Why Note Use the Leftover Embryos?
On February 5, 2006, Ford Field in Detroit hosted Super Bowl XL. While the New Orleans Superdome is now referred to as the “shelter of last resort,” it holds the honor of having hosted more Super Bowls than any other sports facility. Its football seating capacity is 72,003. The seating capacity for Ford Field is approximately 65,000. Imagine for just a moment the Ford Field filled to capacity with 65,000 screaming football fans. Now try to visual five identical stadiums each filled to capacity alongside the Detroit stadium. Can you picture the literal sea of people that would file out if all six stadiums emptied at the same time? It would be approximately equivalent to the city population of Denver, Colorado. And yet, right now in the United States, we have more precious souls than that stored in liquid nitrogen—their fate not-yet determined. Fertility clinics across this country are storing more than 400,000 living embryos that are “leftovers” from in vitro fertilization procedures. Many individuals (and politicians) see nothing wrong with using these “left-over” embryos for stem cell research.
The process of in vitro fertilization normally results in 5-12 eggs being fertilized. Of those, normally three are implanted in the womb (in hopes of increasing the odds for pregnancy). However, if twelve eggs were fertilized and only three were implanted, then nine living embryos remain unused. Parents then face the dilemma of what to do with the “left-over” embryos. In most cases, the embryos are frozen in liquid nitrogen which temporarily relieves the parents from having to make a final decision. However, once the genetic parents decide that their family is complete and embryos are still available, they have only three options: (1) donate them to couples who are unable to conceive; (2) donate them to research—which means they are ultimately destroyed; or (3) thawing them and letting them die. Eventually the cost of storing the frozen embryos and lack of information on other options outweighs other concerns and the embryos are thawed out and discarded. These doomed embryos become what some physicians refer to as “embryo wastage”—just another statistic.
Rather than becoming a statistic, many researchers want access to these leftovers. After all, they would argue that these embryos are going to be disposed of, so why waste them? The news media suggest that these leftovers are the “perfect solution” in supplying researchers with embryonic stem cells. But here again, the public is only getting one side of the story. There is another—a much better—option. There are agencies today that facilitate the adoption of embryos to families facing fertility challenges. Rather than adopting a child, a couple who is unable to produce a healthy embryo adopts one that is then implanted and allowed to grow to term. Probably the best known agency is Snowflakes, an embryo adoption broker that opposes in vitro fertilization because of the numerous “left-over” embryos. [For more information, see http://www.nightlight.org/snowflakes_description.asp.] While these agencies do not resolve the problem of left-over embryos, they do allow individuals who are already in that situation to make a choice that does not involve the destruction of human life.
On May 24, 2005, President George Bush invited twenty-one children who had been adopted through the snowflake agency to join him in an effort to demonstrate what an embryo can grow into if it is not destroyed in order to create a new stem cell line. Their very presence was strong testimony as to why we must uphold the sanctity of human life. If these 400,000 unborn children were in orphanages would we allow scientists to manipulate on them for whatever reason they choose? Are we justifying the death of these individuals simply because they reside in “frozen orphanages”? The destruction of these embryos—whether it is for research or disposal—ends human life. To argue otherwise is to argue that these embryos are either not “human,” or they are not living. Should these living souls not be afforded the same protection of law that we receive? Are we not all created equal? One must question the integrity of a society that argues to commit such immoral acts in the name of science.