The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

A Children’s Rights Perspective on Embryo Adoption


Katy Faust


As a children’s rights advocate, I defend children’s universally-recognized right to life and right to their mother and father.[1] That means while I can (and do) sympathize with adults’ very natural desire to have children, when it comes to technological interventions and policies that require children to forfeit their rights, I side with the kids.

I’m often asked about embryo adoption, both by troubled parents when their annual storage fee for their cryogenically frozen babies comes due, as well as by pro-life friends wondering if they should open their wombs so these babies can escape the freezer. A response that honors the rights of the child while accounting for sometimes irrevocable circumstances is not simple. 

Before we can address embryo adoption, we must first understand both why the question needs answering in the first place, and also what the alternatives to adoption are. 

 

Both Abortion and Reproductive Technologies Commodify Children

There is significant overlap between the baby-making and baby-taking wings of the “medical” world, if either making babies in a lab or the practice of abortion can be considered “medicine.” Both processes treat children as commodities, and those concerned with protecting children’s rights should take note of the similarities. 

The abortion debate has taught us that it is immoral to violate a child’s right to life, even if a child is unwanted. We should empathize with the woman who is struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, while simultaneously protecting her child’s right to life.  

The IVF debate should reflect that same ethic. It is immoral to violate a child’s right to life or his or her right to either biological parent, even if a child is very wanted. We should empathize with those suffering with infertility or who identify as LGBT, while simultaneously protecting children’s right to life and right to his or her mother and father. 

All children, wanted or unwanted, have rights to which all adults must conform.  

And yet, there is precious little moral clarity on the subject of reproductive technologies, even among religious Americans. Two years ago when I spoke to a group of Baptist pastors about the injustice of donor-conception, the most urgent inquiry during the question and answer session was, “But what should I tell my congregants to do with their leftover embryos?” For a population which is so zealous about a child’s right to life when it comes to baby-taking (i.e., abortion), it seems strange that there is so much confusion about that life when it comes to baby-making. 

 

How We Got Here

Many seem to think that in vitro fertilization (IVF) is just sperm + egg = (poof!) baby-with-no-cost-to-mother-or-child.  

The truth is that IVF almost always commodifies children. I say almost always because while it is theoretically possible to have a scenario wherein the couple uses only the gametes of the intended parents, creates only the number of embryos that will be immediately implanted, ensures that the biological mother and the “carrier” and the woman who raises the child are all the same person, and rejects sex-selection and implantation of the most “viable” embryos, such a scenario is cost prohibitive and therefore extremely rare.

In reality, IVF routinely involves the selection of embryos with certain traits[2] (such a practice is also called “eugenics”), high rates of embryo loss during transfer[3], “selective reduction” (that is, abortion of unwanted multiples)[4], sex-selection[5], use of “donor” egg and sperm[6], the womb of a third party[7], and the creation of “surplus embryos” that often spend years in storage. By some estimates, there are close to one million children on ice in this country. Most are waiting to be implanted by their commissioning parents, but many are leftovers due to the successful implantation of their genetic siblings.[8] One clinic estimates that 21% of the embryos created there have been abandoned.[9] Because neither the Center for Disease Control (CDC) nor the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) requires fertility clinics to report the number of embryos in storage, it is impossible to know the scope of the crisis. 

Parents who have the family that they desire, but still have embryos in storage, are now faced with what is likely one of the most gut-wrenching family-planning decisions they never thought they would have to make: what to do with their unborn babies. 

If parents with surplus embryos turn to the ASRM for advice, they will be told they have three options[10]:  

  • Thaw and Discard
  • Donate to Research
  • Embryo Donation (Anonymous or Direct)

None of these options honors a child’s right to life and right to be known and loved by his or her mother and father. And the ASRM fails to mention the one option that honors both fundamental rights, which we shall discuss later. But first, let’s examine why all three of these options include significant loss and harm to children. 

 

Thaw and Discard

For those of you who have had to cut your teeth on the science of embryology fighting pro-abortion arguments, you know that while they may be small, those frozen embryos are of course still fully human. From a genetic standpoint, the only difference between those “surplus embryos” and their four-year-old sister playing in the backyard is time. “Thaw and discard” is very simply the choice to deny children their right to life. 

This first ASRM option should open the eyes of everyone, but especially of those who consider themselves “pro-life,” to the ways in which reproductive technologies commodify children. We spend so much time and energy defending children’s right to life in the abortion debate that many of us fail to see the rampant “taking new life” that is transpiring in the branch of the medical world dedicated to “making new life.” As outlined above, the IVF process itself treats children as designer products to be manufactured, designed, and selected based on the parents’ wishes. That the ASRM even suggests “thaw and discard” as an option for parents should drive home the extent to which reproductive technologies treat children as a disposable commodity. 

