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Feb 28 2009

In-Vitro Fertilization and Stem Cell Research in Christianity

What Happens to the Unused Embryos?

In-Vitro Fertilization: Christians — Should They Do It?

Christians as a general rule will speak out with force and have a very strong moral position against abortion. We speak out against abortion for Christians understand that an unborn child is a human being, albeit undeveloped. We believe the unborn is a human being because at conception, the uniting of the egg and sperm, a human soul is present.

Yet, surprisingly, in-vitro fertilization is not an issue that Christians will speak against and Christian couples having trouble conceiving will avail themselves of this technology.

The problem is not the process in which one conceives, but what happens to the unused embryos. The process entails giving special medication to the woman so that she produces multiple eggs. The eggs are then extracted and fertilized and the embryos are placed in a special incubator which encourages their growth. Two to four healthy looking embryos are selected and implanted in the woman’s uterus. The amount of fertilized eggs that are fertilized can range up to 24 embryos though this is a rather high number; typically it is less. The woman’s age is a determining factor in how many embryos are planted in the woman’s uterus. In any event, it is highly likely that there will be remaining embryos that are unused. The unused embryos are the purpose of this discussion.

The media has been fraught with the moral issues of stem cell research. While many believe or are under the impression that aborted babies are used for stem cell research, this is not the case. When a laboratory needs embryos, they will obtain the embryos from IVF centers. These children were created for the purpose of having a child but not all the embryos are used. A couple has several options when undergoing an IVF procedure. They can (1) have the embryos frozen which they pay for on a yearly basis for future use (typically $600-1200 per year), (2) they can designate that they embryos be used for research (11,000 embryos in 2004 alone) (it is from these ‘slated for research’ that stem cell researchers obtain their embryos) (3) or the couple can choose to have the unused embryos slated to be adopted to another infertile couple and lastly, (4) they can choose to have the unused embryos destroyed.

Most couples choose not adopt out their embryos as they are uncomfortable with someone else raising their child so they will choose one of the other three options. An embryo is frozen at minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit. The fate of these frozen embryos varies. Some die during the freezing process, some will die when thawed, and some will simply be forgotten. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contracted with Analytical Sciences, Inc. to conduct a survey to determine the procedures used by IVF clinics in the United States. The purpose was to develop a set “of quality standards specifically designed to assure the quality performance of embryo laboratory procedures.” Item 79 of the questionnaire outlined what happens to embryos which are not implanted or deep frozen. Approximately half of the IVF labs stated that they immediately discarded the embryos and some stated that they allowed them to die and then discarded them. The unused embryos are then tossed as medical waste and incinerated with other medical waste at the disposal sites (which is also the process for aborted children; they too are disposed of as medical waste).

An article appeared in the Chicago Tribune published September 12, 2004 which stated “Nearly 500 embryos lie frozen in Thomas Pool’s Texas fertility lab, abandoned by the men and women who created them.” They are out of space and the parents have not responded or they have been unable to reach them. The staff contacted over 300 couples hoping they would come and claim their embryos and because of lack of space, are considering doing what was previously unimaginable to them – removing the embryos from deep freeze and discarding them with the clinic’s hazardous waste. They are simply out of room and the lab stated “by all appearances, these embryos are unwanted.” For the first time since IVF became available, a few clinics are considering disposing of these embryos. They legally cannot adopt out the embryos without consent of the parents or donate them for stem cell research. The storage centers are out of space and cannot afford to keep the abandoned embryos – the parents have abandoned the embryos and have quit paying for their storage.

As of 2004, there were approximately 100,000 IVF procedures per year and of the 100,000 procedures, 20,000 embryos were left behind. According to the study by Rand Corp., 20,000 of the 400,000 embryos in storage nationwide have been left behind. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine stated that it is “ethically acceptable” for fertility clinics to consider embryos abandoned if more than five years have passed since contact with a couple and that diligent efforts have been made by telephone and registered mail. If no written instructions are left from the couple on the disposition of the embryos, the clinics or storage centers can dispose of the embryos. Approximately 14 years is the current record for storage resulting in a viable delivery. Clinic contracts specify that they have the right to dispose of frozen embryos if couples stop paying the annual storage fees or cannot be found after diligent attempts to contact the couple.

Christians believe that a human being is created at conception because at conception, there is a human soul. While the legal field has defined what is deemed a human in order to allow for abortions, God has not changed His view to accommodate our society. While we will speak out against abortion and stem cell research, as we should, Christians have remained surprisingly silent regarding these embryos that are in deep freeze, many abandoned by the couples that created them for the purpose of having children and who will eventually become part of this country’s medical waste system, considered as hazardous waste. Along with aborted babies, these unwanted embryos will be deemed hazardous waste and treated accordingly.

