Just when you thought that the anti-abortion/’pro-life’ crusade had lost a little bit of its spunk, Evangelical Christians figured out a way to bring it back to life, expanding its reach to the stem cell research debate. Evangelicals have created a program they cloyingly call, Snowflake ("named to reflect the frozen uniqueness of each embryo") which matches willing conservative Christian couples with unused embryos offered by fertility clinics. The couples ‘adopt’ the embryo, implant it in the woman and go on to produce wholesome Christian babies.
Of course, embryo adoption, which I prefer to call embryo political football, turns the entire purpose of fertility treatment on its head. In the normal situation, an infertile couple turns to a clinic, identifies an egg donor, harvests her eggs, fertilizes them and implants them into the female partner resulting hopefully in a child for the couple who otherwise could not have any. Embryo adoption doesn’t seem designed to help infertile Evangelical couples have children. It seems designed to score political points in the war against stem cell research. Here’s what an embryo recipient said in today’s New York Times article on the Snowflake program:
Asa McClure (baby), ‘former embryo’ & former
‘slave’ (credit: Peter Yates/NYT)
"We really felt like the Lord was calling us to try to give one of
these embryos, these children, a chance to live," Ms. McClure said.
Ms. McClure does not appear to be infertile (she had three previous children before embryo adoption). She doesn’t even say she underwent the procedure primarily to have a child. She tells us that she had a child for purely theological/political reasons. After the Terry Schiavo madness, now we’re dragging our babies into the political maelstrom. It’s utter madness.
Mr. McClure at first had "real problems" paying a fertility clinic in return for receiving the embryo, since he of course disapproved of such clinics discarding embryos (which to his mind were living babies) for purposes of medical research:
[But] he consulted a Southern Baptist church elder, who advised him, " ‘If
you want to free the slaves, sometimes you have to deal with the slave
trader,’ " Mr. McClure said.
Again, instead of expressing a desire to make a baby and nurture it, McClure and his evangelical cohorts are scoring theological points in a battle against ‘slavery’ and science.
Embryo adoption has been brought to you by Nightlight Children’s Adoption in 1997. The website claims that the group helps infertile Christian couples have children. I have no doubt it does this. But it clearly stretches the rules to allow the ‘right’ fertile couples into the program (presumably as long as they swear fealty to Stoddardt’s political agenda).
from the clutches
Ron Stoddart, the adoption agency’s director created Snowflake. He too explains its primary purpose not in the traditional terms of helping couples to have children. Instead he says:
"The best way to increase awareness of embryo adoption is controversy,"
he said. "The embryonic stem cell research debate has done more to
publicize this than anything. Nobody’s going to put pictures of the
president kissing a child in your paper just to publicize an adoption
This is pure abuse of children (and embryos!) to advance an anti-science, anti-human agenda. By anti-human, I mean that Stoddard and the evangelicals are using little cuddly babies to try to turn back medical science in its efforts to improve health and cure disease. Just imagine Mr. McClure, Mrs. McClure or Mr. Stoddart developing Parkinson’s, diabetes, spinal cord injury or any number of illnesses for which cures could be found using embryonic stem cells. Would they at that point concede that their embryo adoption sideshow stymied efforts to cure the very disease that might end their lives prematurely?
Another article on Nightlight in the Orange County Register points out another potentially horrible repercussion of embryo adoption if its premise that embryos are babies is taken literally:
"If you start to develop this conceptualization
of frozen embryos as human beings, that they’re worthy of the effort to
go through this whole adoption process, then you open the door for the
charge of child abuse or child neglect, and then that would open up the
door for some groups or organizations to take the frozen embryos from
the patients," said Robert Brzyski, past president of the Society for Assisted-Reproductive Technology.
"I think that would be extremely traumatic for the individuals and
not consistent with the values that Americans have traditionally held
regarding the relationship between parents and children."
Not to mention that it would virtually destroy the entire field of medical fertility treatment. Infertile couples who’ve paid for a donor’s eggs could be told by the government or law enforcement that unless they use the embryos to create a child they have no right to them. At Bush’s recent baby circus display after Congress’ vote to overturn his stem cell policy, he said (read my post about this event) implicitly just as much:
"Every embryo is unique and genetically
complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our
life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but
In other words, scientists who use embryos for research purposes AND infertile couples who permit their unused embryos to be dontated for such research are "exploiting" them as "raw material." It is but a very small step from here to legistlative proposals that would criminalize such actions. How long will it take to get ot this point? The Times article notes that Stoddardt, an adoption attorney by profession, has forwarded a legislative proposal on embryo adoption to California state legislators. What goodies does he have in it for all those of us who’ve used infertility treatment and stored embryos with our clinics?
