The Wrong Embryos

Like most people, I saw the story of the couple who had the wrong embryos implanted by their fertility clinic. Obviously, that was one heck of mistake and indicates that the clinic needs to reassess how it labels and tracks embryos. This does provide a rather extreme example of the sorts of easy to fix errors that can cause so much trouble.

What struck me the most about this story was the fact that the couple decided that the embryo would be brought to term and then given to his/her biological parents. When asked about this, the couple made it clear that their decision was based on their values.

Since I teach ethics, I find this very interesting indeed. Naturally, I also find it interesting as a person. It is, to say the least, morally commendable for the woman to go through this experience knowing that she will be giving up the child. As far as I know, she is not receiving any compensation from the other couple for this. Of course, the fertility clinic certainly owes her for the mistake they made.

Switching back to philosopher mode, I cannot help but compare this to the famous violinist analogy that has been used in the moral debate over abortion. While the cases are different, here is a case in which a woman has been implanted with a “non-related” embryo and is faced with the choice of keeping it or having an abortion. As noted above, she elected to act in what many would regard as a commendable way.

Of course, some might contend that she had no obligation to do this (even though it would be awfully nice to do so). After all, while she chose to be implanted, she did not chose to be implanted with another couple’s embryo. This would seem to provide adequate moral grounds for having an abortion. After all, to force her to bear the child of another would certainly seem to place an unreasonable burden on the woman. Or would it? Is anyone willing to argue that she was not just really nice to do this, but also morally obligated to do so?

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  1. Michael W. Gilbert

    Fertility clinics should be outlawed. The couples who use them are selfish. There are so many children out there that need to be adopted, and as long as there are, couples shouldn’t be allowed to ignore those in need.

  2. What a selfish couple! They have a wonderful family with wonderful children – and don’t even think about the poor families who can’t have children and can’t adopt! Just be happy with what you have and if you want more, adopt someone else’s unwanted child!

  3. It boogles the mind. How many children do they have already???? We ain’t living the 1800’s, get a grip. I disagree with the whole process of having kids in a bottle.

  4. I find this couple to be extremely generous and committed to their values. They are an example for all of us. The issue is not IVF or how many children they have or adoption– that is another discussion. The issue is that they obviously believe that a fertilized embryo is human life, whether it is theirs or not, and they are being true to their stated values. I can’t imagine their heartache, and the fears they must have in facing the time when they must give up this child. I did not read that anyone felt they were “obligated” to carry the baby to term. Their own values and beliefs guided them to that decision. If I could meet them, I would tell them how much I admire them and what role models they are in being consistent and honest in their professed beliefs.

    It is none of my business how many children they have, and while I would choose adoption over IVF, their decision in that regard is also none of my business. Again, what speaks to me is that they are not just talking about their beliefs. They are living them out in a very selfless and generous way and we see far too little of that.

  5. Michael W. Gilbert

    Amanda, tell that to the unwanted child in the orphanage or foster home…

  6. Sticking to the ethics/philosophy aspect, they have to take it to term. Otherwise they would be in violation of their professed values. What would make this story poetic is if the other woman consented to carrying the overlooked embryos.

    On a personal level, it seems a little strange that a religious couple would strive so hard for a THIRD child. You would think they would adopt. That would be more in line with their Christian values. But, alas, Christian values seem to warp and waiver depending upon the circumstances. (I dislike dogma, but at least the pope was consistent – no abortion, no death penalty, no war – get out of Iraq).

  7. Michael and DC, I would choose adoption over IVF precisely for the reasons you state. But as for their Christian values — we have no idea how they are or not serving children in need, or how they are living out their Christianity in other ways. In fact, I don’t think we even know what their religion is. My point is that they ARE being consistent. They don’t believe in abortion, and they are staying true to that in spite of circumstances that they never dreamed they’d be in. To say they did not believe in abortion, and then abort because of these circumstances — that would be what DC says is warping and waivering depending on the circumstances.