If the intended parents do choose to “thaw and discard,” they should offer these babies a dignified end. Center for Bioethics and Culture President Jennifer Lahl cites theologian Gilbert Meilaender on the topic: 

What Christians, at least, should want [with respect to abandoned embryos] is a brief religious ritual to accompany their dying, a liturgy in which we commend these weakest of human beings to God, though perhaps also a liturgy in which with the psalmists we ask God how long his providence will permit this to continue. . . . We demonstrate our humanity by accompanying frozen embryos to their death and committing them liturgically to God’s care.[11]

Parents demonstrate not only their humanity, but also the humanity of these tiny lives when they grant their frozen embryos the same mournful ritual that would be given to their already-born siblings. Such a burial sends a clear signal about the cost to children when we permit babies to be frozen and stored.

 

Donate to Research

Option number two is surprisingly common. One would think that parents who have already seen the full humanity of these embryos’ siblings crafting at their kitchen table would find donating frozen embryos to research to be unthinkable. But according to a recent study, more than twice as many couples (29%) feel comfortable donating their surplus embryos to research than they do “discarding” them (13%).[12] 

The revelation that Planned Parenthood has been profiting from aborted baby parts in the name of “research” makes it obvious that there is a growing market for unborn humans.[13] Abandoned and surplus embryos can be used for everything from embryonic stem cell research to human development research to creating designer babies through gene “editing.” One senior researcher explains,  

Every embryo donated for research makes an immensely valuable contribution to medical science, and is greatly appreciated. The information gained from the scientific studies will not only lead to optimisation of human embryo culture systems to improve fertility treatment, but also help in understanding the origin of defects and to avoid miscarriage.[14]

In other words, researchers destroy these little lives for the sake of preserving future lives.

But this research is not just about “preserving” future lives. It is also about designing them. Last year a Chinese scientist used CRISPR technology to edit the genes of two babies, claiming that the twins are now immune to HIV.[15] Another Russian scientist is moving toward a hearing-improved gene-edited baby.[16] Beyond the fact that gene editing may create unintended mutations[17] in these children, those concerned with the rights of children must also be deeply alarmed by how many hundreds of embryos “donated to research” are being destroyed in pursuit of these genetically improved babies.

All can agree that experimentation on human beings is abhorrent—this is international law. But when those humans do not yet have names, cannot be photographed, and cannot testify before an ethics committee, and when the experimentation supposedly serves the greater good, it somehow seems more acceptable to most. But the smallness of the victims, and the fact that their demise is at the hands of medical or other highly trained professionals, should not dilute our resolve to defend their rights.  

No one who is pro-life or pro-child should condone the “donate to research” option.

 

Embryo Donation/Adoption

Once you look closely at the first two options, option number three seems ideal. Often referred to as “snowflake adoption,” embryo adoption is viewed by many in the pro-life world as a no-lose solution: childless couple, plus surplus embryo, equals two birds with one stone. The embryo is donated to an infertile or same-sex couple, or to an individual without a mate, or to a couple who already has a houseful of children but who are burdened by these frozen souls. 

There are some cases wherein embryo adoption truly is the only option left that protects these babies’ right to life. In the rare cases wherein the biological parents are genuinely unable to safely carry their children to term due to advanced maternal age, or after a hysterectomy, or because the biological mother has died, “embryo donation” really is the only child-honoring option. But we should not be under the illusion that embryo adoption, which always violates a child’s right to be known, loved, and raised by his or her biological parents, is “ideal.”  

Because the practice of embryo adoption is so new, we do not yet have data on how these children will fare. It will be decades before sociologists will be able to evaluate population-based samples of adults conceived through embryo adoption, and such an examination will be even more difficult because the demographic is so small. Even research on children born via sperm and egg donation is sparse, despite the fact that we have been making babies in laboratories for over four decades. Thus, we must draw conclusions about the impact of this novel practice from what we know of both traditional adoption and sperm and egg donation.

 

Donor-Conception vs. Traditional Adoption

As I have detailed elsewhere, adoption supports children’s rights, while donor conception violates children’s rights.[18] Adoption, when properly understood and practiced[19], functions as an institution to meet the needs of children. In contrast, reproductive technologies function as a market to meet the desires of adults. Defending children’s right to a mother and father means opposing all third-party reproduction because such practices intentionally separate children from one or both biological parents. It also means supporting adoption as a means of uniting children in need to well-vetted parents. Here are three key differences between adoption and donor conception: 

Adoption mends a wound; donor conception creates the wound. Adoptees often mourn their first family. Adoptive parents are not responsible for the child’s wound, but are seeking to remedy it. Adoption says, “Let me help.” Children created through sperm and egg donation also mourn the loss of their missing parent. But the adults who are raising them are responsible for their loss. Third-party reproduction says, “Let me have.”

