The Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic

    Abortion and Embryo Adoption - CASE STUDY

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    Abortion and Embryo Adoption - CASE STUDY

    Post by Admin on Fri Oct 30, 2009 4:00 pm

    Abortion and Embryo Adoption

    Ever since it became possible to freeze embryos as part of the process of assisting in reproduction, doctors and the couples themselves have faced a growing problem: what to do with the frozen embryos.

    Couples who are trying to have a baby are usually advised to freeze and store “extra” embryos, that is, the embryos not implanted on the first attempt at conception. There is a simple reason for this: the process of harvesting the eggs to be fertilized is a highly invasive one for the woman, not only requiring surgery but also a regime of drugs designed to force the production of multiple eggs at one time. Minimizing the number of such invasive procedures is medically wise, since those procedures take a significant toll on the woman producing the eggs. It is better, all things considered, to maximize the possible benefits from putting someone through such a procedure.

    Often, couples who have successfully gone through fertility treatments and now have the size family they desire simply want to forget about the hardships they have gone through to conceive; they are happy simply to get on with the task of raising their children. Memories of the process are often painful. In some cases, this results in couples simply abandoning the remaining embryos at the fertility clinic, not even responding to letters about what should be done with the remaining frozen embryos.

    In other cases, however, couples want to see those frozen embryos bring happiness to other couples with infertility problems, especially those who cannot produce eggs on their own. As a result, they give their physicians permission to give those embryos to other couples trying to have a baby. Doctors often send frozen embryos to other physicians with infertile couples who are looking for a good biological match with the embryos (eye and hair color, etc.). This is largely an informal network among physicians who want to help their patients get pregnant. It is not a money-making network, since such exchanges are usually done simply for the cost of the transportation. Such exchanges may be viewed simply as donations akin to organ donations or may actually be covered by a legal contract similar to those used for transferring property. Typically, there would be no screening of those who receive the embryos other than the fact that they are patients of the participating physician. Recently, there has been pressure to regulate this process and, in particular, to require the receiving couple (or single woman) to go through the type of screening and home study that is mandatory for adoptions. Such screenings insure that the embryos will receive a good home, just as they are intended to insure that adopted children are placed in an appropriate setting. Embryos are not property, advocates of this recommendation maintain, and thus cannot be bought and sold like property or even given away like gifts.

    Several states are now considering legislation that would require that embryo transfers be treated like adoptions, with all the safeguard that have over the years been built into the adoption process for the protection of the adopted child. Opponents of such legislation worry that it could erode abortion rights for women, since it provides legal support to the view that embryos are persons, even at this very early stage of fetal development.

    A few legislators are even considering the next point of analogy between embryo transfers and adoptions: should those who are donating the embryos be required to participate in some kind of counseling? After all, the embryos that will be brought to term are their full genetic offspring and, biologically speaking, siblings to the other children they have together. What might happen if, for example, the child they bring to birth dies in an accident several years later? They realize that they have another biological offspring somewhere. What might they then do?

    Finally, what rights might the adopted embryo eventually have in regard to knowledge about his or her biological parents? Should they be able to request that information be available to them when they reach adulthood? How is this to be balanced with the interests of the couple that has donated the embryos, who may not want such contact? Indeed, the couple may not even have told the children they have raised that they were conceived through artificial reproductive techniques.

    Imagine that you are the legislative aide to a state senator whose committee has been charged with the responsibility for developing policy recommendations that address this problem. You have been asked to develop those policy recommendations for your senator. Faced with the set of issues outlined above, how would you develop a public policy to guide us through such situations? Explain clearly what your recommended policy is and how it addresses the multiple interests and concerns outlined above.

    Notes:

    Source: Aaron Zitner, “A Cold War on Embryo Adoptions,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2002. Column 1. Page 1.

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