Couples "Adopting" Frozen Embryos

Agency in California Aims to Save Lives in Limbo

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NEW YORK, MAR. 11, 2001 ( A Christian adoption agency has begun a program allowing couples to «adopt» unwanted frozen embryos, The Telegraph newspaper of England reports.

As many as 100,000 human embryos are frozen — and largely forgotten — in fertility clinics across the United States. Yet the pioneering Snowflakes project in California has allowed at least seven babies to have been born to parents as if they were their own children.

The program was designed to help couples who had embryos «left over» after undergoing fertility treatment but could not bring themselves to have the tiny human lives destroyed or handed over for medical research. JoAnn Davidson, the organization´s director, says: «These are children who would have been destroyed or left in limbo. This program gives them an opportunity to live.»

The agency, which also handles regular adoptions, matches parents who want to secure a future for embryos that they no longer need to couples who want to raise them. It says that it has been flooded with applications in recent weeks.

The exchange is not technically an adoption. Instead, both couples agree to a contract based on a transfer of property, as with a house or car, making the «adopting» parents the legal owners of the embryos. With minimal publicity, until recently, Snowflakes has so far matched 50 pairs of adopting parents and 47 pairs of genetic parents during its first full year of operation.

The couple hoping to give birth agree to pay medical expenses for implanting the embryos. At present, five women are pregnant under the scheme. One reason why the idea has proved so popular is that couples with spare embryos are able to investigate the prospective parents of their potentially unborn children and, if they wish, can also meet them.

Most of those taking part also have deep ethical and religious objections to seeing their embryos destroyed or used for medical research. One infertile couple in Virginia have adopted 12 frozen embryos from Bob and Susanne Gray, of Georgia. The chances of successfully implanting a frozen embryo are about one in five.

Bob Gray, who has four children, said he was «hopeful and excited, in a strange way» at the prospect of what he calls an «extended family.» The other couple involved has previously been unsuccessful in three in-vitro fertilization attempts.

There are no laws in the United States governing how long frozen embryos can be kept, unlike in Britain where they are destroyed after five years unless parents are granted an extension. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine advises clinics that they can destroy embryos after five years if they can prove that they have attempted and failed to contact former patients.

Although a figure of 100,000 frozen embryos is widely quoted, there are no official numbers. One survey found that there could be as many as 25,000 in the Boston, Massachusetts, area alone.

Medical researchers have depended heavily both on unwanted embryos and aborted fetuses as a crucial source of stem cells, which might one day be used to cure a range of diseases from Parkinson´s to Alzheimer´s, and even regenerate spinal cord injuries.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has called the use of human embryos for medical research «immoral and illegal.» Before his election, President George W. Bush promised pro-life groups that he would block government grants to any institutions experimenting on stem cells, provoking a flurry of protests from the scientific world. He reiterated his opposition within two weeks of taking office.

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