Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Dead Ideas

The next battleground in the culture wars involves the leftover embryos from fertility treatments ... not so much about the ones that get used in stem cell research but the ones that don't:

The woman, a hairdresser who was married to a mechanic, had had one child and then triplets -- all born after successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.

"I can't afford to keep the remaining embryos frozen," the woman told [Dr. Jeanne] Loring over lunch. "I can't afford to feed the family I have."

The question of what to do with excess (or unused) embryos is a vexing one for parents who have completed their families. Those frozen embryos -- currently estimated at about half a million in the U.S. -- are typically discarded, given to researchers for stem cell research or "adopted" by other couples.
The surplus is growing. The reasons are many, including that some fertility patients have moral qualms about destroying them outright or by donating them for research and others don't want to put them up for "adoption," either by infertile couples or by religiously-motivated people wanting to "rescue" so-called "snowflake babies." Dr. Loring,the director of human embryonic stem cell research at the Scripps Research Institute, has established an embryo bank "to relieve the responsibility -- financial, moral and otherwise -- from parents who feel they face no good options."

Cue the rhetoric:

The Rev. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, said Christian ethicists have been predicting disaster for years as they watched the growth of the "multibillion-dollar" fertility industry. He describes the 500,000 stored embryos -- the equivalent of the population of Tucson, Ariz., -- as "caught in a frozen orphanage."

Pacholczyk said the question should not be what to do with the existing leftover embryos, but rather, "How can we stop the production of more frozen embryos" to begin with. ...

Like the Catholic Church, Focus on the Family also objects to the creation of excess embryos, calling it an irresponsible use of technology. Still, as long as there are surplus embryos, the group will advocate for their donation and adoption rather than research or destruction.

[Carrie Gordon Earll, a "bioethics analyst" with Focus on the Family], for one, was skeptical about Loring's proposed embryo bank because she believes that embryos ought to remain the responsibility of the families who created them.

"Parents need to be engaged in deciding about the welfare of their children," she said, "whether they're born or pre-born."

Pacholczyk agreed that maintaining the frozen embryos is the "minimal duty" for a biological parent. He recommended keeping the excess embryos on ice until they were no longer viable, followed by a "decent burial."
Does anyone know where we can get some really teeny, tiny little caskets?

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