In adoption, the child is the client; in donor-conception, the adult is the client. In adoption, the adults sacrifice for the child. Not all adults waiting for a child has one placed with them, but ideally every child is placed with loving parents. Adoptive parents undergo extensive training and screenings prior to placement. In third-party reproduction, the child sacrifices for the adult. The fertility industry aims to provide every adult with children, with no required training or screening of prospective parents.

In adoption, adults support the child; in donor conception, children support adults. Both adoptees and donor-conceived children need to be supported through the loss of their biological parent(s). The adoptee is more free to grieve because he or she is not being raised by the adults responsible for the child’s loss. Donor-conceived children are raised by the adults responsible for their loss, so they often feel the need to support their parents’ feelings even if doing so means suppressing their own. One donor-conceived woman writes, “We risk rejection from our ‘parent(s)’ if we disagree with their decision. We grow up walking on eggshells, lest we hurt them. We grow up emotionally numb because everyone tells us that we shouldn’t feel something for our biological parent(s), grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, language, culture. In so many ways, we parent our parents. . . . We exist for someone else’s happiness. That’s a very heavy burden to bear.”[20] 

For children, both households involve loss. But one home makes it easier for a child to grieve, process, and heal.

 

How Embryo Adoption is Similar to Traditional Adoption

Embryo adoption is a strange hybrid between traditional adoption and donor conception. The similarities and differences between the two deserve our attention. First, let’s examine the similarities, some of which are positive and some negative. 

One similarity is the concept of genealogical bewilderment. Especially in adolescence, children are seeking to answer the question, “Who am I?” Throughout history, most humans have drawn upon kinship bonds and racial/ethnic identities to formulate an answer to that existential question. Children raised apart from their biological parents and extended family must establish their identities absent those foundational human relationships. Psychologist H.J. Sants coined the term “genealogical bewilderment” to describe the additional stress that this identity struggle places on children who have lost their parents.[21]

Traditional adoptees were the first to experience genealogical bewilderment, but donor-conceived children soon followed. Genealogical bewilderment can manifest as feeling isolated or separated from their family or the world around them. One donor-conceived woman described feelings of alienation and “otherness,” resulting in stress and anxiety. Adoptees and donor-conceived people, unable to identify where they got their distinctive features, have described difficulty looking at their own reflection.[22] The experience of adoptees, many of whom were raised by loving parents, reveals that a great deal of stress, confusion, and identity struggles are the natural outcome of being raised apart from one’s biological parents. Their stories should direct us never to casually or intentionally separate children from their biological parents. 

When contemplating embryo adoption/donation, we would do well to heed the lessons learned from traditional adoptees. Namely, loving adoptive parents can never fully compensate for everything that these children have lost.  Adults who choose embryo donation should be aware of, and prepared to shepherd their children through, the genealogical bewilderment that will likely play a part of their child’s adolescence and early adulthood.  

Another similarity between traditional and embryo adoption is the presence of supportive parents. In traditional adoption, the adoptive parents did not choose for the child to require adoption. They are simply responding to a child in need. Embryo adoption shares this reality. Parent and children’s rights expert Melissa Moschella explains, 

Donor conception intentionally creates children in a way that will separate them from one biological parent and half of their biological ancestry. By contrast, in adoption—including embryo adoption—the children are in a tragic situation because their biological parents cannot or will not raise them. Adoptive parents step in to provide a loving family to those children in need, but they are not the ones responsible for the children’s separation from their biological parents.  

Further, the potential ethical problems with embryo adoption (i.e. treating children as commodities, enabling the irresponsibility of biological parents, etc.) can exist for post-natal adoption as well.  However, if it is done in an ethically responsible way—with proper vetting of the potential adoptive parents, without incentivizing or enabling biological parents to give up their children when they are capable of raising them themselves (or to create more children than they are willing to raise), without exorbitant fees in excess of cost, and with the right intention on the part of the adoptive parents (i.e. to provide a loving family to a child need, rather than primarily to fulfill their desire for parenthood)—then adoption (either at the embryonic stage or the post-natal stage) is a generous and morally praiseworthy action.[23]

When traditional or embryo adoption is done properly, every attempt to keep the child with the family of origin will be sought prior to adoption.[24] It should only be due to desperate or tragic circumstances that non-biological adults will be sought to raise the child. Those adoptive parents are not the cause of the crisis but rather are seeking to remedy the family wound created by the crisis. 

