An embryologist, an embryo and National Adoption Month


Dr. Maureen Condic, a University of Utah bioethicist, was recently appointed to the National Science Board. Appointments are made based on leadership in research, education and distinguished service. She is the first board member from the University of Utah in 50 years and only the second ever.

In a Nov. 8 press release, the associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy, and adjunct professor of pediatrics said, “Being appointed to the National Science Board is a tremendous honor for me and for the University of Utah. I am excited to be of service to our country and to the scientific community by bringing a focus on bioethics and biomedical research to this eminent body of scholars.”

By sheer coincidence, this columnist was privileged to hear Dr. Condic just last week. She was in Casper to deliver two lectures on human embryology. In the first she detailed the development of the human embryo for the first week of life. In the course of this lecture she explained why all the scientific literature on the subject has concluded that the life of a human being begins at the moment of egg-sperm fusion.

That’s not an exaggeration. Thousands of independent, peer-reviewed publications support this uncontested conclusion. Not a single published study concludes anything other than that human life begins at the very second the sperm meets the egg.

Condic’s second presentation built on these basic facts of embryology to examine several of the cutting-edge embryo technologies of our day. She took her audience through in vitro fertilization (IVF), “three-parent embryos,” CRISPR gene editing and the like.

Her focus was to distinguish between ethical experimentation for healing and repairing human pathologies, and unethical experimentation involving injury to, and the destruction of human beings.

Only days after her Casper lectures, a baby was brought home to southwest Wyoming that spotlighted the practical implications of what she said. Out of respect for her privacy, I will call her Mary.

Mary was conceived in July 2014. Her biological parents donated sperm and egg to an IVF clinic. These were brought together in a laboratory where she was conceived along with numerous congenital brothers and sisters. Sadly, more children were conceived than could be transferred into the womb of a waiting mother. So, she was frozen at -320 degrees Fahrenheit--along with about a dozen of her siblings.

In a story that repeats itself all too often in IVF clinics around the country, the parents, for whatever reason, never gave her opportunity for birth that was granted to some of her siblings. For more than three years she was in suspended animation, cryogenically frozen in liquid nitrogen. 

In the United States alone there are over 700,000 people indefinitely frozen as the “leftover” results of IFV procedures. Many of these children did not survive the freezing process. But we cannot know which ones until they are thawed. Those who did survive the freezing may die in the cold before ever feeling the warmth of a mother’s womb.

We should all agree that human beings should not be deliberately frozen. Many countries have passed laws placing limits on the number of eggs that can be fertilized at one time. The limits are set so that all embryos can have an equal opportunity to be born without putting the mother at undue risk of multiple births. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does mitigate one of the most glaring ethical problems of IVF.

America’s IVF industry has no such regulation. The $4 billion industry lobbies incessantly against even the most common-sense laws. Meanwhile, the average citizen has no idea that the IVF industry has become such a powerful, unregulated and unethical creator of embryonic people with a bleak future. This is a scandal of epic proportions. 

Besides passing laws to prevent or slow the freezing of still more embryos, many are wondering what to do with hundreds of thousands of abandoned children. Unethical scientists are eager to destroy them in various kinds of human experimentation. But others are looking to give them mercy.

One such organization is the Nightlight adoption agency. In 1997 it pioneered the very first adoption of a cryopreserved embryonic child. Considering the uniqueness of each frozen embryo, the agency dubbed its service “Snowflake adoption.” The adoptive parents of this first-ever “Snowflake-baby” called her “Hannah” which means “gift of God.” She turns 21 this year. She loves her life.

Embryo adoption begins with parents of frozen IVF embryos who are experiencing regrets and want to do something for their children. These parents are painstakingly matched with parents who are willing to adopt their embryos and care for them in the best way they can. 

Embryo adoption is not simply an alternate, and cheaper route to IVF. Embryo adoption begins with a courageous and unqualified love for those adopted. Adoptive parents are not focused on “achieving a pregnancy.” They are focused on the frozen children themselves and doing whatever is in their best interest.

There are plenty of risks and heartaches along the way. The transfer process is delicate and fraught with uncertainties. Adoptive parents may grieve to find that some of the children did not survive the freezing process. Others, unwilling to refreeze multiple living embryos may risk multiple births in order to give their adopted children the best chance. 

Those children brought to birth will typically encounter genetic abnormalities later in life. That’s the reality of any IVF process. Adoptive parents have been facing unknown risks alongside their children since adoption began. Embryo adoption is no exception.

Another injustice of the IVF industry is that embryos are not covered by current adoption laws. Rather, frozen embryos are treated as property in the eyes of the state. They can be bought and sold, created and destroyed without any regard to their humanity at all.

Adoption agencies that value human life refuse to limit themselves to property law. They insist that applicants for embryo adoption be subjected to the same rigorous standards that any other husband and wife would go through before adopting a child. This process gives assurance to the parents of the embryo that their child will be well cared for. It also treats the child with the human dignity he or she deserves.

November is National Adoption Month and the 24th was National Adoption Day. In his Oct. 31, proclamation, President Trump said, “Adoption affirms the inherent value of human life and signals that every child — born or unborn — is wanted and loved. Children, regardless of race, sex, age or disability, deserve a loving embrace by families they can call their own.” Snowflake adoption is no different. It ought to be recognized in adoption law.

Statistically, the number of children rescued from the frozen state is negligible. Even after more than 600 live births, that still represents less than one tenth of a percent of America’s frozen embryos. But, in the face of overwhelming numbers, the story cannot be told with statistics. True proportion is found in individual lives. For proof of this, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11rYWvbq9QE to watch Hannah’s video.

I got the privilege to ask Mary, too. Holding the 6-pound, 11-ounce newborn in my arms, I looked into her laughing eyes. Her big smile and soft coos lit up the room. She brought joy to parents, grandparents, aunts and a nephew. She told me that she was no longer a faceless statistic. Her precious life, given by God over four years ago, is now plain for the whole world to see.

Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at OnlyHuman-JL.blogspot.com.

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