Monday, August 26, 2013

Adopting Embryos a Fix for IVF Waste?

Stretch marks.

They're what women have after they give birth.

But today, they're like what I feel creasing across my brain.  At least it's all still pregnancy-related.  Last week, I found an Associated Press article about the trend of gay men becoming single fathers through surrogacy, and then I read an article on World magazine today about a Minnesota couple who've adopted two children.  And they were embryos.

Currently, one of the adopted embryos - a girl - is growing inside Dr. Susan Lim, age 41, while the other one, unfortunately, has been lost.  They expect their new daughter to be born around Christmastime.

Some gift, right?

Now, obviously, the story about single gay men hiring surrogacy agencies to provide them with children adds complexity to the moral conundrum of gay couples parenting children.  Goodness - in how many ways does such a scenario compromise God's Biblical standards for families?  At least, when gay couples adopt, it could be argued that taking a child out of foster care may have some merit.  When gay couples use a surrogate to create children, it could be argued that at least having two parents may be better than one.  But when a single gay guy intentionally, deliberately pays upwards of a whopping $160,000 for a child born of a surrogate?  I simply have a hard time seeing any benefit whatsoever to such an arrangement.

Except to the surrogacy agency, of course, which makes out like a bandit.

It's politically unpopular to say, but children are best born and raised in a family comprised of a mommy and a daddy who are married to each other.

Paul and Susan Lim
Which brings me to the happily married heterosexual couple in Minnesota who've adopted two embryos.  Adopted!  Embryos!  Two of them!  Talk about your "frozen chosen."

I'm sorry - but am I the world's most ignorant single male Christian?  Because, initially, I found the concept wholly bizarre.

Perhaps, being a single male, I've never been compelled to contemplate parenthood beyond the realization that having four nephews and one niece is far less work than having four sons and one daughter.  I've never personally experienced what I'm told can be an excruciating longing to be a parent.  That would explain why in vitro fertilization has been a relatively foreign concept to me.  Having said that, however, I will also say that the whole idea of medically implanting eggs, sperm, or eggs and sperm into a uterus strikes me as being a biological contrivance.  Isn't it a form of "playing God?"  If God doesn't provide fertility, isn't that some sort of sovereign message from Him?  It's no sin or crime if a husband and wife cannot conceive.  And there are more than biological reasons for why gays cannot conceive.

Nevertheless, I've had Christian friends pay thousands and thousands of dollars for the in vitro fertilization process, and when their embryos died, they counted them as children who've gone on to Heaven.  They rationalized their pursuit as the benefit of God's providential gifting of the world's medical community and its ability to devise artificial pregnancy solutions.  It's like cancer treatments, or curing blood disorders, or artificial limbs:  medical advances are expressions of God's mercy and grace, they say.  And normally, I agree.

Except when it comes to creating life.  Something about it sounds like trying to override God's sovereign authority over that "secret place" in which we're all made, and only He can see.

Maybe God doesn't want you to achieve a family by conventional conception, but there's usually adoption available, representing not only the ability to become a parent, but also Christ's choosing of His sanctified children.  If adoption isn't something an infertile couple wants to pursue, might it be because biological parenthood has become an idol to them?  People earnestly desire plenty of lesser things than offspring they can call their own.  And considering how much money is involved with in vitro fertilization, how much more expensive can adoption be these days?

But even my embrace of adoption as a highly worthy alternative to procreation couldn't blunt my reaction to the World story.  Adopting embryos?  Really?

Either I've gotta get out more, or this truly represents an overlooked niche in the pro-life agenda.  The way World has framed its story, I feel like like I'm the only person who's never heard of embryo adoption.

According to some quick research, over 1.7 million embryos created for in vitro fertilization, known in the fertility trade as "IVF," have already been thrown away in Britain since the science became widespread there in 1991.  About 800,000 are in storage, like those miniature test tube babies sitting on sterile racks somewhere in some science fiction flick, waiting for incubation like moths in a cocoon.

In the United States, over 400,000 embryos are in storage, about half the number than in more socially-liberal Britain.

That just sounds gross, and borderline pathological.  Illegal, even.  But it is legal, and increasingly, fraught with ethical dilemmas.  Even the normally-liberal Mother Jones magazine has explored the moral anguish of parents with embryonic offspring "sitting on ice" - sometimes, they don't know where.  At least, here in the United States, the estimates are that only two percent of the 400,000 embryos in storage are ever simply thrown out in any given year.

But what comfort is that?  If any embryo is a tiny life, whether it's inside the womb, or in a test tube in a freezer, hasn't our sphere of lives requiring protection just been multiplied?  How many of these "test tube babies" could we call orphans?  One article I read stated that some fertility clinics don't keep accurate databases of their donor parents.  Who's responsible for what some people seem to be treating as procreative collateral damage?  The byproduct of overzealous paternalism - both literally, and figuratively?

And why aren't we spending on embryo advocacy in amounts even remotely similar to the amount of energy, money, prayer, and counseling we expend on crisis pregnancies?  Is it because IVF is so widely accepted in our evangelical community?

In the Lims' case, both Mr. and Mrs. are medical doctors, which gives them both a professional insight on the IVF phenomena, as well as the financial resources to pursue such an unconventional adoption.  For the rest of us, however, who have neither, what is there to do?

Simply wait, like all of those frozen embryos, until there's some sort of thaw in our ability to comprehend the very real reality that, even though science may allow us to do some things, common sense may still tell us they're unwise?

If life is as precious as we pro-lifers claim it to be, might protecting it include recognizing its basic,
God-given limits?

See what I mean by stretch marks?

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