This distinction, that the parents raising the child are not responsible for the child’s loss, likely explains why adopted children have better psychological outcomes than donor-conceived children, despite the fact that donor-conceived children are raised by at least one biological parent and adopted children are raised by neither. My Daddy’s Name is Donor, the only study to compare outcomes between donor offspring and adopted children, found that adopted children fare better on several key metrics (although neither group did as well as those raised by both biological parents):

Nearly half of donor offspring (48%) compared to about one fifth of adopted adults (19%) agree with the statement: “When I see friends with their biological fathers and mothers, it makes me feel sad.” Similarly, more than half of donor offspring (53%), compared to 29% of the adopted adults, agree that, “It hurts when I hear other people talk about their genealogical background.” Forty-three percent of donor offspring, compared to 15% of adopted persons and 6% of those raised by their biological parents, agree, “I feel confused about who is a member of my family and who is not.” 

Almost half of donor offspring (47%) agree, “I worry that my mother might have lied to me about important matters when I was growing up.” This compares with 27% of those who were adopted and 18% of those raised by their biological parents. Not only are the donor-conceived more than two and a half times as likely as those raised by their biological parents to agree with this statement, they are about four times as likely to agree strongly. 

Many donor offspring agree that “I don’t feel that anyone really understands me”; 25% agree strongly, compared to 13% of adopted and 9% of those raised by biological parents.[25]

One donor-conceived woman makes no bones about the difference between adoption and donor-conception: “With adoption, you are making the best of the raw deal life dealt a child. With donor conception, you are creating that raw deal. . . ”[26]

Both traditional adoptees and donor-conceived children experience loss. Both are grappling with genealogical bewilderment. Both have endured some kind of separation from their parent(s). But adoptees likely fare better because they are more free to verbalize and process their confusion and longing. When they wonder aloud, “What do you think my father is like?” or “Does my mother ever think about me?” or comment “I wish I looked like everyone else in this family,” they are not talking to the adult responsible for their loss, but rather to the adults who are seeking to remedy it.[27]

Parents of embryo adoption are similarly positioned to support their child through grief. They did not choose for the child’s biological parents to have created more embryos than they were willing to raise. Rather, parents of embryo adoption have simply recognized that there is a child in need and are seeking to step into that place of need. They should also expect, and be prepared to answer, the kinds of questions that traditional adoptees have been asking for a century: “Who are my biological parents?” “Do they love me?” “Why didn’t they want me?” But the answers that parents of embryo adoption give will be more complicated than, “there was a tragedy” or “they weren’t prepared to be parents.” Because in most cases, the biological parents were not only prepared to be parents, but were already parenting the children’s biological siblings.

 

Differences Between Embryo Adoption and Traditional Adoption

We have examined a few ways that embryo adoption is similar to traditional adoption. Now let us evaluate how embryo adoption is different from traditional adoption—once again, some of these differences are positive, and some negative.

The first difference is the possibility that children of embryo adoption will not bear the “primal wound.” For the first time in human history, a child who has lost her biological mother will still remain connected to her birth mother. Unlike traditional adoptees (and those born of surrogates[28]), who experience a “primal wound”[29] when separated from their birth mother, children of embryo adoption can maintain the bond with their birth mother. 

This is no minor difference. For the child, pregnancy is not just incubation, and the pregnant woman is not just an “oven.”[30]  Rather, for the first 40 weeks of life, the birth mother is the only relationship the child has, and the only parent he or she knows. We do not immediately place newborns on the chests of random women so they can forge a bond. We place a baby on her mother’s chest, because they have an existing bond, one that lays the foundation for trust and attachment in every other relationship that the child will form later in life. 

When children are denied the continuation of this critical maternal bond, that traumatic separation has long-lasting effects. Studies have shown that maternal separation is a major psychological strsesor for the infant.[31] Even brief maternal deprivation has been found to permanently alter the structure of the infant brain.[32] Singer and songwriter Mary Gauthier, an adoptee herself, says of that separation:

I was told as a child that my mother loved me so much that she gave me away. I was told she “loved me too much to keep me.” A child cannot make sense of this, but even as an adult it makes my head swim. Loved me too much to keep me? . . . The problem with this (aside from the fact that it’s probably not true) is that it forever equates love with abandonment, and the fear of abandonment has haunted me my entire life.[33]

On her birthday, the donor-conceived baby does not know that the woman who has carried her for the better part of a year is not biologically related; she just knows that this woman’s voice and smell and milk and body are the only ones she wants. Children of embryo donation will benefit from developing and maintaining their prenatal bond with the woman who will raise them.  

