400,000 frozen human embryos glimpse 15-minutes of fame
Taking Australian and British embryos into consideration, the tally is closer to more than a half-million human embryos frozen in storage facilities worldwide. Industry experts caution that this is a “conservative number.”
These same experts conclude two main reasons for the large number of stored embryos.
1) Because of the expense and inconvenience of extracting an egg for in vitro fertilization, couples prefer to extract a large number of eggs at once so that others will be on hand if the first implantation fails.
2) Couples and clinics are loath to destroy these embryos.
Fertility clinics in the U.S. are ineligible for federal funding and so are currently free of much regulatory oversight, resulting in the stockpile. There is no limit on storage time for embryos so long as facilities receive their annual $1500 to store them.
Which leads up to the unresolved issue: What happens to these embryos?
“In this country, it’s the patients who determine what’s done with their embryos – not doctors, not the government or the bureaucracy,” said census study leader David Hoffman, a director of the IVF Florida Reproductive Associates.
Others disagree. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, says the current frozen embryo situation “bespeaks a mind-set that does not regard these as members of the human family.” Religious conservatives and anti-abortion advocates yesterday chastised the fertility industry for what they described as its profligate overproduction of embryos. Some called for more embryo adoptions, in which donated frozen embryos are transferred to the wombs of infertile women.
But last year, Sen. Orrin Hatch raised questions about the ethics of couples adopting the human embryos of others and then using them to have babies.
Hatch questioned their morality and whether children and parents are properly protected. Hatch, in testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, said that “unrestricted adoption of embryos might not be seen as a favorable option.”
He explained, “The embryo adoption issue could raise a whole host of new legal issues. There are also religious issues. For example, there are people, some in my own faith, who seriously question the notion of surrogate motherhood.”
Others believe these embryos, which are routinely discarded, should be used to improve and extend life by helping to cure cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and others.
Though some scientists would prefer to generate embryos of known pedigree for research purposes, rather than rely on those of infertile couples. The creation of embryos for research purposes, though allowed in Britain, has not been sanctioned in the United States and is vigorously opposed by opponents of abortion.
Like Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, who said that the excess embryos made in vitro fertilization “an inappropriate means of overcoming human infertility” and that the Vatican pronouncement of 1987 entitled “Donum Vitae” had judged in vitro fertilization “to be beneath the dignity of the human person.”
Dr. Haas praised a German law that required all embryos created in vitro to be implanted. “We don’t think any good can ultimately be accomplished at the expense of a human life,” he said, referring to that of the surplus embryos.