Embryo Questions

Mar 9, 2009 10:05am

One of the issues that’s always intrigued me in the debate over embryonic stem cell research is what opponents of the research think about the fact that these embryos would likely die anyway — either by being discarded, or even if they are used in in vitro fertilization.

In 2006, the Bush White House put me in touch with Ron Stoddart, the executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, responsible for the “Snowflakes" frozen embryo adoption program heralded by President Bush.

Stoddart said at the time that 110 babies have been born in total, with “20 more on the way.”

There had been 273 donor families, he said, donating anywhere from one to 10 embryos per couple. They had been matched with 178 adopting parents. And 143 embryos did not survive the process.

“Typically when we transfer or thaw the embryos, about half of them survive thawing,” Stoddart reported. “Of those that survive, about a third result in a birth.” Two-thirds of the embryos that survive thawing don’t become a baby either because of miscarriage or failure to implant in the adoptive mother’s uterus.

“We believe that life begins at conception even if it’s outside the body,” Stoddart said. In an embryo from in vitro fertilization, “everything is present to result in a live birth.”

In all those instances when an embryo dies during the process, does his organization or the adoptive parents have any type of memorial service?

“No, but when I say no, don’t interpret that to mean we take it lightly and consider the fact the embryo didn’t survive a non-event,” Stoddart said. “But we don’t have memorial services or anything to mark their passing.”

Stoddart says it’s not the thawing but the “process of freezing embryos after in vitro fertilization that subjects nearly half those embryos to not surviving later on. If we had our druthers — we’re not going to campaign to revise in vitro fertilization procedures –- but we would prefer for them to only create the number of embryos that are going to be implanted within the fresh cycle, before they’re frozen. But not every family can afford to go through the process, which costs about $15,000-$20,000. So because of the economics, fertility clinics create many more embryos than are needed just in case a family chooses to have more children later.”

Why not try to stop the discarding of embryos that goes on thousands of times a month at fertility clinics?

“We’re not seeking legislation to stop it because some of these issues are better solved reaching the hearts and minds of people rather than legislating what they can and cannot do. We’re also very aware that there are children all over the world dying of malnutrition, hunger and disease. And when you’re trying to save lives and help children, there isn’t a one-dimensional approach. You realize there’s a lot to do. You may not be able to do all of it, but we’d like to do as much as we can.”

– jpt

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