frontline: making babies

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in the tank
In "Making Babies," FRONTLINE examines the reproductive medicine revolution which is bringing children to those unable to reproduce naturally, but also is raising troubling questions about the safety of experimentation, the commercialization of reproduction and, the changing nature of the family.

"My belief is that in twenty years, no couple will be unable to have a baby...genetically," says Dr. Samuel Wood, an infertility doctor in San Diego, "except for the few on the extremes of reproductive life."

Wood is one of several top infertility doctors and bioethicists who are interviewed in the program about the rapidly shifting and barely regulated new frontier of reproductive science.

"The whole world of assisted reproduction has been aptly described as the Wild West." says George Annas, a bioethicist at Boston University. "I think it's the Wild West mated with American commerce and modern marketing."

FRONTLINE sketches the landscape of this revolution -- from the breakthrough technique that has changed the face of male infertility, to sperm purchases from the Internet via Federal Express; from paying $3,000 to $50,000 for eggs from attractive young women with Ivy League educations, to the hiring of surrogates to carry a child. And, of course, there are the stories of those who desperately want a baby and what they go through.

Prospective parents followed in this report include a lesbian couple who selected their criteria for the father from an internet sperm bank when they decided to conceive a child; a man whose genetic condition means a shortened life but whose wife is willing to risk the chance of passing that condition on to a child; and a couple whose fertility treatment led to multiple embryos and premature twins struggling to survive.

"It makes this field hard because you know with every case that you take on, there is at least as good a chance of failure as success," says Dr. Mark Sauer, a specialist in male infertility at Columbia University. "There's a heavy price, not just emotional, but also financial, that these couples have to pay to reach that point where they either walk away pregnant, or not."

George Annas and Nigel Cameron are bioethicists who warn we may be going too far with these extraordinary new medical technologies -- designing babies before assessing how those children themselves will think about the way they were brought into the world. "The interests of the children never, ever, have been considered. They always put the interests of infertile couples and the physicians first, and the interests of the children second." says Annas.

And ultimately, say many infertility experts, science is approaching the final and most troubling ethical issues: the genetic enhancement of embryos for specific physical and emotional traits and, human cloning--reproductive techniques have become so sophisticated there's a real possibility human clones will be produced within the decade.

"There are hundreds of for-profit fertility clinics in this country and around the world, whose sole purpose, besides helping people make babies, is to make money. And I think they're going to be driven by a demand by some people who want to use cloning technology." says Dr. Lee Silver, a geneticist and professor at Princeton University.

"I think that this is a revolutionary, evolutionary point in our history as a species. My gut feeling is that when there's a challenge, and you put it in front of people like us, someone will always take that challenge, and take it to the next step."

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