Archive for March, 2012
By: Vicki D., an embryo donor
“In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation
On May 13, 2010, I made a decision. It wasn’t your normal everyday decision on things like what shoes to wear, where to have lunch, or which shade of lipstick to buy. It even surpassed those important decisions we encounter in life such as what house to buy, the most lucrative financial investments and selecting the best care for elderly parents. It was a decision much more substantial, incredibly emotional and most importantly, everlasting. It was regarding the fate of our embryos. Yes; five embryos, frozen, suspended in time – a significant and extraordinary reminder of a successful IVF cycle producing twin girls just two years prior. Considering that my family was now complete, the desire to have more children had abated. But the process was far from over and I knew this going in. There are five potential lives to consider currently residing in a sub-zero environment. So the question remained… what did one do with extra embryos when one’s need or desire to expand your family has subsided?
In my quest to determine the future of my five frozen embryos, I discovered several options to choose from. These ranged from permanent storage – or in some cases “abandonment,” destruction, donation to stem-cell research, donation to the IVF clinic lab, or donation to an infertile couple or person in need. Continued voluntary storage brought unnecessary substantial fees, not to mention the inevitable procrastination of decision making. Abandonment wasn’t an option for obvious reasons as I felt a responsibility towards these embryos. The only things I have ever abandoned in my life were the occasional art project or my first premature marriage in my early twenties. The concept of destruction simply didn’t make logical sense. Why go through all the expense and trouble of creating embryos that one day would be destroyed because there was no better option considered? Stem-cell research or IVF clinic donation seemed like fair choices since I wouldn’t have my twins without past research in IVF. Even so, there had to be a better option available that would help promote the preservation of life and help out infertile couples desperately wanting a baby.
I remember the years of anguish I experienced being infertile. Everywhere I went I saw pregnant women or newborn babies. It became an obsession, perceived as something so intangible for me yet came so easily for others. There would be no remedy but a child. Why not help another couple expand their family? Why not help end the anguish? Why not “Pay it Forward” to the infertile community in such desperate need? The simplest answers to these questions became the best option.
So the decision came with three stages. Firstly, there was the genetic hurdle to consider. There is something about setting your genetic code, or more specifically, your potential genetic offspring, free into the world that can be somewhat unsettling. Where will these embryos end up, will they survive and what kind of life will they have? Will they know their history? Will they have questions? Will they look like me? But in the greater scheme of things, do these questions really matter?
The value and definition of family transcends any DNA makeup.
In the pursuit of the family unit, we tend to look beyond the genetic code and focus on the family element. The concept of having a family does not automatically equate to comparable genetic material as can be seen with any family with an adopted child. It’s about being part of a team, functioning as a whole and sharing your love and commitment to live and experience life together.
Secondly, there is an element of giving back; Paying it Forward to the infertile world. Donating the embryos was my way of paying back what I was so very fortunate to finally have – a family. Prominent memories of being unfulfilled without children are still fresh in my mind. I honestly believe that donating my idle embryos to someone in need helps to promote the probability of life.
And finally, chance. The chance to help someone build a family, the chance of potential life for the embryo, the chance for you to give the greatest gift in life, the chance to take a chance! So for any of you out there who find yourselves with important decisions to make about your embryos in storage, think back a bit to your own infertile days. That memory will help guide you to do the right thing for someone with the same needs and desires as you have. Take a chance and do something good for humanity.
Donating the embryos was my way of paying back what I was so very fortunate to finally have – a family.
In the end I trusted Embryo Donation International (EDI) and Dr. Sweet with my precious embryos. I knew that with their high ethical standards and sheer devotion to the embryo they would give my embryos a chance at life, and hopefully help to build another family, just like they helped to build mine. And on every Mother’s Day ever since the donation I hope and wonder that by liberating my embryos they were able to help create another family somewhere out there and that they are as happy as I am.
Mom, a Loving Wife and now, an Embryo Donor
Federal Funding of Embryo Donation and “Embryo Adoption:” Is it time for the Federal Government to Reconsider Its goals?
By: Craig R. Sweet, M.D.
The “Defunding” of a Government-Supported Program
On March 2, 2012, it was reported that the Obama Administration wanted to defund the embryo donation/adoption awareness federal program that has been run by the Office of Population Affairs, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Spokespeople from Nightlight Christian Adoptions, the National Embryo Donation Center and Snowflakes Embryo Adoption programs were quoted as opposing the defunding decision. It should be noted they all had received or were receiving funding from the federal program, so their reactions were not unexpected.
Initially, the federal program was created in response to President Bush’s push to use cryopreserved embryos to create families and steer away donations from human embryonic stem cell research. Since 2002, over 22 million dollars has been spent by the federal government on the awareness programs.
The Predictable Response
Certainly during an election year, the firestorm that followed was probably predictable.
