Designer Babies: The Facts About In Vitro Fertilization

Designer babies — more commonly known as test-tube and IVF (in vitro fertilization) babies — are a fast growing, and in some cases even a preferred, option today. IVF clinics across the capital reflect this and show that women today are not shy of exploring their options. While in most cases, the IVF is done with the egg and the sperm of the wife and husband, in cases where donors are required the avenue to customise your baby is very substantial.

"We have a colour complex in this country and this is predominant when couples or single women choose a donor. Almost all of them want a fair child, even if the parents are not that fair. A clean medical history, good background and education are other concerns. Also, most couples prefer the donor to be from their religion," says Dr Sohani Verma, IVF specialist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. Resemblance to the husband is also a concern for most people.

While medical history is the prime concern for clinics and hospitals that provide IVF, they say a background check is very difficult. "The sperm donors earn Rs 500-600 per donation so obviously they are from a middle-class background. But for egg donations more and more women are now coming in as it earns them anywhere between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000. A lot depends on their profile and most of them are housewives," says Dr Diksha Tyagi of the Delhi IVF Fertility Research Centre.

The lack of proper medical guidelines and uncertain laws on IVF are reasons why many people are turned away. Almost all doctors agree that it is difficult to entertain requests from live -in couples, gay couples and even single parents. "There is no social security system where we can check the background of the person. It is difficult to judge the character and the intentions of the people therefore the ethical committees usually turn these requests down," says Verma. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is in the process of making guidelines for IVF — the first guidelines to be formulated in the country.

Hospitals and clinics claim to treat 15 to 100 women every month, a big leap from the past few years when the figures were in single digits. A reason why this treatment is often used as the last resort is due to the expenses. While some clinics charge Rs 90,000 for the entire procedure, which includes 60 cycles, others say it can cost up to Rs 50,000 per cycle. And the success rate is only 35-45 per cent. Women between the ages of 35 and 45 are the ones who usually opt for IVF. "There are many other means such as artificial insemination, adoption, etc. that women first think of before coming for IVF," says Dr Anuradha Kapoor of Max Healthcare.

Other options for women include freezing the eggs or the embryo but in India this is still in experimental stages. "These are all still in experimental stages and we are not offering these services yet to people except for cancer patients. If we feel that the treatment will cause damage to their ovaries, and they are young, we preserve some of their ovarian tissue or eggs and they can be inserted back once the treatment is over. Only 1-5 per cent of the eggs freeze so it is still at a very experimental stage," says Verma.

There are over 300 IVF clinics in India, and new ones are opening every month. Globally, over a million IVF babies have been born after Louise Brown. A WHO report puts the global ART (artificial reproductive technologies) market at over Rs 25,000 crore a year.

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