Human Exceptionalism

Embryos as Inventory

The inestimable Will Saletan explores “the embryo factory” in Slate and, as is his wont, hits the nail on the head. He is writing about the Abraham Center of Life, which I commented about here at Secondhand Smoke last year. He writes that Jennalee Ryan, the entrepreneurial owner of the Abraham Center “represents the next wave of industrial rationality. She’s bringing the innovations of Costco and Burger King to the business of human flesh.” Indeed.

Ryan suggests that her service of making embryos to order is better than embryo adoption, as offered by the Snowflakes organization, for example, since the would-be parents aren’t screened for suitability–and all for just $2500 for the embryo plus the price of being implanted and prenatal care. Regardless of what one thinks about Snowflakes, that service isn’t about making embryos to fill a market niche. Rather, it is about saving an already existing frozen embryo from destruction, and loving and welcoming it regardless of his or her looks and expected capacities.

In contrast, Ryan and her clients are in it for themselves: “Buying embryos gives you all the advantages of buying eggs and sperm. You can screen donors—in this case, the embryo’s parents–for physical and mental health, education, and looks. Since Ryan is shouldering the risk, she screens donors up front. Her embryos’ moms are college-educated. The dads have advanced degrees. All the donors are white, since the clients are white. Ryan is no bigot, but business is business. ‘There is simply a demand for white babies,’ she shrugs. In fact, three-quarters of the DNA in her first two batches comes from blue-eyed blonds. This isn’t eugenics; it’s narcissism. ‘What I was really looking for was blond hair, blue eyes, so the child would look similar to me,’ one of Ryan’s clients told ABC News.”

It is also furthering the agenda of treating our children as custom made products to fulfill our personal desires. And it won’t stop with buying embryos to order, but extend to offering surrogacy services–as Ryan already does. It’s about the bottom line, both financial and eugenic: “To Ryan, embryos are inventory. ‘I saw a demand for something and created the product,’ she told to the San Antonio Current. The doctor who mixed Ryan’s first batch of embryos was aghast to discover their fate, but Ryan insists, ‘If they are my embryos, legally, what I do with those embryos is really none of her business.’ What if clients aren’t satisfied with the embryos? ‘If they don’t think it’s right for them, they don’t have to take them,’ she shrugs. With surrogacy, that policy could be extended for weeks. Tested, personalized, affordable, disposable. You’ve come a long way, baby.”