Will retaining the relationship with one’s birth mother diminish the many social and emotional challenges faced by other adopted children?[34] As with so many other concerns with embryo adoption, it will be decades before research will give us answers.

Another difference between traditional and embryo adoption is that in embryo adoption, the adults are at the center of the placement. As discussed above, the child is the client in traditional adoption. Ideally, every child will be placed with loving parents, but not every adult who wants a child will get one. When it comes to rates of abuse and neglect in the home, biology matters. Specifically, non-biologically related adults are far more likely to neglect and abuse children in their home than are biological parents.[35] This is a reality of which social workers and adoption professional are well aware, and it is also why prospective adoptive parents undergo screenings, background checks, physical/mental evaluations, and training prior to placement. They also receive post-adoption supervision. When done properly, the adoption process is child-centric. 

Embryo adoption is dissimilar to traditional adoption in that while the FDA requires that recipient parents undergo a psychological evaluation, they are not required to complete home studies, background checks, references, or post-placement supervision. While some embryo adoption agencies[36] require adoption-like screening, agencies that do not provide these safeguards subject children to increased risk. In that sense, as it stands now, embryo adoption is much more adult-centric than child centric.  

Another difference between traditional adoption and embryo adoption is the greater possibility of a “closed donation.” When parents opt for the third ASRM option of embryo adoption, they must choose between “anonymous” and “direct” donation. An “anonymous donation” is more like a “closed” adoption, where the child has no contact with, and may not even know the identity of, the biological parents. In traditional adoption, closed adoption is now a thing of the past, making up less than 5% of all adoptions.[37] That’s because social workers have observed that even if the child cannot be raised by the birth parents, he or she benefits from as many connections with the family of origin as possible.  

“Direct donation” is more like an open adoption, often with regular contact between the biological parents and the recipient parents. This route will hopefully mitigate the genealogical bewilderment common among adoptees and donor-conceived children.[38] Even some embryo adoption agencies recognize that children of embryo adoption will be curious about the identities of their genetic parents and encourage adoptive parents to be prepared with answers.[39]

 

How Will the Embryo-Donated Child Fare?

Whether anonymously or directly adopted, some of these embryo-adopted children will fare well, just as some traditional adoptees have. They will bond with their adoptive parents, be un-phased by the lack of genetic connection, and be grateful that they were rescued from the orphanage or foster care system or, in this case, a deep freeze.  

But I will not be surprised if many of these children struggle. As founder and director of Them Before Us, a non-profit devoted to defending children’s rights to their biological parents, I can tell you that broken parental bonds rarely have a neat and tidy ending, especially if children are told that they should be grateful because their only alternatives were to be aborted, live in an orphanage, be thawed and discarded, or be donated to research.  

For the last two years I have been collecting the stories of children who have been denied a relationship with their mother and/or father.[40] Donor-conceived children are chief among those, as they are intentionally denied a relationship with one parent from the moment of conception. Given that the first successful pregnancy from frozen sperm took place in 1953, most of the donor-conceived stories on our site belong to children who were raised apart from their biological father. The first successful pregnancy via egg donation took place in 1983, so we have very few stories yet from donor-conceived children who were raised apart from their biological mother. According to the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center, the first embryo adopted was in 1999.[41] So we only have one story of a child who was conceived via embryo adoption and born of a surrogate as well.[42]

All that said, we simply do not know how embryo-adopted children will fare. When it comes to sharing their stories, I have found that kids, even run-of-the-mill children of divorce, do not start processing the pain of their childhood until their late 20s. So it will be years before children of embryo adoption are old enough to reflect on the circumstances of their conception and have enough distance from their childhood to speak for themselves. 

But we can certainly hazard a guess at some of the challenges they will face. I have asked a few donor-conceived adults (separated from only one genetic parent) to speculate on what challenges adopted embryos (separated from both genetic parents) may experience. Below are some of their responses.

