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Embryo frozen for 27 years, now born, illustrates ethical challenges

Frozen embryo adoption is problematic not only because of in-vitro fertilization to create the child, but also because of surrogacy to give birth.
Wed Dec 2, 2020 - 4:47 pm EST
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December 2, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — In a case that presents significant ethical challenges, an embryo conceived through in-vitro fertilization 27 years ago, and subsequently frozen, was successfully implanted in her birth mother’s womb and born earlier this year.

Baby Molly Gibson was born in late October of this year, but was conceived and frozen in October 1992, making her almost three decades old at the time of her birth.

This makes the one-month-old baby almost the same age as her new parents.

The Gibson family adopted their children as frozen embryos through the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), a self-styled Christian organization operating out of Knoxville, Tennessee. The center says that IVF is the answer to “prayers” from families struggling to conceive and that their business offers a solution to the resultant “surplus of frozen human embryos.”

This “surplus” is no small number either, with the center positing it is “estimated at roughly 1,000,000 [embryos] in the United States.”

According to the NEDC, “Many biological parents store their frozen embryos for future use. But when those parents have completed their families, they must decide what to do with their remaining embryos. Donating them to another infertile couple is an increasingly popular option.”

Carol Sommerfelt, embryology lab director at the NEDC, told CNN that only about 75% of babies created through IVF and subsequently frozen survive the thawing process, meaning that around 25% do not; and of the 75% that do make it to implantation, only around 25-30% successfully implant in the mother’s womb.

Dr. Jason Barritt of the Southern California Reproductive Center explained that patients have a few options when considering what to do with their unwanted embryos, including “simply leaving them cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen storage tanks” for later implantation.

Barritt also mentioned “disposing of them in an appropriate way,” and “donating them to research or training for the advancement of the field of reproductive medicine.” Both of those actions necessarily imply the killing of an unborn human being.

The CNN article characterized the embryos merely as “potential human lives”, contradicting basic science proving the humanity of unborn babies.

Children born after being frozen as an embryo have a 30% higher risk of genetic abnormalities, according to the U.K. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authorit. They are also ten times more likely to suffer rare genetic disorders, like Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, according to Dr. Rosanna Weksberg of the University of Toronto.

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In 2008, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its instruction Dignitas Personae had settled whether frozen embryos could be adopted.

In this document, the Church’s condemnation of IVF, along with other artificial means of conception, was resolutely affirmed. Frozen embryo adoption, the Vatican explained, is problematic because of the ethically impermissible use of surrogacy, rather than because of the creation of embryos in an unnatural fashion, since the embryos in question have already been created.

“All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved,” the document concluded.


  abortion, dignitatis personae, in-vitro fertilization, ivf, national embryo donation center, surrogacy

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