  8. Adoption is a lot harder that most people think. My wife and I tried to adopt a child for the last 5 years and unfortunately our adoption “system” throws up way too may roadblocks. Unfortunately the wellfare of the child does not guide these folk, only greed. Most placed now days want 30-50K just to put you on a list. Despite trying hard and being good candidates (both are physicians) we were still rejected. So we chose IVF and were sucessful. So whats rong with that? Is it wrong for a couple to want to have their own child? Especially after trying to do all they could to get one? Some folks are not blessed with the gift of fertility and are left with little choice, especially when the greed in our system prevents us from adoption, so lpease don’t badmouth us all!
    God bless!

  9. Michael, Nancy, and Adam:

    I hope that you have done your part and adopted children. You may counter that you perhaps either don’t want children, or you were able to have children of your own. However, just because you CAN physically have children of your own or because you don’t want any children doesn’t absolve YOU of the same moral obligation to save “unwanted” children.

    And there are also plenty of people out there who have an easy time just laying down and popping out children that they don’t want, nor have any way to support. But apparently, according to some of these posters’ logic, such “parents” are less selfish than a loving couple trying to have their own children.

  10. “Is anyone willing to argue that she was not just really nice to do this, but also morally obligated to do so?”
    I don’t find what she did or is doing all that nice. I’m still wondering about the morality of producing a human life, at all.
    In the book Zorba, a man, on some idyllic Greek Island who lived what sounds like a charmed life family-wise, money-wise, respect-wise, says if he had to do it over again he’d commit suicide the first chance he got. So one life is enough, or is it too much?
    We have babies. Why? Certainly not for the baby’s sake; it’s for the parents, and grandparents and friends and the community and . . . But never for the baby’s sake. And the only thing you can hope for is the baby is incredibly lucky in this very uncertain world it is being born into;

  11. Obviously people who say “just adopt” have no idea what it is like to live with infertility.

    Imagine you are a woman. You know from the time you are a little girl that you are meant to be a mother. You feel it to the core of your being. At 32, you finally meet the right man, and you immediately start trying. Eight months later, nothing.

    You go in for tests, and are hit with blow after blow. So many things are wrong with your body, there is no way you can get pg naturally. Two more years go by, along with thousands of dollars.

    BUT – there is a way you can be pregnant. Through IVF.

    Why would you NOT do it??? Seriously. Wanting a child isn’t just about wanting a child. It’s about wanting to experience pregnancy. Wanting to pat and sing to your tummy. Wanting to experience breastfeeding. Wanting to experience having a new little person handed to you in a hospital bed. Wanting to watch a little person with your characteristics grow up and become someone completely unique.

    Maternal instincts and the biological clock are STRONG. Seeing pregnant women everywhere and hearing of mothers killing their children when you want to hold your own baby so badly is tortuous. Being invited to baby showers, seeing the cute babies of celebrities, seeing a woman in the OBGYN office looking at her ultrasound pictures with tears in her eyes… it’s so hard.

    As far as adoption, it’s a wonderful thing. But have you gone onto the state adoption sites to see the children available? They are mostly ALL older kids. Almost all of them have special needs, some with expensive life long medical problems. I commend anyone who wants to adopt them and I am sure they are wonderful children. But it isn’t the same as starting with a newborn baby. And why should infertile people be the only ones who should consider this anyway???

    Private adoption is very expensive. It can easily run up to $30,000 or more. It’s not a quick fix to wanting a baby. And there are way more waiting couples than there are babies… that’s why there is such a long wait to be matched.

    What if you had cancer, and I told you “Well, this is God’s plan for you. Guess you are meant to die. Sorry about that.” ? You wouldn’t accept that. You would use every technology the medical industry has to fight and live. So why is it ok and moral to use the technology to cure cancer and IMMORAL to use it to cure infertility? Infertility is a MEDICAL CONDITION.

    Don’t I have as much right to my own baby as someone whose tubes are open? Is that the deciding factor of whether someone should or shouldn’t be a parent? If a woman ovulates every month, she is allowed to have her own child, but if she doesn’t, she must adopt one?