As a donor conceived adult, I have very mixed feelings about embryo adoption. I regard embryos as human beings, albeit tiny ones, so the fact that they are left to languish in freezers for years on end is deeply troubling. If well-meaning people wish to give them a chance of life, that is laudable, but I worry that the whole process is part of the commodification of human beings, and will lead to significant psychological struggles for the children born from this process. They will be utterly cut off from their genetic parents, and the reality of their origins may well be concealed from them. If they have been kept frozen for many years, their genetic parents may be elderly or deceased by the time they are old enough to question their origins. Direct-to-consumer DNA tests mean that their genetic reality won’t be concealed forever, but could well give them more questions. Why did their genetic parents effectively abandon them? What about their frozen brothers and sisters, potentially dozens of them, who weren’t so lucky? What about their living siblings, the ones who weren’t frozen? They might be many years older. It is not impossible that they might meet without knowing their true relationship. These Frankenstein scenarios are just a sample of the problems thrown up by this issue. - Elizabeth Howard[43]

From another donor-conceived individual:

I think the irresponsibility of the parents creating the embryos is unacceptable, but more so the doctors. Do doctors offering IVF not share the weight of what they’re creating with the parents? Why would someone create babies out of desperation, and then only accept a few of them? How can children understand to accept and love others in hard circumstances, when they—or their frozen siblings—are not loved in hard circumstances? Even if those “hard circumstances” are simply a matter of preference for how many children one wanted to begin with? – Kathryn 

And again:

The worst parts of this are that you have now created two groups of people from the viable embryos. You have the embryos that were wanted, and the embryos that were discarded. These were future people cast aside by their biological parents, then sold to another couple to raise. If that isn’t bad enough, as the child grows we face two scenarios: 1) they know where they come from, or 2) they have not been told the truth, but will eventually find out (because they will). In the first scenario, the child has to grow up knowing that they were cast aside by their biological family and are the leftover children. They have full siblings out there being raised by their parents, that the donor conceived child will not get to grow up with. For me, this would be immensely painful. I already feel loss from my half-siblings, and I can only imagine the terrible loss from this situation. In scenario two, you now face complete identity loss when they find out. Not only are they not related to the family that they grew up with, but they have no idea who they are. Can you imagine looking in a mirror and having no idea who you are looking at? Where did those features come from? Where do their personality traits come from? These are children growing up with no tie to their genetic relatives, and they are supposed to just sit down and be ok with it because “someone” wanted them. Along with that statement, they have to stomach the notion that someone else, their real parents, didn’t want them. Children are the victims here, and it is to meet the wants of the adults. - Gregory Loy

Beyond the challenges that children of embryo adoption face, donor-conceived people have another major concern when promoting embryo donation as a solution for these souls on ice: It does little to discourage the creation of surplus embryos. 

One donor-conceived man remarked, “The most heinous issue with embryo-donation is that it encourages fertility establishments to haphazardly create more during fertility treatments where they wouldn’t otherwise potentially have been so flippant.”  

Another man agrees, “We have an industry that creates many viable embryos to satisfy the wants of parents, but then gives them the option to ‘donate’ them to another family. In reality this is a monetary transaction, and it is the sale of people.”  

Matt Doran, founder of DonorChildren.com, adds, “If you participate in embryo adoption you are playing a part in systematic adoption at an industrial level and hurting people by tearing them apart from their natural family, healthy history, heritage, and identity. Humans have a right to these basic things and if we can avoid it at all costs we should not fail to protect these rights.”

 

What Should Happen To Surplus Embryos?

The solution to these souls on ice is not “embryo adoption.” The solution is never creating surplus embryos to begin with. Humans should not be frozen. Humans should not be in storage. And humans should not be donated.  

The only option that honors the rights of these children is not listed on the ASRM website: Implant them in their mother’s womb and allow them to grow or terminate naturally in her body like every other human prior to these “advances” in medical technology. 

The reality is that these children are not commodities to be swapped and traded[44], thawed and discarded, used for research, or donated to another family. They are the very real children of the mother and father who created them. And just like every other child on the planet, those frozen children have a right to be known, loved, and raised by their mother and father. As one donor-conceived woman notes, “Wanting a child and loving a child are two different actions; the first is a natural desire of one’s drive to continue the world in your own way. The second is giving your very life so that someone can thrive. Creating, freezing, and abandoning embryos to any options other than raising them yourself is not giving your life for their cause; it is sacrificing them to yours.”

Yes, implanting surplus embryos in their mother’s body means that the biological parents will probably have more children than they intended. Yes, that means they’re going to spend more money than they planned. But in a world that respects the rights of children, adults don’t ask children to sacrifice their right to life or right to their mother or father just because it’s hard on the adults. This world of children’s rights demands that all adults respect the rights of all children regardless of the cost to the parents. Adults must do hard things, so children don’t have to.

This is the definition of parenthood: adults bending their lives and worlds to protect and nurture their children. This duty is part and parcel with making babies. At Them Before Us, we expect adults to conform to their child’s right to be known and loved by both mother and father regardless of how babies come about—whether made the old-fashioned way or in petri dishes.  No adults—neither those who get pregnant out of wedlock, those who have a difficult marriage, those who experience same-sex attraction, nor those who struggle with infertility—get a pass. If you make a baby, you have an obligation to conform your life to the rights of that baby. Even in the non-IVF world, sometimes you don’t get to plan your family. Sometimes your family plans you.

