The front-page New York Times article on “leftover embryos” from infertility treatments earned an eye roll from me. The story explores what happens to extra embryos that are frozen after an IVF cycle – usually they are used if the fresh IVF doesn’t work or ends in miscarriage, or for a sibling or two down the road. For some couples, though, they have more embryos than they know what to do with. Hence the ethical dilemma.
We never had to make that decision. My cycles yielded a grand total of two frozen embryos, and that was after I begged and pleaded for our clinic to freeze something (they have “high standards” for freezing, which I fear may have meant that some viable embryos were thrown out instead of frozen, but that’s another story). These frozen embryos were created after my last IVF, from which I miscarried. I then used both frosties in my last-ditch FET (frozen embryo transfer). One of them became my son.
Now, faced with questions about whether to do a fresh cycle or to adopt, I wish I had the problem of too many embryos. It seems a much better problem to have than not enough. I can hear you now, though, telling me that’s a selfish way to look at it, that I’m only considering my own feelings and not those of the (potential) children frozen in time and space, just waiting to be born.
The thing is, even if you have lots of embryos that you think you won’t need, you may. FETs don’t always work. Miscarriages happen. Six frozen embryos could turn into only one live baby. So it’s really a moot point until you are done having kids. And even then, knowing my morbid nature and my tendency to hoard things, I would probably keep them for a long while just in case something happened to my living children.
Eventually, though, a choice would have to be made. And while I agree that it is difficult morally and ethically, I just don’t think it’s the sort of crisis that warrants a front-page New York Times story. Yes, there are some aspects of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that hold certain dilemmas. But it bothers me when the media choses to focus on those parts of ART when the general public still doesn’t even have an understanding of the basics. It just reinforces the weird and scary of this misunderstood process, and neglects the fact that ART has helped create thousands (millions?) of happy families over the years. One lawyer quoted in the piece even mentions an “‘ick’ factor.” Really?
I would like to see a greater effort to promote understanding and acceptance of ART, but that doesn’t sell newspapers. You know what does? Fear. Controversy. For every celebrity battling in court over frozen embryos (like Sofia Vergara), there are thousands of families living quietly and happily as a result of their own frozen embryos. Why do we have to pick out the rare occurrence and use that as a moral directive? And the issue of frozen embryos is not even new, so why is it being covered now?
But you’re still skirting the question, you might say. What about the frozen embryos no one wants? I think embryo donation is a wonderful thing. The whole “Oh, but what if they grow up and marry their sister?” thing is, again, an uninformed way of looking at it. As with children of adoption, psychologists now advise that children born as a result of donated eggs, sperm or embryos be talked to early and often about their origins, obviously in age-appropriate language. As more children born from donors grow up, hopefully society will catch up with the times and it won’t be a big deal. So if two donor children meet maybe they would be open with each other about that. True, many donations are anonymous, but there are usually enough clues to piece it together. Besides, the likelihood of this happening are rare to begin with.
If a couple just can’t wrap their head around embryo donation, though, I believe that donating to science is a wonderful thing that could improve infertility treatments in the future and maybe even save lives. I would feel OK about this option.
The NY Times article also mentions a clinic in California that is creating embryos which are then made available to couples. Patients like this program because it is quick and has a money-back guarantee. But one fertility lawyer quoted said it was commodification and one step removed from a “mail order catalogue.” To me, this is insulting to the couples themselves. Couples looking for embryos are at the end of the line. They just want a baby. They are not looking to pre-select a baby from a catalogue, choosing a child they think will be tall and blond and blue-eyed and smart. They are not sitting there thinking about creating the “perfect” child in some kind of Brave New World. When they imagine their child, they are probably imagining a baby who looks like them, imperfections and all. It’s not about selecting traits. It’s about finding a child to love who just somehow belongs in their family. Who is theirs. What is so wrong about that?
OK, but what of this child – shouldn’t he or she have a say how he was created? How will he come to view his origins? Well, first of all, none of us had a say in how we were created. And I would venture that far more babies are born “unwanted” the natural way than through ART. Couples going through ART really, really want a baby. You can bet that they will love whatever child comes into their family. And as for how these kids will view their origins as they grow, well, that depends more on us than on them. Children have to be taught that something is wrong or unnatural or weird. If we all accepted ART as a wonderful way to make a family, so would the children born of ART. They would only think it was weird if we tell them, consciously or subconsciously, that it is.
Do you agree that, once again, the media is perpetuating the belief that ART is controversial and weird?