My wife just pointed out an article in Parenting magazine entitled "The Fate of Frozen Embryos." If you haven't thought much about infertility & fertility treatments, now's the time to start. My hope is that you'll never struggle with infertility, but I also don't want anybody to make a short-sighted decision when they're blinded by pain & their emotions.
The story at hand is about the "tough decision" that couples going through IVF treatments face when creating embryos - "left over" embryos are generally frozen, and either saved for another attempt at pregnancy, donated to other infertile couples, donated to medical research, or frozen indefinitely (so they won't be "destroyed").
This whole industry of infertility bothers me. Just because we have the technology to do something doesn't mean we should. There are so many moral & ethical questions involved, and the industry tends to do what the abortion industry does, using clinical jargon to avoid dealing with facts and their implications.
According to the article, "Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of embryos have accumulated in fertility clinics throughout the country." This word "embryo" gets thrown around like its a consumer good. If you're reading this, you were once an embroy. As was I. It's simply a stage of human development. I was an embryo, and a fetus, and an infant, and a toddler, and an adolescent, and now I'm an adult. Whether you want to try and medically or biologically define specific stages, they're all periods of human life.
Pro-life advocates rightly ask questions such as "Do you think it would be okay to kill an infant? How about a toddler?" In light of fertility clinics, I'd add "Do you think it would be okay to freeze an infant or toddler?"
I find some of the sentiments about the "left over" embryos in the article to be disturbing. Here are a few (I've left out the names, so know that the "shes" are not all the same woman):
When the time came to decide about the extras, she says, "I thought I was going to be calm and casual." And she was, until the first bill arrived to keep the embryos frozen. "I was petrified," she says. "There was no practical reason to keep them. I just wasn't ready to make the decision not to keep them." She paid the $600, hoping that her thoughts would crystallize as time passed. This year, she's paying the bill again."There was no practical reason to keep them." Was there a practical reason to create them? Was there a practical reason to pay $600 a year to keep them frozen when there's no practical reason to keep them?
She has a 2-year-old daughter -- and six frozen embryos. "I would love to have another baby, if I were younger -- I'm 40 -- and if money was not an object." She finds herself trapped in a mental loop; while she doesn't have the same mind-blowing love for the embryos as she has for her daughter, neither does she consider them anonymous laboratory tissue. And there's another wrinkle: One of the six embryos is biologically hers and her husband's; the other five were created with donor eggs and his sperm. "What do people do?" she asks. "You have all of these embryos in all of these labs. Are people going to keep doing what I'm doing and pay the $40 a month ad infinitum?""... she doesn't have the same mind-blowing love for the embryos as she has for her daughter ..." That's understandable - that's how we are as people. We're material beings and attach to people and things that we can see and interact with. But seeing is not believing. Do we have to see the suffering of people in places like Darfur to believe it? For it to be real?
On the option of donating embryos to other infertile couples:
"I couldn't take the thought of knowing I had another child," she says. "I knew my heart couldn't handle it. We're all better off not knowing."On donating to medical research:
[Another woman] would have liked more children through in vitro, but complications from the birth of her twin girls two years ago left her unable to get pregnant again. She had five embryos left and spent more than a year reconciling her choices with her religious convictions. Those five clusters of cells forced her to think, almost daily, about how she defined life. She considers herself pro-life, so donating to another infertile couple felt natural. The more she and her husband thought about it, however, the more unsettled they became. The questions she had were too big to be left unanswered. She didn't know if she'd ever stop searching crowds for little girls who looked just like hers. "It's a life-altering decision," she says.That sounds like sacrificing to the modern day fertility gods.
They eventually decided to donate the embryos for medical research, as a gesture of gratitude to a system that had given them their dreams. "We were ultimately still giving life, just not for those particular five embryos," she says.Many couples find donating to research a middle ground that gives the embryos a status somewhere between born children and simple clumps of cells. Although the embryos will not survive, giving to science can be a very caring act, says Dr. Lyerly, who has studied the issues surrounding frozen embryos. Couples who donate to research, she says, "feel like they were helped by science and they want to give back."
Here's another option the article calls "Thawing Without Donating:"
Some couples find themselves unable to escape the shadows of infertility without allowing their embryos to pass on naturally and with respect. Dr. Lyerly knows of a few women who've found a doctor willing to perform a "compassionate transfer," implanting the embryos into the woman at a time pregnancy is unlikely -- envisioning it as a way to return the embryos to their keeping. Other couples want to perform a ceremony of some sort during the thawing and disposal to show their reverence.
Finally, I found this to be the most helpful quote of the whole article:
"I don't think anybody knows what their opinion is until they're in this situation,"I couldn't agree with that more. But I think that's because people don't think about it until or unless they're in this situation. Which is why I urge to you think about it now, before you find yourself in the middle of a situation that seems like there's no such thing as a good option.