What I’d like to know is why the Austin fertility clinic mentioned in this article allowed its discarded embryos to be used for this purpose. I would urge anyone undergoing fertility treatment to specify that they allow unused embryos to be used for medical research purposes only, but not for embryo adoption. Any clinic that cooperates with Nightlight should be ridden out of town and the medical fertility community on a rail. It’s just plain unseemly for a fertility clinic, which supposedly is helping the infertile have children, to allow its embryos to be used as part of this baby circus.
R. Silverstein says
How is providing genetic parents with an alternative option wrong? Many WANT their remaining embryos to be born. Embryo adoption does help infertile couples have children. Not everyone wants to go through IVF. Again, where is the problem?
“Just imagine Mr. McClure, Mrs. McClure or Mr. Stoddart developing Parkinson’s, diabetes, spinal cord injury or any number of illnesses for which cures could be found using embryonic stem cells”
Show me one disease that has been cured with embryonic stem cells. Just one. Cause the truth is, there are none. Not even one. On the other hand, cord blood stem cells and adult stem cells have produced some very promising material without destroying anything. I want stem cell cures to be available just as much as everything else, but it doesn’t make sense for the government to fund speculative embryonic research when adult stem cells have already proved so promising.
Richard Silverstein says
This is, of course, a completely disingenous response to my post. There have been less than 100 embryo adoptions which resulted in live births. So how does that equal ‘many wanting remaining embryos to be born.’ If so many want this procedure why aren’t there more babies?
As for the ridiculous argument that not a single disease has been cured by embryonic stem cell research:…This commenter hasn’t a clue about what medical research is, how it works or what it takes for a success.
First, the other forms of research you advocate have not produced cures either. And the simple reason that the embryonic research hasn’t produced cures is that the research hasn’t existed for very long. It takes time to produce cures. And the research is in its infancy.
The other major reason that embryonic research methods has not produced cures is that the Bush Administration has refused to fund it. In science, the most important source of resarch funding is the feds and if you don’t have fed money your research won’t likely go very far (unless you have deep pocket pharmaceutical or other private funding sources).
Finally, all serious genetic researchers acknowledge that your touted forms of research are seriously deficient in terms of having the capacity to produce serious scientific breatkthroughs. Only embryonic stem cells are malleable enough to transform into the types of body cells that are needed to cure various diseases.
I find your terms odd: embryonic research is “speculative” while adult stem cells are what: tried and true? Come on. You’re just blowing smoke up everyone’s you know what. If you were ever thinking of going into science for a career, stick to your day job.
Keith Higa says
On the other hand, cord blood stem cells and adult stem cells have produced some very promising material without destroying anything.
I’m on the bone marrow donor rolls and have even gotten a call as a possible match. That having been said, cord blood, bone marrow, and the like work great if you have leukemia or another blood disorder, but likely they won’t be much help against Parkinson’s, etc. ’cause they only transform into other blood cells. Too specialized, they are.
Richard Silverstein says
Keith: As the Irish say: “Good on ya.” I’m on the donor marrow rolls as well. I’ve been on less than a year and not yet received a call. I think it would be so cool if you could help save someone’s life. Thanks for confirming what I told Anonymous above.
Laura Jones says
“If you start to develop this conceptualization
of frozen embryos as human beings…”
I just have to laugh. Does it really take that much of a stretch of the imagination to call a fertilized egg a human being. The moral gymnastics necessary to twist reproductive issues to fit the convenience and self-centeredness of this age takes a lot more “faith” than simply believing in life..
….and by the way, I am in science…so don’t try the “moral but scientifically ignorant” reply.
Richard Silverstein says
Its’ not a question of imagination (though yours seems vivid enough to make this leap easily), it’s a question of science (which you claim mysteriously to be “in”–what exactly does this mean?). A fertilized egg is NOT a human being. It is the first step on the way to a human being. There’s a difference though this appears too subtle for your mind to grasp.
I wish this comment were more coherent because I’m happy to debate those who disagree with me. But I simply cannot make any sense out of what Laura was trying to say.
Linda W says
I, too, was appalled by the original article. I also have major problems with the “Snowflakes” program and their political agenda. [Plus, they charge an inordinate amount of money (around $10,000) to provide a homestudy and other “services” which are not in any way legally necessary for one couple to donate their embryos to another couple.] However, I don’t have any problem with a couple who’s gone through infertility treatment choosing to donate their “leftover” embryos to another infertile couple. And there are plenty of other ways to do this besides Snowflakes. Many fertility clinics actually have a donor embryo program within the clinic. Leftover embryos from their clinic are made available to other couples within the clinic. Typically this is anonymous, though there is some degree of “matching,” depending on the clinic and the desires of both the donating and the recepient couple. The other option is a different progrm/website, http://www.miracleswaiting.org This site has a very low cost ($25) listing service for couples who are interested in recieving donor embryos. Couples with embryos to donate make direct contact with the couple seeking embryos and they proceed from there. There is no cost, beyond what is medically necessary for the tranfer to take place. There is no religious or political bias. And it’s not secret or anonymous – the couples know each other, the children grow up knowing the whole story about their lives. Most of the couples listing on the site have gone through many years of unsuccessful infertility treatments. They have no political agenda; they just want to be parents, and they want to give birth, nurse, etc, if they can.
