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May 28, 2005
Column #1,239

                      T
he Need: More Embryos for Adoption                      
                               
There are 400,000 frozen embryos stored in fertility clinics, most of which are left over from couples who sought in vitro fertilization of a wife's egg with her husband's sperm. In 40 percent of the cases, the embryo or fertilized egg can be implanted in the woman's womb and be brought to term.

Multiple eggs are sought for each couple because laboratory fertilization might not work with the first egg or two. Left over embryos are frozen for future use by the couple.

However, the vast majority of those embryos are never used by the couple. The wife may want only one more baby, not six.

What should happen to the unwanted embryos?

This week the House of Representatives voted by 238 to 190 to repeal restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The key to passage was the defection of 50 Republican Members of Congress who voted with Democrats over the opposition of House Republican leaders and the President.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, (R-Tex.) said he voted for expanded research because of the death of his father to diabetes at age 71 and a brother to liver disease at 44.

By contrast, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) noted his older brother's 15-year fight with Parkinson's did not give him the right to support the "destruction of part of the human family. The worst mistakes of this nation have been when we have defined a part of the human family as less than fully human, and done things which we would not allow done to ourselves. We've done it with slavery; we've done it with the Tuskegee medial experiments' on poor black men with syphilis."

On the day of the vote, however, President Bush demonstrated a better use of leftover embryos surrounded by 21 families with babies who had either adopted an embryo or had given one for adoption. "Rather than discard these embryos created during in vitro fertilization or turn them over for research that destroys them, these families have chosen a life-affirming alternative," said the President.

"Twenty-one children here today found a chance for life with loving parents." He was cheered by the families who were present - and with good reason.

"The children here today are reminders that every human life is a precious gift of matchless value."

What's tragic, in my view, is that so few families will allow their unused embryos to be adopted. A National Embryo Donation Center was created last year in Knoxville with the Baptist Health System Foundation which received a $304,000 federal grant to promote adoptions in cooperation with Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency.

So far, 79 couples have made one or more embryos available for adoption, and 20 couples have adopted the embryo and had it implanted in the womb, resulting in two recent births. The President praised the Nightlight Christian Adoptions which has "now matched over 200 biological parents with about 140 adoptive families, resulting in the birth of 81 children so far" in the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption program in California.

Each story is exciting. But these two centers together have not yet had 100 adoptions of the 400,000 frozen embryos.

Why are there not thousands, indeed, tens of thousands of infertile couples helped to have children?

"People have a hard time coming to grips with this decision," explained Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, medical director of the National Embryo Donation Center. "They created the embryos with the intention to use them themselves. Some have been successful, but they have embryos left. They realize they are their biological children, and they ask themselves, `How can I give one of these up to someone else?' But they are in denial of the fact these embryos will die...

"We do not have enough patients willing to donate embryos."

However, his center is having a three-fold increase in requests for information. "This is the adoption of the future," he asserted. "It is a wonderful adoption for both the mother and father. A couple gets to have not only a child, but the experience and bonding of pregnancy and child birth."

About a quarter of the parents want to have an open adoption, in which they meet the birth parents, while others want to do it anonymously.

"We believe destroying embryos is wrong, is morally impermissible," says Richard Cizik, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals. "Adoption is combating evil with good. It builds a culture of life, as opposed to an acceleration of a culture of death."

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