National Embryo Donation Center
Many couples who have used reproductive technology in an effort to have children are faced with the daunting dilemma of what to do with remaining embryos that will not be implanted and brought to birth. These so-called “excess” embryos are being targeted for destruction by researchers who promise miracle cures. On the other side of
by Maria Gallagher
Today's Christian Doctor - Spring 2004
Many couples who have used reproductive technology in an effort to have children are faced with the daunting dilemma of what to do with remaining embryos that will not be implanted and brought to birth. These so-called “excess” embryos are being targeted for destruction by researchers who promise miracle cures. On the other side of the equation are over two million infertile couples who desire to have children. Many are willing and eager to ‘adopt’ an embryo. As a means to save these tiny lives and bring hope to those who desperately want children, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) catalyzed and planned, along with the Baptist Hospital for Women and Southeastern Fertility Center, the development of the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in
Since the announcement of development of the Center in May 2003, over 100 people have called CMDA and the NEDC, from as far away as Alaska, inquiring about adopting an embryo. “It’s heartrending to hear the pain and desperation in the voices of these callers,” said Margie Shealy, CMDA’s Director of Communications, who has taken many of the NEDC-related calls. “Each caller has shared with me their hope to have children after learning of the NEDC. One of the most powerful desires a human being can have is the wish to have children. And I’d love to promise each and every one of them the opportunity to adopt an embryo, but the Center’s biggest challenge is acquiring the embryos.”
The Washington Post reported last year that as many as 400,000 human embryos are now frozen in U.S. fertility clinics, awaiting parents who will agree to raise them. Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, Director of the Southeastern Fertility Center, which oversees the National Embryo Donation Center, notes that fewer than 10,000 embryos in U.S. fertility clinics are now earmarked for donation. Some 10,000 others will be killed for scientific research. The other 380,000 belong to couples who believe they will use the embryos at some time in the future. Many never do.
“Not making a decision is the same as making a decision to destroy the embryos, which won’t last forever in liquid nitrogen,” said Dr. Keenan. “The Center offers life-honoring parents and prospective parents an ethical, compassionate path to bringing a new baby into the world. We are providing this option not only for couples in the United States, but we hope to provide this service for couples in Europe as well.”
Baptist Health System CEO, Dale Collins, jumped right in to get the program up and running after an initial discussion with Drs. Jeffrey Keenan and David Stevens. “His support didn’t stop with the facility, which includes the cryopreservation lab, but continues with providing marketing and promotion of the Center,” said Dr. Keenan. “Baptist Hospital for Women administrative support from Mr. John Hellmann and Ms. Martha Chill have also been outstanding, and allowed the Center to get up and running in record time.”
The Center takes care of all the medical, legal and social requirements for embryo donation and adoption, while working with an experienced adoption agency for home studies and adoption counseling.
Embryo adoption is not, in fact, adoption in the usual sense of the word. According to current law in many states, adoption refers to the placement of a child after birth. As a result, embryo adoption is not governed by typical adoption laws, but by contractual agreements. Though not ideal, these have worked well in the dozens of embryo placements that have resulted in births.
CMDA’s position on reproductive technology is that IVF can be ethically performed if the couple accepts that they are morally responsible for their genetic offspring. They must insure that each embryo has a chance for implantation, for life. It is encouraging
that better alternatives are being developed that may negate the ethical issues involved in freezing embryos.
A CMDA member, Dr. Donald Cline, recently published an article in Human Reproduction1 describing a technique to cryopreserve human oocytes. Using this method, the researchers found a 74.4 percent success rate in thawing, and a 59 percent success rate of fertilization. Only the number of embryos that are going to be implanted during that cycle are created; therefore, there is no need to cryopreserve embryos.
For now, we have a moral obligation to do what we can to save the lives of embryos that will never be implanted by the couples who
“Our goal is to provide a high-quality, scientifically and ethically sound way to help ensure a loving home for these embryos, who have inestimable value in God’s sight,” said Dr. David Stevens, CMDA’s Executive Director. “But we need our members to make this
option known to their patients. We have over 900 members who are obstetricians and gynecologists. These doctors can be actively
involved in this life-honoring alternative to destroying unused embryos and to provide infertile patients a way to actually carry and deliver their own adopted children. As Christian physicians and dentists, we have an incredible opportunity that other professionals don’t have. Our patients trust us with the most intimate and fragile areas of their lives. Through the NEDC, you can offer your hurting
patients the assistance they need in deciding what to do with their unused embryos. And you can offer your infertile patients a safe way to bear their own children. I challenge you to respond to this call for hope. You can make a difference."
For more information about embryo adoption, contact the National Embryo Donation Center.
1. Jeffrey Boldt, Donald Cline, and David McLaughlin. Human oocyte cryopreservation as an adjunct to IVF-embryo transfer cycles. Hum. Reprod. 2003 18: 1250-1255.