If a couple wants to donate their embryos for research – great! But if they’d prefer to donate them to another couple, that alternative is (and should be) available, too.
PS: Are you aware of any support groups or something similar for families with children born from donor eggs?
Richard Silverstein says
I agree with you about donating eggs to infertile couples & of course have no problem with couples doing this as long as there is no religious or political bias (as you called it) in the process. Our clinic (NYU) only asked us if we wanted to donate the leftover eggs to research, which we approved.
That’s a great question you asked about support groups for families with egg donor babies. I actually asked RESOLVE whether they knew of an online forum for such folks. They didn’t. I thought it was a crying shame & there should be such a thing. If you or others you know have an interest in creating such a thing I’d be interested to help. But I don’t want to start it myself because I’m not well connected in this field/community (infertility) & because I started another forum a few months ago & it was a hard & not totally satisfying experience (I did most of the planning & execution myself).
I might post your question on a few parents & infertility forums I belong to & see what response I get.
UPDATE: RESOLVE of Washington State, like many state chapters of this national organization, runs support groups for those experiencing infertility though I believe the groups are general in nature and not focussed on particular types of fertility treatment. Check the RESOLVE state chapter website where you live for further details. The RESOLVE national organization maintains a list of mental health partners.
There are several online forums related to moms undergoing egg donor procedures. Notably, the American Surrogacy Center maintains two such ones: Egg Donors Only and Moms Via Egg Donation. These are restricted forums and not open to the general public.
I do have to say that I briefly participated in one of these forums & tried to discuss the issue of sharing your child’s egg donor status with your child, family, friends, etc. I took the position of being for pretty much full disclosure at the earliest possible age. The level of vitriol that rained down upon me was tremendous including incredible reverse sexism. I decided that leaving the group was the better part of valor. I learned that even in women who have successfully done egg donor treatment and had a child there is tremendous guilt, shame and pain. I’d have thought the feeling would be unalloyed joy, but it seems much more complicated than that at least for some.
There is also a group for Embryo Adoption. And Surrogacy.com maintains an “open” forum too. At 180 members, it doesn’t seem to be a well-read forum unfortunately. The site also maintains a directory of infertility professionals.
Hi! I just wanted to clarify something: You are not opposed to embryo adoption. Your opposition is to embryo adoption offered through Snowflakes?
Thank you for your time in reading and responding to my question. Take care.
Richard Silverstein says
I find just about everything I’ve read about ‘Snowflakes’ objectionable so, yes, I’m opposed to their use of embryo adoption.
As for how I feel about embryo adoption in general, I guess I don’t really understand the reasoning behind it. Perhaps, if you wanted to “adopt” a specific woman’s embryo, say your sister or a close relative, I guess that’s OK. But that’s not what most embryo adoptions seem to be about. Primarily, the process is used by anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research families who want to have children. Embryo adoption for them is a political/religious act in that they’re ‘liberating’ embryos which otherwise might be used for medical research seeking to cure diseases. In this case, I completely object to embryo adoption.
Holly L says
I just wanted to put in my 2 cents. I have been trying for a baby for many years, and suffered 8 losses because of my crummy eggs. We could have gone the egg donor route, creating who knows how many embryos while only using a few, but with so many embryos already created and waiting, we decided that it would be much better for us to go with donor embryos. I do believe that embryo “adoption”, where “agencies” charge couples thousands of dollars to “match” you and make you have a homestudy that is totally not required to have… a rip off and a waste. Any infertility clinic worth its salt has an embryo donor program. You get on the list, you get matched, you start your cycle. That is what happened to us. After 8 losses, here we are 22 weeks pregnant with a beautifully healthy baby girl. Each ultrasound and each kick reminds me of how much life there is in all of those little embryos. I wouldn’t have her without that option! If we had gone through traditional IVF and had a lot more embryos than we were willing to birth, I would have been faced with the decision to thaw them and let them die (yes, they are alive, so they would die), donate them to science and they would die, or give them a shot at growing into the kids that they have already started the process of becoming. To not appreciate the option of giving the chance of life to couples like myself who cannot do it without a donor is beyond me. Every baby born has an umbillical cord. Can I ask why no one is interested in tho stem cells there? Maybe there is just not enough controversy to warrant the effort?
Richard Silverstein says
@Holly L: You’re not going to get any sympathy fr. me. We have 3 wonderful children produced through donor eggs. I have no qualms of any sort about the route we chose.
I don’t have any problem w. the concept of donor embryos. I DO have a problem w. the political/theological anti-abortion thrust of the whole concept.
Sorry, that doesn’t wash around here. If you want to promote this sort of theology you’ll have to go somewhere else to do it.