Responsibility demands that we raise the children we make, no matter how they came to be. 

 

Katy Faust is the founder and director of the children’s rights organization, Them Before Us.


[1]     “Children Have Rights,” Them Before Us, available at https://thembeforeus.com/children-have-rights/ (accessed December 16, 2019). 

[2]     Antonio Regalado, “The World’s First Gattaca Baby Tests Are Finally Here,” MIT Technology Review (November 8, 2019), available at https://www.technologyreview.com/s/614690/polygenic-score-ivf-embryo-dna-tests-genomic-prediction-gattaca/.

[3]     “Embryo Freezing,” Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, available at https://www.hfea.gov.uk/treatments/fertility-preservation/embryo-freezing/ (accessed December 18, 2019) 

[4]     What is Multifetal Reduction?” WebMD, available at https://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/fertility-multifetal-reduction#1 (accessed December 18, 2019).

[5]     Shawn Radcliffe, “Controversy Over Choosing Sex of Child Using IVF,” healthline (March 4, 2016), available at https://www.healthline.com/health-news/controversy-choosing-sex-of-child-using-ivf#1.

[6]     “Three Things You Should Know About Third Party Assisted Reproduction,” The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network Factsheet, available at http://www.cbc-network.org/pdfs/3_Things_You_Should_Know_About_Third_Party_Reproduction-Center_for_Bioethics_and_Culture.pdf (accessed December 18, 2019). 

[7]     “Three Things You Should Know About Surrogacy,” Center for Bioethics and Culture Network Factsheet, available at http://www.cbc-network.org/pdfs/3_Things_You_Should_Know_About_Surrogacy-Center_for_Bioethics_and_Culture.pdf (accessed December 18, 2019).

[8]     Alison E. Zimon et al., “Embryo donation: Survey of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) patients and randomized trial of complimentary counseling,” PLoS ONE 14.8 (2019): e0221149.

[9]     Mary Pflum, “Nation’s fertility clinics struggle with a growing number of abandoned embryos,” NBC News (August 12, 2019), available at https://www.nbcnews.com/health/features/nation-s-fertility-clinics-struggle-growing-number-abandoned-embryos-n1040806. 

[10]   “What are my options if I decide not to use my stored embryos?” American Society for Reproductive Medicine, ReproductiveFacts.org, FAQs About Infertility, available at https://www.reproductivefacts.org/faqs/frequently-asked-questions-about-infertility/q11-what-are-my-options-if-i-decide-not-to-use-my-stored-embryos/?_ga=2.256772235.1240042603.1568920132-1618125825.1568920132 (accessed December 18, 2019). 

[11]   Gilbert Meilaender, qt. in Jennifer Lahl, “An Absurd Fate: What Happens to Abandoned Embryos?”Public Discourse (October 15, 2017), available at https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2017/10/20180/.

[12]   Zimon et al., “Embryo donation.” 

[13]   Samantha Kamman, “Planned Parenthood was just forced to admit in court to harvesting aborted fetal parts,” Washington Examiner (September 12, 2019), available at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/planned-parenthood-was-just-forced-to-admit-in-court-to-harvesting-aborted-fetal-parts.

[14]   Kay Elder, “Human embryos donated for research: a gift that goes on giving,” BioNews 922 (October 16, 2017), available at https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_96220. 

[15]   Dennis Normile, “CRISPR bombshell: Chinese researcher claims to have created gene-edited twins,” Science (November 26, 2018), available at https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/crispr-bombshell-chinese-researcher-claims-have-created-gene-edited-twins. 

[16]   David Cyranoski, “Russian ‘CRISPR-baby’ scientist has started editing genes in human eggs with goal of altering deaf gene,” Nature (October 18, 2019), available at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03018-0?fbclid=IwAR1hrk4mXiiFQaNFqDYpSw6-31bqzk17IIBKnJ5NzBwoxbMVjMFDwb1NFNI. 

[17]   “China gene-edited baby experiment ‘may have created unintended mutations,’” The Guardian (December 3, 2019), available at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/dec/04/china-gene-edited-baby-experiment-may-have-created-unintended-mutations. 

[18]   Katy Faust, “Third Party Reproduction Vs. Adoption—there’s a big difference,” ThemBeforeUs.com (April 17, 2017), available at https://thembeforeus.com/third-party-reproduction-vs-adoption-theres-a-big-difference/.

[19]   Katy Faust, “Position Statement on Adoption,” ThemBeforeUs.com (September 13, 2017), available at https://thembeforeus.com/position-statement-adoption/.

