Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Souls on Ice

Sunday morning, I read this article by Liza Mundy in the Dallas Morning News. The article is about a growing surplus of frozen embryos left over from In Vitro Fertilization treatment. According to the article, there are probably around 500,000 frozen embryos being stored; most of them belong to families who do not know what to do with them.

The amazing thing about this article is that it shows that even people who support abortion and stem cell research can not view their own embryos as mere clumps of cells and tissue. Mundy states:
This embryo glut is forcing many people to reconsider whatever they thought they thought about issues such as life and death and choice and reproductive freedom.
The problem goes something like this. A couple gets IVF treatment to conceive. The clinic where they receive treatment gathers multiple embryos (well over a dozen probably) in order to attempt implantation. After treatment, the remaining embryos are stored in a frozen state. Only the parents can make the call to kill the embryos or to continue storage.

I actually know someone who is going through this exact issue. He confided in me that he and his wife view their frozen embryos as siblings to their born child and they keep putting off a decision on what to do with them. They just keep sending money to keep them frozen. He told me, "every year we get that letter about continuing storage or destroying the embryos. We never talk about it until we get that letter, and each time we put it off for one more year." He told me that his reasons are not religious, but he still doesn't feel right about destroying them.

Most of the couples with these embryos feel the only solution is to donate them to another family.
As with ultrasound technology - which permits parents to visualize a fetus in utero - IVF allows many patients to form an emotional attachment to a form of human life that is very early, it's true, but still life, and still human. People bond with photos of three-day-old, eight-cell embryos. They ardently wish for them to grow into children. The experience can be transforming.
Dr. Nachtigall, who conducted studies into this issue of what to do with leftover embryos, found:
Parents variously conceptualize frozen embryos as biological tissue, living entities, 'virtual' children have interests that must be considered and protected, siblings of their living children, genetic or psychological 'insurance policies,' and symbolic reminders of their past infertility.
He notes that many parents think of these embryos as not merely tissue, but also as children.

The difference between a person who willingly aborts their own child(ren) and who intentionally seeks fertility treatment through IVF is obviously the lack or presence of desire to have a child. This issue nicely stradles the usual pro-life and pro-choice camps, however, because people from both sides seek IVF treatment. It is encouraging to me that people, even pro-choice people, have a hard time looking at their own embryos and coldly stating that they're just cells and tissue.

It might be easy for a person to look at a stem cell lab, full of embryos with no apparent siblings, parents, loved ones, or even a future of their own and see nothing wrong with harvesting the cells and tissue in the name of science and health, but it is a completely different issue when the cells become personal.

Clearly the factor on deciding whether or not an embryo is a living person or not does not rest solely on feelings of attachment, but those feelings are a step in the right direction and parental love and attachment is surely part of the equation. It is clear that an embryo, given implantation and a normal pregnancy, will be born as a living human person. Parents can bond with this baby, this living person, from the moment of conception and this issue just further demonstrates that. A single cell is no less alive than an adult human, it is simply earlier in development.

We don't consider infants any less alive than adults, even premature infants. Infants have a lot of developing to do, however, and many of their ogans are immature and they can not survive on their own. The line is so blurry that I say it doesn't exist. A human is a human, one cell or many cells. The only reason our society kicks and screams in admitting that is complete detachment from the reality of the situation and the disgusting desire for the right to slaughter children that we don't want or would rather harvest to cure other living humans.

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