From the moment of conception, all that is needed is growth. In fact, with modern technology, it has been determined that the child has a hear18 days after fertilization (or only 4 days late for her menstrual period). Three days later, the child’s heart is pumping through a closed circulatory system whose blood type is different than that of that of the mother. Brain waves have been recorded a mere 40 days after conception. The ears, eyes and respiratory systems begin to for a mere 4 weeks after fertilization. Shortly thereafter, thumb sucking has been photographed – a mere 7 weeks after fertilization. In less than 2 months, the 6th to the 7th weeks after fertilization, if the area of the lips is stroked, the fetus responds by bending the upper body and moving his arms backwards. There is a sense of touch at this point. When a woman was opened up at about 4-6 weeks because of a tubal pregnancy, it was noted that the tiny baby was waving its arms and kicking its legs and turned his whole body over. At 2 months, or 8 weeks, the baby’s stomach secretes gastric juices. When a baby was removed at 2 months due to a ruptured tubal pregnancy, a technician was handed what she described as “the smallest human being ever seen.” The embryo sac was intact and transparent and the baby was male, still alive and swimming in the amniotic fluid. The tiny little male was developed, with fingers, toes and the arteries and veins were visible at the ends of his fingers. After the sac was opened, he lost his life. All body parts and systems are present at two months including 20 milk-teeth buds. This is all present no more than 8 weeks after fertilization. In other words, the embryos in deep freeze would reach this stage in a mere 2 months. The embryos in deep freeze would have a heart beat a heart beat in a mere 18 days but many will end up as hazardous material as medical waste.

While Christians are rightly speaking out against abortion, sadly they have remained silent about these forgotten embryos. Some day, these embryos will die as medical waste or those that the couples have allowed to be used for research, will end up on the researcher’s dish for stem cell research. Unfortunately, only a very small percentage of couples will allow the unused embryos to be adopted to other unfertile couples.

Any Christian couple considering this procedure should, at the very least, allow their unused embryos to be adopted out to other infertile couples. To do otherwise is to participate in the murder of their children much as they would participate in the murder of their child if they were to seek an abortion.

This writer realizes that non Christians will not have the same moral or ethical dilemma over these embryos much as abortion also does not bring up the same moral or ethical quandaries. For those Christians that read this, the purpose of this writing is to bring to light that if we are to take a stance against abortion, we also should be as vocal regarding those babies that were created for the purpose of having children but are abandoned by their parents and end up being discarded as hazardous medical waste. We should also bear in mind that those researchers that are obtaining embryos for the purpose of stem cell research are not created embryos for the purpose of stem cells. Those embryos are obtained from IVF labs where the couples consent to ‘donating’ unused embryos research purposes. There were 11,000 embryos designated for research in 2004 and 400,000 unused embryos were frozen while 20,000 of those embryos were abandoned which will eventually be destroyed.

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  1. mandysimo13

    Why is it deplorable to use discarded embryos for research? Why is it so wrong to want to look into cures for leukemia, alzheimers, and many other diseases? Isn’t that better than just destroying that precious embryo? I know that deep down in my body that using those embryos is all for the greater good. Yes it is sad that those that are left behind often die and are incinerated. What would you suggest those couples do if contacted? Be urged to birth those children? For what cause? Or adopting them out? How many people do you think would take another person’s embryo? There are hardly enough people who want to take children that are already born. That’s not a good quality of life for those would be children. I would prefer that those embryos, instead of being burned, would be used for research into those diseases that plague our society. Think of all the advances that we have made that we couldn’t have without breaking those “moral laws”. We never would have discovered surgery, the artificial heart, we would have never had gynecology. All of this wouldn’t be here had we listened to those restrictive moral codes that religion has put down. Are you willing to deprive our society of important scientific advances because a some embryos that were going to die anyways went to waste?

    1. Tishrei

      It’s deplorable because they are human beings. You just are not seeing them as humans with souls. As such, they are nothing more than instruments that we can use to cure disease, etc.

      Those “moral laws” that you refer to — those are not my laws. They are God’s laws. You obviously have chosen to disregard God’s morality and go with mans’ moral standards.

      In answer to your question if I am willing to deprive society of important scientific advances – you bet I am if it is at the cost of another’s life. Yeah, those embryos are going to die. Using your argument, why not really old people and start harvesting some of their stuff — they are going to die shortly as well. That’s obviously an insane argument but it’s as insane as saying that well, those embryos are going to die so let’s slice them and dice them and use them for something.

  1. Depravity of Mankind – Legally Murder Newborn « Fruit of the Word

    [...] chose to bring up this topic based on the comments on my post titled In-Vitro Fertilization and Stem Cell Research in Christianity.  The moral consensus of this country is reflected in some of the comments so I am not attacking [...]

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