Sunday, October 31, 1999

Human egg auction model of stupidity

The Cincinnati Enquirer


        I wonder if prospective parents shopping for supermodel eggs on the Internet have given this careful thought. Since fashion photographer and horse breeder Ron Harris announced his intentions to begin breeding humans, experts have suggested that, well, frankly this idea is nutty and loathsome. Outrageous and unethical. Vile. Furthermore, they are saying it just won't work.

        If you ask me, people should be more worried that it will.

        Let's say you buy one of these eggs and actually give birth to a little fashion model. Every time she spits up, won't you wonder whether it's because she's teething or because she stuck her finger down her throat? And how will you feel if she refuses to wear her jammies because they make her butt look big?

        Do you really want to buy a child who wants to watch the Buns of Steel video instead of Mulan? How are you going to feel if she holds her breath until she turns blue every time she sees polyester?

        Will those little model babies be all pouty when they pose for their $9.99 kiddie pictures at Kmart? Will they ask the school photographer for their own hairdresser and makeup trailer on Picture Day?

Horses and erotica
        Luckily, this latest harebrained scheme to produce a super race — or at least a supermodel — is doomed. Mother Nature still protects us from ourselves, producing some lovely surprises from her genetic Cuisinart. But no guarantees.

        “Look at your own family,” says Lizzie West, director of reproductive health at the Christ Hospital. And I do, picturing my daughter who is superior in every way to her mother. Ms. West has been working with infertile couples for 10 years.

        Ron Harris has no medical background, but says he has taken pictures of Lauren Hutton and Cybill Shepherd. And if that doesn't qualify you to go mucking around in genetics, I don't know what does. Besides, he has directed 13 one-hour specials for Playboy television, breeds Arabian horses and operates erotic Web sites.

        He has “developed several theories about biology and beauty.” For instance, “Choosing eggs from beautiful women will profoundly increase the success of your children and your children's children, for centuries to come.”

        Clearly a deep thinker.

Only hotties need apply
        Prospective egg donors for the program at Christ are asked to fill out an eight-page questionnaire. They're asked about birth defects, general health and fertility history. They're questioned about their motives and their expectations.

        Not once are they asked, “Are you a hottie?”

        Women also are provided with information about compensation “for the direct and indirect expenses associated with their participation in our program.” It involves a cycle of hormone injections and surgical egg retrieval. The average donor fee for a completed donation is $1,800.

        “These women are not doing it for the money,” Lizzie West says. “As a group, these women are phenomenal. So wonderful.”

        One woman decided to become a donor when she “tucked my babies in at night and thought about the people who could not have this.”

        Starting bids on the model eggs are $15,000 to $150,000, and Ron Harris' fee is 20 percent on top of the highest bid. This is only for the eggs. Getting them where they need to be is a la carte.

        So far, the Federal Trade Commission says the Internet egg auction is legal. “This kind of work is very new,” says DNA expert Dr. Elizabeth Panke, president of Genetica Laboratories Inc. in Kenwood. “We have the ability medically to do things that should not be done.”

        She suggests that physicians and legislators work together to establish some guidelines. Just in case Mother Nature finally gives up trying to save us from ourselves.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.