Baby 'bought' with digital currency

Baby 'bought' with digital currency



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SAN JOSE, Calif. —Dr. C. Terence Lee's fertility clinic accepts three types of virtual payment: Visa, MasterCard and bitcoin.

While most of his patients don't bother to ask what Bitcoin is or how they can use it to pay for services, Lee is enjoying the virtual currency as it continues to gain traction in global economies.

However, it took some persuasion and digging to find clients willing to pay in bitcoins.

As Lee gave a presentation at Bitcoin 2013, a conference on the emerging digital currency, he showed his audience a photo of the baby he helped bring to life at his clinic.

"This baby was bought with bitcoins," he said.

The baby, however, wasn't the first step. It first started with an ad Lee posted on Reddit advertising a fertility test in exchange for 15 bitcoins. He has since changed the bitcoin charge to one, rather than 15, because of increase in value of the digital currency.

Reddit users responded positively to Lee's idea, congratulating him for his innovative approach to the hip and trendy currency. While a bitcoin's value fluctuates, those who use it are embracing the different ways it can be spent.

Lee told CNN that when someone took him up on his offer, the new customer didn't even care about the sperm count — he was just excited to be part of the uncharted waters of bitcoin-funded medicine.

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Bitcoin was first introduced in 2009. The digital currency is saved in an online wallet, and the value fluctuates from day to day; as of late Monday, one bitcoin is was worth more than $104.

With one success under his belt, Lee set out to see if he could do more with bitcoins. While some patients seemed open to the idea, others were shocked or confused.

"In some cases they reacted like I said I wanted to be paid in vials of crack cocaine," Lee said.

He even offered discounts for patients willing to pay in bitcoins, but nothing really stuck. Then one couple committed to a more expensive service. They had already successfully conceived three babies with Lee's help, and they had come back to try for number four.

"They said, ‘Dr. Lee, we don't understand the bitcoin thing,' but bless their hearts, they were willing to play along out of loyalty," Lee told CNN. "I offered them a 50 percent discount."

After the discount, the couple owed Lee around $1,000 and were unsure of where to exchange their money for bitcoins. It took several days with the help of an Australian service and international money transferred to a local bank.

The bitcoins Lee collected from the couple were worth $1,000 at the time of treatment last year and are now worth about $3,600.

While some wonder about the validity and staying power of bitcoins, many are taking a leap of faith to bring the currency into mainstream consumerism.

One soon-to-be-married couple has pledged to spend the first 90 days of the marriage living off bitcoins. They plan to film a documentary on their experiences and challenges along the way.

Photo credit: Dr. C. Terence Lee/CNNMoney

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Cait Orton

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