A few weeks ago, the Orange Country Register, ran this headline: Thousands of human eggs may be missing. In the wake of Options National Fertility Registry’s legal challenges, which forced them out of business in 2003, recent audits now show that 596 embryos and 2,189 eggs are MIA. One Options egg donor, identified as “Elizabeth”, apparently donated eggs to one infertile couple, only to later learn her eggs were given to another couple without her permission or knowledge. “The second couple was initially denied use of the eggs, but was later permitted to use them as part of a legal settlement.” Women who donated their eggs through Options are now being asked to check their contracts to see if they are one of the egg donations cycles with suspected irregularities. Suspected irregularities sounds like a lawyered up way of saying we really messed up and now we need to do major damage control.

Of course, none of this is new news. People involved in a major fraud case from 1995, with fertility doctors at the University of California, at Irvine, have just settled for $23.2 million in damages. “The greatest injury, and thus the greatest payouts, resulted after one woman’s eggs were taken without her consent, and then given to another woman who ultimately gave birth to a child.”

And even outside the U.S. abuse exists. In 2000, “two of Israel’s most senior infertility specialists have been put under police investigation for allegedly overstimulating the ovaries of patients in order to produce large numbers of ova, which they then ‘sold’ for treating infertile women in Israel and abroad.”

There is also the famous IVF mix-up case where a white couple gave birth to black twins. Dr. Sammy Lee, of a London hospital, explains that we need not be alarmed as human error happens. There have been several other cases of couples giving birth to the wrong children. Typically these are caught though, because the babies born have different skin color than the parents! How many others are born that go unnoticed? Wrong embryos being implanted. Women’s eggs and men’s sperm getting mixed up along the way. Eggs taken without permission and given or sold to someone else. And afterwards, the courts are left to clean up the mess. Whose baby is this? Who has legal rights and obligations? Who decides?

My colleague, Josephine Quintavalle, with Comment on Reproductive Ethics, (CORE) is always quick to remind me, as far as regulation goes– Be careful what you ask for! In the U.K. for instance, IVF is regulated by the Human Fertilization Embryo Authority (HFEA) but the regulated IVF industry in the U.K. has brought us post-menopausal women giving birth, payment to women for their eggs, and the famous ‘egg sharing’ program which offers IVF discounts to poor women in exchange for their eggs for cloning research.

Since the IVF industry won’t self-regulate, perhaps it is time to step in and manage them. I am not asking for meaningless regulation which would be just a slap on the hand or nothing more than suggested guidelines. I’m ready for something with teeth that includes a clear plan for enforcement with strict penalties attached for those who violate.