comprehensive approach. This highly selective agency, with just 1 percent of women who apply qualifying for the job, brokered Parker’s twins. Contracts are firm, and while parents pay medical bills and other expenses — including a premium of $5,000 to the carrier in the event of multiples — fees are kept modest. “It’s not a million dollars for a reason,” says Bergman. “We want the surrogate to be compensated for her pain and suffering” but not to be in it for the money.

Steinberg’s clinic, which has in-house surrogates, is unusual in that it will accommodate clients who prefer carriers to remain anonymous — to them. “We do a lot of celebrities who use a surrogate mother,” he says. Steinberg recruits repeat surrogates for anonymous jobs “all the time,” but it’s challenging because “what surrogates get out of it is that emotional bond. If they don’t know whom they’re helping, it’s tough on them.”

Once a healthy child is born, parents are faced with what to do with unused embryo “siblings,” which cost hundreds of dollars annually to keep in deep freeze. Increasingly, people are allowing excess embryos to be “adopted” (it is considered unethical for embryos to be bought or sold). Those embryo adoptions often are anonymous, creating full biological siblings who may never know of one another’s existence.

Some of these conundrums may be avoided by freezing eggs before fertility declines. Sperm and embryos are easier to freeze than eggs, which contain lots of water. In the past few years, clinics have adopted vitrification, which flash-freezes the egg without forming ice. It has quadrupled the egg-survival rate, contributing to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s 2012 decision to upgrade egg freezing from “experimental” to “standard.” Says Steinberg, “Now we say a frozen egg is pretty much as good as a fresh egg.”

Sheryl Ross, a Santa Monica OB-GYN with a long roster of A-list patients, says she talks to them in their early 30s about egg freezing (which is becoming a go-to college and grad-school graduation gift among well-off families). “To freeze your genetics and take the pressure off is so empowering,” says Ross. Most clinics charge $5,000 to $10,000 a cycle, which produces anywhere from a couple of eggs to a couple dozen; most doctors recommend banking 15 to 20 eggs. Egg-freezing costs are “frankly what some people spend on purses,” says Beverly Hills RE Mark Surrey, who treated Kim Kardashian as she prepared to freeze her eggs in 2012 (she ended up conceiving naturally).

Steinberg notes that egg freezing is “one of the most common things bringing in celebrities right now, if you’re doing a movie and you’ve got three more lined up.” Steinberg has had actresses in their early 20s freeze their eggs: “Fame may last a long time, but fertility is fleeting.” The Real Housewives of Miami alumna Joanna Krupa, 35, got married in June but says she’s still two years away from mother­hood; she froze her eggs with Steinberg in December. “I’m going to have kids when I’m ready so I can give them 100 percent,” says the reality star.

One Missouri clinic is flash-freezing entire ovaries, surgically removing the healthy organ and reimplanting it years later when a woman is ready to be a mother. Though most patients so far have been cancer victims facing radiation or chemo treatments, Dr. Sherman Silber of the Infertility Center of St. Louis believes the procedure is cheaper and more effective than egg freezing. To date, more than 35 infants have been born from the ovaries-on-ice approach worldwide, four of them from Silber’s clinic.

But among fertility doctors, “the worst is the woman who at 43 wants to talk about egg freezing,” says Ross, who agrees with Ringler that ceaseless coverage of aging celebrity moms is to blame. “We in the medical world know that 99 percent of those women used donor eggs. That’s what’s not discussed in the story.”

N.J. Senate Approves Bill Expanding Definition of Surrogate Parenting

The New Jersey Senate is approving a bill that expands the definition of surrogate parenting, making the law more clear with couples entering into a gestational carrier agreement.

marybeth.jpg
Surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead sits with her dog in this 1997 file photo. She was embroiled in a famous bitter fight for custody over “Baby M” with William Stern and his wife in New Jersey. The 1987 court ruling was the first in the nation on the validity of surrogacy. While the court ruled that the surrogacy contract was invalid according to public policy, it recognized Mary Beth Whitehead, then of Brick, as the child’s legal mother and Stern, then a Tenafly resident, as the father who was awarded custody. Whitehead received visitation rights. (ABC, INC)

The Senate voted 22-13 to pass the “New Jersey Gestational Carrier Act,” (S866), a bill opponents have warned would create a “breeder” class of women. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the same bill in 2012 after concluding there had not been enough discussion over the “profound” questions it raised.