There were calls stating that the Obama Administration was “pro-abortion,”
I’ve never met such a person in my entire life, although many have been “pro-choice.”
Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, was quoted a saying, “Assertions that leftover embryos are better off dead so that their stem cells can be derived is dehumanizing and cheapens human life.”
Come on now… this decision does not mean that all cryopreserved will be destroyed. It simply means that all of us who are dedicated to the concept of embryo donation need to work harder and smarter with non-federal funds to make certain patients are aware of the embryo donation option.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many programs throughout the country offer embryo donation and will continue to do so long after federal funding disappears.
Could we all just trim the hyperbole a bit?
Is it a Coincidence that the Phrase “Embryo Adoption” Predated the Personhood Amendments?
I suggest paying less attention to the hype and instead examine the realities of the ways that federal funding can influence the competitive free market with unintended consequences. The propagation of the term “embryo adoption” sprouted the appearance of the personhood amendments and legislation, which are focused on declaring that eight-cell early embryos are people. The consequences of these enactments are far reaching, including monumental legislative changes, restrictions on the care of women, and severe restrictions to the treatment of the infertile patient. (See my previous blog on the Mississippi Amendment here.)
Not Sour Grapes but Concerns Regarding Discrimination
Let it be understood that Embryo Donation International (EDI) applied last year for the federal funding in question, but we were not awarded a grant. In partnership with professors at Florida Gulf Coast University, we proposed thirteen different fresh and innovative projects to increase awareness, as well as provide embryo donation services. While we were disappointed, we were not surprised that the organizations, for the most part, receiving funding had been granted it before and this was our first submission. EDI was not previously dependent on the funding so there were no significant changes in our day-to-day operations. The projects are slowly being rolled out, funded instead by SRMS/EDI.
What bothered us was that over the years some of the organizations receiving the bulk of the funding were faith-based and discriminated against some patients. While the projects themselves were potentially more neutral, the organizations were not. Health and Human Services (HHS) apparently looked only at the proposals in determining the awards, making the awarding of grants potentially flawed.
The grant process essentially compartmentalized the proposals. If an organization provided certain services, which the federal government did not fund directly, but the organization was awarded a grant to provide other services, the government essentially compartmentalized the grant money separate from the procedures it didn’t directly support. I understand the concept but do not feel the grant committees should have made the decision based only on the grant proposals. They also needed to take into account the overall views and beliefs of the organization requesting funding. There needs to be times when the government must look at the trees and not just the leaves.
I believe there were instances where the funds should be withheld. The funded organizations should have provided a minimum standard of practice guidelines in line with the non-discrimination clauses outlined in the grants. Entities awarded the grants should not have discriminated with regards to race, religion, ancestry, gender, marital status or sexual preference.
Being a faith-based embryo donation/embryo adoption organization also directly or indirectly excludes some patients, making it uncertain if the federal government should directly support such facilities, especially taking into account the separation of church and state. I know that faith-based embryo donation/embryo adoption entities were strongly supported by past administrations but should a neutral organization that does not discriminate and makes all faiths feel totally welcome be placed at a higher priority now? Is this more ethical and fair? Is this a better use of the shrinking tax dollars? Is it time for the federal government to reconsider their goals?
If both discrimination and faith-based issues were actually taken into account, many of the organizations discussed here never would have received the original federal funds.
It is not that I want these organizations to go away. Quite the contrary, they often do a great job, provide excellent services and fill a much-needed niche. Their funding should, however, be through sources other than the federal government because of the bias inherent to their provision of services.
Can the Government Afford Providing the Grants?
Understanding that the U.S. is running a severe deficit, when are we ever going to be willing to make difficult decisions? How are we ever going to get control of the budget if we can’t trim existing programs that may serve an important few when the many need assistance? We all need to look at the big picture and understand that “business as usual” is not practical in the current economic climate. I may be falling on the sword a bit, but shouldn’t we all be willing to sacrifice? Hey, I’m all for creating little taxpayers to help pay off the deficit. I’m just not sure that we can afford to do so through a government in the red. To do so with organizations that discriminate makes absolutely no sense at all.
If federal funding is to continue, it needs to be provided to organizations, and not necessarily my own, which do not discriminate and are not faith-based. In addition, giving “embryo adoption” programs federal funds so they can support personhood amendments should be reconsidered. Having the government eventually spend even more money and time contesting the amendments and statutes in court defies understanding. Perhaps the congressional appropriations committees, who will make the final decision regarding federal funding, will take the concepts of non-discrimination and non faith-based alternatives into account and fund the programs with new and fairer goals.
Rest assured, unlike the rhetoric would lead one to believe, embryo donation is here to stay, regardless of the decisions of Congress and the grant process. How do we know? We’ve been providing the service for 11 years and will continue to do so in the years ahead, without cessation, as long as there are cryopreserved embryos available to donate.
Craig R. Sweet, M.D.
Embryo Donation International