    The whole thing just makes me sad. And people like “Octomom” don’t help. That situation is so far outside the norm, it doesn’t even relate.

    Lastly, despite the media’s use of incorrect terminology, doctors don’t “implant” embryos. The doctors TRANSFER embryos. The embryos hopefully implant themselves within 3 days of being transferred.

  12. What Christine said.

    Seriously, if you think people who opt for IVF over adoption are selfish, why not think the same about *all* people who choose to have their own biological children, be it through IVF or natural conception? Why don’t the latter, too, have to feel sorry about all those orphans?

  13. How judgmental you all are! Goodness! The woman is giving up the baby that has grown inside her for 40 weeks to his biological parents, which is an admirable and noble thing to do, and you attack her for wanting “too many” children?!

    Look in the mirror before you decide if someone else is a horrible human being.

    Wanting a large family is not a crime, we are not in China. If they can support the children and aren’t on welfare, taking money from me, then let them do as they please.

    Yes, adopting a child is a wonderful, generous act. But it does take a lot of money. And passing inspections from agencies. And insane amount of red tape and hoops to jump through. It is not for everyone, and unless you all have adopted children, you shouldn’t pass judgment.

  14. Michael W. Gilbert

    Rachel, adopting is no more complicated and expensive as IVF. And no, I have not adopted, but I have chosen not to bring more children into this world.

  15. Michael, having not adopted or gone through IVF, I cannot imagine that you would know. IVF is expensive, but a state agency doesn’t have to inspect your home, run your credit, etc. in order to have that child.

    And let’s say that IVF and adoption are comparable… Wanting children of your own genetic material is no crime. Some may call it selfish, yes, but not a crime. And this couple certainly isn’t selfish, as they chose to allow this baby to grow and then give him to his biological parents.

  16. All I want to say about this story is that why are they even trying when they already have 3 kdis? Why add to the global problem of overpopulation?????

  17. When Ralph Sabella says;-
    “We have babies. Why? Certainly not for the baby’s sake; it’s for the parents, and grandparents and friends and the community and . . . But never for the baby’s sake. “ He highlights an aspect of this matter rarely considered. I never cease to be astounded at the determination of people to reproduce themselves notwithstanding the fact that they know there is a good chance or even a certainty that the offspring will be substantially defective in some way. Why would anybody wish to do this; to chance creating a life of discomfort and privation for a human being? All apparently to satisfy their own selfish desire. I worked with a gentleman who suffered severely from spina bifida who told me much misery would have been absent from the world had he never been born.

  18. They should have quit while they were ahead. How many kids do they need? Seriously.

    I fail to see how you can believe in God’s plan, yet you try your hardest to defy the limits he has set upon your bodies.

    Forget adoption. Forget IVF. Take care of and cherish the kids that you already have. (And for liberal Christians, enjoy the fact that you no longer need to use contraception.) Done.

  19. A couple of things:

    I don’t profess religious values.

    Adoption is not limited to America. That’s why many people adopt children from China.

    Just because I can have children but choose not to does not nullify my opinion. If that were the case, then we couldn’t argue about athletics, music, books and double-jointed people, assuming we lacked those abilities.

    Population is a world problem, not just China’s.

    As for the couple’s religion, I doubt they are Hindus or Satanists. Anlgo-Americans from Ohio not wanting to destroy their remaining embryos due to their beliefs? Christian would be a good presumption. See original CNN article.

  20. “assuming we HAD those abilities”

    Sorry, miswrote.

  21. My son is not “substantially defective”. He’s wonderful, smart, talented, happy, and just beautiful. And yes, I brought him into the world partially to fulfill my own desire to mother, but at the same time, I am fully committed to help him become a well-adjusted, happy, giving, loving, and contributing member of society. Rather than looking at new life as a plague of overpopulation, I see it as a miracle. And who knows if my child or the child in this story will be one to cure cancer, help feed the world, or make some other advance to BETTER the world for the rest of us?

