By Paul Stark
In yesterday’s “Dear Abby” column, “Deadlocked in New Jersey” asks for advice about the fate of her frozen human embryos. She and her husband used in vitro fertilization and gave birth to two children, and two “excess” frozen embryos remain. Her husband does not believe they can financially accommodate any more children, but “Deadlocked” has moral concerns about having the embryos destroyed.
“This isn’t an either/or question. I discussed it with Diane Goodman, the past president of the Academy of California Family Formation Lawyers, who suggests a third option. Your embryos could be donated for embryo adoption by a couple who have been unable to conceive, and who would love to raise them. For more information, you should contact an attorney who specializes in family formation, or contact the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption and Donation Program. Its phone number is 714-693-5437 and its website is www.nightlight.org.”
The biological fact is that human embryos are human beings in the embryonic stage of development. I was once an embryo, and so were you, the reader of this post. Destroying embryos, or donating them to be killed for scientifically dubious research, are not ethical options. Those practices treat intrinsically valuable members of the human family as mere raw material to discard or dissect in order to harvest useful parts.
Embryonic human beings should be given the chance to grow up. But an embryo’s genetic mother need not gestate the embryo herself. Embryo adoption, as Abby rightly notes, is a life-affirming alternative, just as regular adoption is a wonderful alternative to the killing of abortion.
I wrote about a personal story of embryo adoption in the January 2010 issue of MCCL News. The article is reprinted below (I have changed the names for privacy).
John and Nicole, a married couple from St. Paul, struggled with infertility. They considered traditional adoption, but felt God leading them to another alternative: the adoption of human embryos.
Embryo adoption offered John and Nicole a chance to experience the joys of pregnancy and birth—and also to rescue young human beings trapped in a frozen state from possible destruction.
Some 400,000 human embryos currently reside in a state of suspended animation, frozen in liquid nitrogen (a process called cryopreservation) and stored in fertility clinics across the United States. They are “left over” from in vitro fertilization (IVF); the genetic parents may choose to implant them at a future date, store them indefinitely, discard them, donate them for destructive research, or donate them to an adoptive couple.
These embryos are not mere tissue, but distinct, living and whole human organisms—members of the species Homo sapiens, like the rest of us, only at a much earlier stage of their development. They are “created in God’s image,” as Nicole puts it, and ought to be treated with dignity and respect, not farmed for their useful parts for research or simply thrown away.
Through the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program (www.snowflakes.org), John and Nicole were matched with a couple willing to donate their surplus embryos after IVF. John and Nicole agreed to accept all 10 of the couple’s leftover embryos.
The process was similar to that of a traditional adoption, involving a home study and a visit by a social worker. Two embryos were transferred into Nicole in October of 2007. One survived and, after a normal pregnancy, was born as a healthy baby boy the next year. John and Nicole hope to implant more embryos in 2010.
Unlike a traditional adoption, Nicole explains, “There was no guarantee of a baby at the end.” Embryos must successfully implant in the mother’s uterus and avoid miscarriage; many do not make it.
As with traditional adoption, embryo adoption can be “open” or “closed.” To honor the wishes of the genetic parents, details about John and Nicole’s son are withheld from this story.
Advocates of embryonic stem cell research, which requires the killing of human embryos in order to derive stem cells, often tout the existence of leftover IVF embryos as a reason to proceed with destructive research. Such embryos would be “discarded anyway,” proponents claim.
But they need not be. They can now be adopted by loving families like John and Nicole and allowed to grow up. As Dr. Micheline Mathews-Roth of Harvard Medical School explains, “We should offer these extra embryos to infertile couples to implant and allow them to be born, and not kill them either by experimentation or by disposal.”
Embryonic research faces serious scientific obstacles and has yet to benefit human patients; ethical, adult stem cells have already successfully treated patients with more than 70 different conditions.
Couples who have used IVF and now have extra embryos have an “awesome option,” John says, to place their embryos for adoption. And couples burdened with infertility can choose to adopt these embryos and give them a chance at life.
“We’ve had a fantastic experience,” Nicole says. “We have a wonderful child because of [embryo adoption]. He was just waiting [in a frozen state].”
She adds: “He’s who God had for our family.”
For more information about embryo adoption, visit snowflakes.org, embryoadoption.org and embryodonation.org. (HT: Embryo Donation and Adoption Awareness Center)
Paul Stark is Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life communications associate. This appeared on the blog of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, National Right to Life’s state affiliate, at http://prolifemn.blogspot.com/2012/01/dear-abby-highlights-solution-to.html