[20]   Facebook blog post, @katyfaustblogger, December 1, 2016.

[21]   H.J. Sants, “Genealogical bewilderment in children with substitute parents,” British Journal of Medical Psychology (June 1964): 37, 133.

[22]   “Ellie—Now it is my turn to speak. I hate my conception,” ThemBeforeUs.com (January 2, 2018), available at https://thembeforeus.com/ellie/.

[23]   Personal correspondence, November 2019.

[24]   Faust, “Position Statement on Adoption.”

[25]   Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval D. Glenn, and Karen Clark, “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation,” Institute for American Values (2010), available at http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/Donor_FINAL.pdf.

[26]   “Build-A-Baby Workshop,” AnonymousUs.org (January 15, 2013), available at https://anonymousus.org/build-a-baby-workshop/.

[27]   “Is Surrogacy Just Like Adoption?” WhatWouldYouSay.org, powered by the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, available at https://whatwouldyousay.org/is-surrogacy-just-like-adoption/ (accessed December 18, 2019).

[28]   Katy Faust, “Yes, Surrogacy is Wrong Even When Straight Couples Do It,” ThemBeforeUs.com (September 24, 2018), available at https://thembeforeus.com/yes-surrogacy-is-wrong-even-when-straight-couples-do-it/.

[29]   Nancy Newton Verrier, The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child (Baltimore: Gateway, 1993).

[30]   “A surrogate mum’s story: ‘I was just the oven at the end,’” Newsbeat, BBC (January 18, 2018), available at https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-42729308. 

[31]   Barak E. Morgan, Alan R. Horn, and Nils J. Bergman, “Should Neonates Sleep Alone?” Biological Psychiatry 70.9 (2011), doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.06.018.

[32]   Sarine S. Janetsian-Fritz et al., “Maternal deprivation induces alterations in cognitive and cortical function in adulthood,” Translational Psychiatry, 8.71 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-018-0119-5. 

[33]   Mary Gauthier, “Behind the Song: Blood is Blood” (April 12, 2015), available at https://www.marygauthier.com/news/behind-the-song-blood-is-blood. 

[34]   Nicholas Zill and W. Bradford Wilcox, “The Adoptive Difference: New Evidence on How Adopted Children Perform in School,” Institute for Family Studies (March 26, 2018), available at https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-adoptive-difference-new-evidence-on-how-adopted-children-perform-in-school. 

[35]   W. Bradford Wilcox, “Suffer the Little Children: Cohabitation and the Abuse of America’s Children,” Public Discourse, April 22, 2011, available at https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/04/3181/.

[36]   “Embryo Adoption Agencies—Providers,” Embryo Adoption Awareness Center, available at https://embryoadoption.org/embryo-adoption/where-to-find-embryos/embryo-adoption-agencies/ (accessed December 18, 2019).

[37]   Deborah H. Siegel and Susan Livingston Smith, “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections,” Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (March 2012), available at https://www.adoptioninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2012_03_OpennessInAdoption.pdf.

[38]   Clark, Glenn, and Marquardt, “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor.”

[39]   “12 Questions Embryo Adoptees Want Answered,” Embryo Adoption Awareness Center, May 1, 2016, available at https://embryoadoption.org/2016/05/12-questions-embryo-adoptees-want-answered/.

[40]   For more of these, visit https://thembeforeus.com/stories/.

[41]   “A look at the History of Adoption and Embryo Adoption,” Embryo Adoption Awareness Center (June 11, 2012), available at https://embryoadoption.org/2012/06/a-look-at-the-history-of-adoption-and-embryo-adoption/.

[42]   “To be loved by the two who created you and not from the strangers who bought you, is natural and beautiful. But I was denied this primal family structure to support a business and an unfamiliar infertile couple,” ThemBeforeUs.com (July 11, 2019), available at https://thembeforeus.com/to-be-loved-by-the-two-who-created-you-and-not-from-the-strangers-who-bought-you-is-natural-and-beautiful-but-i-was-denied-this-primal-family-structure-to-support-a-business-and-an-unfamiliar-infert/. 

[43]   “Elizabeth Howard—Part 2—For the first time in my life, I know who you are,” ThemBeforeUs.com (January 3, 2018), available at https://thembeforeus.com/elizabeth-howard-part-2/.

[44]   Jane Ridley, “Mom to the internet: Anybody want to trade my girl embryo for a boy?” New York Post (November 3, 2018), available at https://nypost.com/2018/11/03/mom-to-the-internet-anybody-want-to-trade-my-girl-embryo-for-a-boy/.