  22. I am an adoptee reunited with my natural family for 35 years. I have been an adoption reform activist since being found at age 18. People conceived via Assissted Reproduction are similar to adoptees in that most donor-concieved individulas are denied knowledge of the missing sperm donor or missing egg donor, or both donors if the embryo was donated.

    In this case, the embryo was not donated. This couple ought to be commended for their guts to stand up for their convictions and do the right action. returning the child to his rightful parents is the very ethical action to do.

    This is what I wrote on my blog about this story:

    Honesty, sincerity, integrity! Can you imagine that? Here’s a couple, devastated to learn this past February that the pregnancy achieved through IVF was not their biological child, this couple makes the right decision to give the baby back to his rightful parents. The boy is not yet born.

    The couple is devastated that they are not pregnant with their own genetic child. The genetic parents will be traveling to the hospital from another state for the delivery, but they will not be in the room for the cesarean delivery.

    This unborn boy has the right to a truthful birth certificate. He also has rights to all of his parents. I hope the authorities will document this boy’s conception and birth truthfully. He has two mothers. Even though the second father is not involved in conception and birth, he is emotionally connected to that baby.

    The couple who is going through this pregnancy has influenced this unborn baby with their voices, their emotions, their environment, and their love. They must be added to the boy’s birth certifcate: the pregant woman willl give birth to a son who is not her genetic son!

    The genetic parents will have their newborn placed in their arms at birth. They should also be named on the child’s birth certificate. Information about the infertility clinic where he was conceived should also be named.

    Visitation should be awared to the parents who will relinquish their birth-son, and, from the boy’s perspective, he may also want to visit with these parents and their other children. After all, he was nurtured in his birth-mother’s womb and heard her other children’s voices. They are his siblings, even though they are not genetically related.

    … Here is another point to consider: why are we feeling sorry for this couple to “give up” a baby the mother carried for nine months? This is exactly what we force upon pregnant girls and young women when they are pregnant with their own baby. Our society tells them that they are not worthy to carry their own baby and keep their own child. We force single and vulnerable mothers to give up their babies without feeling empathy for their feelings of love for their infant. Forcing single women to give up their babies is cruel and inhumane.

  23. PS. Please notify of updates. I forgot to click the button!

  24. All moral obligation ultimately rests with the fertility clinic that initiated the embryo stuff-up. The couple are not morally obliged to bring the embryo to term; BUT if they do in fact choose to continue with the pregnancy, the moral tables become augmented with an extra apsect of morality in which the couple are absolutely obliged to ensure the developing baby is adequately nourished in its pre-term state and that its environment (including the mother) is conducive to an optimal health outcome for the baby.

    The carrying mother’s physiological and psychological health is the shared responsibility of the fertility clinic and herself since she did choose to persist with the pregnancy.

    In a situation where the mother is unable to ensure a healthy growing environment for whatever reason, then I think it would be morally advisable to abort. If the embryo develops an abnormality (one that would sufficiently compromise the child’s quality of life) in utero or an existing abnormality undetectable in stringent pre-screening procedures emerges further down the track of pregnancy, it’s again morally advisable to abort.

  25. Thats the perfect example for the sorts of easy to fix errors that can cause so much trouble.I find it interesting to know that there are people like this alive in the world. I never even had such thought before. Setting negative examples for others.

  26. OldestOf8-MOMof3

    I’ll take the bait. YES, the woman was obligated to carry the child to term if she could physically do it. If not, lay down crossing legs or sew it shut! Then it was her choice to keep the child or give it up to the other couple. (yeah, I slipped that in!)
    IVF has risks. She CHOSE to go through the process. If people would realize accountability, plus responsibility in that accountability. Killing is killing. Abortion is defined as killing a child, taking a life. Obviously defined by “at conception”. The lady is worth admiring. She has strength and excellent character. God is black and white. Thou shalt not kill.

  27. I was wondering if a doctor could transfer an embryo from a woman who wanted an abortion to a woman
    who wanted a child.

  28. Delene – if they could, that would be a wonderful thing. It would also be wonderful if they could move an embryo growing in a tube (ectopic pregnancy) into the uterus. Alas, technology isn’t there yet. 🙁

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