Saturday, December 6, 2008
What To Do With the Kids in the Freezer?
Reproductive news is certainly all the rage these days. Following the story about surrogacy we've been discussing in the previous post, Thursday's (12/04/08) New York Times has a story about parents with frozen embryos who have all the children they want but don't know quite what to do with the leftovers. Feed them to science? Keep them frozen until they are no longer viable? Simply stop paying the annual $200 fee and let happen what will? Ask for them and hold a burial? Have them implanted at a time when the woman knows she can not conceive? Let them be adopted by strangers?
Here in the U.S. where we have some of the most absurd and unregulated reproductive legislation, doctors can make as many embryos as they and their clients please, and the trend seems to be make as many as possible...since you never know. In Italy, however, more common sense has taken hold: Fertility clinics can make only as many embryos as can be implanted at one time, and so there are no excess embryos lying about in vats of frozen nitrogen. Sixty-six percent of the people surveyed said they would likely donate their extra embryos to science, but amazingly, that option was available only at four of the nine clinics surveyed. Disgustingly irresponsible? Yes. Illegal? No.
One woman said a freezer full of embryos was "like an orphanage." I suppose she has a point--but that would be an orphanage that has 400,000 potential people, according to the study, give or take a hundred thousand or more since not all are going to be viable when, uh, defrosted.
The Times was reporting on a new study in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility which found that 53 percent of the couples whose embryos are frozen did not want to donate them to other couples, mostly because they did not want someone else bringing up their children. That leaves a whopping 47 percent who do not object to passing out their DNA to strangers. And that I find distressing.
One woman quoted--with nine frozen embryos--said that she had a queasy feeling about donating them to science, but was against adoption because she would worry too much about "what kind of parents they were with, what kind of life they had." At least She is aware what stranger adoption actually means. That someone else--genetic strangers--are raising your children. However her teenage daughter is for adoption, a reflection of our pro-adoption culture, especially among the younger generation.
But progress has been made on the adoption issue: If you want to donate your embryos to another couple, you must be screened for infectious diseases, sometimes at your own expense. And clinics no longer suggest that people give their embryos to other couples anymore, something that was common a decade ago. I can imagine the marketing: "Well, you can chose between a possible blue-eyed blond baby or a green-eyed redhead, or are you more in the market for someone with more Semitic features? There we can talk about possible IQ points. Looking for ability in mathematics? We have several Asian choices, Japanese, Korean, Chinese...take your pick." Talk about "chosen baby."
Yes, I'm being flip but all this is yukky and frightening.
Of course, I never had to face infertility. After I had Jane and surrendered her I never wanted another child, for several reasons, one being the sense that it was so unfair to have a child and give her away, and then keep another. It's called secondary infertility; studies show that birth mothers fall into this statistical category more than most, and as I recall, the numbers of women who surrender children and have no more vary from a low of 17 percent to a high of 34 percent . (For more information, see the Donaldson survey of birth mothers, p.46) I never tried to have another child. I recognize that my rationale could simply be that, a rationale, for I did want to have a career rather than be a mother with all the responsibility that entails, and without more money than I have ever had--nannies did not seem to be in my future--I did not see how that would be possible.
I felt that way before I became pregnant; but once I was, everything changed, and every microcosm of my being screamed for me to keep my baby. I did not and I have been paying the interest on that decision since. --lorraine