Widespread condemnation followed swiftly Monday after the revelation that a US site was preparing to auction human eggs.
The US-based Ronsangels.com offers models' ovum, or eggs, to infertile women without medical consultation , a practice that is illegal in the UK. According to Ron Harris a former pornographer who runs the site, men and women around the world are searching for better-looking genes and are willing to pay for such a service.
A 'good looking' egg costs between $15,000 (£9,150) to $150,000 (£91,500) depending on the model chosen.
The site has outraged fertility groups and ethicists but experts doubt whether the service exists at all. Professor Richard Nicholson editor of the bulletin of medical ethics, believes the site is a fraud. "What is the likelihood of the eggs being provided, is there any information about the donors or is the whole thing a fraudulent set-up?" he said. "It seems like a fraudulent ploy, cashing in on couples worried about their fertility. I would be very surprised if any eggs were ever delivered."
To register a bid for an egg, users need to become a member of the site and pay a monthly fee. Curiously there is a disclaimer warning users there may be offensive content on the site, prompting some to conclude the site has more to do with pornography than as a service to infertile women. "That was exactly my first thought," said Richard Ashcroft, lecturer in Ethics at Bristol University who questioned the validity of the service. "It doesn't look real," he added.
Even if Ronsangels is offering a genuine service, Ashcroft believes users should not be taken in by the pictures of attractive models. "How can they be sure it is not the equivalent of picture postcards in London phone boxes where you may not get what you think you are getting?" he asked. Either way, Ashcroft described the site as "exploitative" and accused Harris of "trading on a whole raft of pre-suppositions of what is valuable about life."
Asked Ashcroft, "Is beauty all that matters in having a child?"
Jenny Pearce a lawyer with City law firm Charles Russell, believes the fashion for selling human organs on the Internet raises the need for clearer laws on what is legal. "The extent to which there are laws and to which there are ethics on these matters needs to be disentangled," she told ZDNet News.
QXL, the European online auction site condemned the sale. "We would take it down straight away," a spokeswoman confirmed. "Human organs, babies, anything with which we ethically disagree would be removed. We don't believe that sort of thing should be on the Internet."
What do you think? Tell the Mailroom