Unlike traditional surrogates, whose eggs are fertilized by the intended father, gestational carriers are women who have no biological link to the fetus because the egg belongs to another woman.

Surrogacy is legal in New Jersey — home to the the 1988 landmark Baby M case that struck down the surrogate parenting contract as illegal and unenforceable. But without a law that recognizes the advances in fertility treatments and the rise of gestational carrier arrangements, couples have gone to court to protect their interests and lost.

“Many men and women struggling to get pregnant spend years dealing with anguishing infertility issues and painful fertility treatments prior to finding hope for having a child through gestational surrogacy,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, (D-Bergen), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Gestational surrogacy agreements are being made in the state, yet there is no legal framework for their implementation. With this thoughtful legislation, we can ensure that each of these families and their gestational surrogates has a clear set of set standards to appropriately enter into these arrangements prior to the child’s conception, eliminating any post-birth confusion or legal proceedings.”

The bill would require women who agree to be gestational carriers to have been pregnant before, so they would know what to expect emotionally and medically. They also would have to be at least 21 years old and undergone medical and psychological evaluations. They would be entitled to have the intended parents pay for their attorney and their pregnancy and postpartum medical expenses.

The carrier or surrogate would sign an agreement stating she would undergo pre-embryo transfer, attempt to carry and give birth to the child, and surrender custody of the child to the intended parent immediately upon birth, according to the bill. The intended parents’ names, not the carrier’s name, would appear on the birth certificate.

Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington State and Wisconsin’s laws allow for gestational surrogacy in some fashion, although the sponsors of New Jersey’s legislation said theirs could serve as a national model.

“As the option of surrogacy continues to become more popular, ensuring that all parties involved are protected is imperative,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, also a sponsor. “That is what a gestational carrier agreement can provide to both the carrier as well as the intended parents, a legal contract that ensures the best interest of all parties involved, including the child.”

The bill moves to the Assembly for further consideration.

UK Closer to Making Babies from 3 People’s DNA

The United Kingdom House of Commons has voted in favor of a law permitting scientists to create babies using the DNA from three different people:

The UK’s House of Commons overwhelmingly voted in favor of a law that would allow scientists to genetically engineer babies from the DNA of three people. Before your mind wanders to some of the more… salacious possibilities, the technique — a spin on traditional in vitro fertilization — is meant to help women with mitochondrial disease have families without fear of passing the illness down.

It’s a hell of an illness, too. The mitochondria lurking in each of your cells acts as power plants, and when they don’t work properly, everything from muscle growth issues to neurological problems to heart disease could develop. Since it’s an affliction that strikes the body’s own building blocks, there’s no real cure — just ways to make it a little more manageable. Thing is, mitochondrial DNA is passed down to a child exclusively from its mother so if hers is somehow screwy, her kids will have to deal with it too. That’s what make this newish procedure so exciting; healthy nuclear DNA is culled from the mother-to-be and transplanted into the egg of a donor. When that egg is fertilized, voilá! You’ve got a baby made from three people.

When all is said and done, only a fraction of a fraction of the resulting baby’s DNA will come from that second woman (think on order of 0.1 percent). There’s no risk of the kid looking like a veritable stranger either, since the nuclear DNA from the primary mother (and not the mitochondrial DNA from the donor) is what helps define a child’s appearance. Naturally, there’s pressure from religious groups and ethicists to put the kibosh on the technique since it could lead to some unpleasant doors opening down the road, but they’re still safe for now — there’s still another vote to get through before this all becomes strictly legal.

Asides

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