Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I don't imagine this will be a very popular post. But when a bull like me sees a new china shop, the result is inevitable, but not always pretty.

President Bush held a PR event with almost two dozen little kids today to show his opposition to stem cell research. These weren’t just any kids: They were “snowflake babies,” children born from frozen. But not to their genetic parents, or one genetic parent; these kids were adopted as embryos.

The timeline, as I understand it, goes like this. Couple A goes for in vitro fertilization, and it’s successful. They have their baby and live happily ever after. However, there are a number of frozen embryos left at the clinic. Once Couple A decides they’re through having kids, they have to decide what to do with the unused embryos. One choice is to put the frozen embryos up for adoption. Somewhere down the line, Couple B comes to the embryo adoption center. Somehow (and I happily note, with a consultation with Couple A), Couple B is able to adopt Couple A’s unused embryo, implanting it in Wife B, who becomes pregnant and carries the new baby to term.

And the result? Two happy families – two moms and dads who obviously wanted very much to have their babies.

Nothing wrong with that.

But taking a wider view – isn’t there the possibility to make Couple B happy without bringing baby AB into the world? He’s not linked to them at all genetically, from what I can tell. Aren’t there plenty of kids out there – kids who exist now, rather than potential kids who could exist – who could use parents like Couple B?

I don’t begrudge any of these snowflake babies their lives, certainly. You spend 9 months getting fed through a tube inside someone, you deserve to step out and get some fresh air for eighty years or so. But I can’t help think that there’s a more charitable choice that could have been made by Couple B. Beyond increasing their own joy, they could have helped to lessen someone else’s loneliness.

Look, my cards are on the table – most people who know me know that we’re opting out of the kid thing. So there’re probably plenty of these urges that I just plain don’t get. That’s one reason why I tried to write this in a more restrained manner than my usual napalm prose. But if to have a baby of your own – with the help of a fertility clinic or not – is beyond you, why not lighten someone else’s load when the opportunity is clearly before you?

That’s what I don’t understand.



Greg! said...

I could just pull the old "I just plain don't understand breeders" line myself, but that's not wholly true.

I don't know quite what it is, and I sure as hell don't pretend to understand it, but I do know there's SOMETHING about giving birth. Something I'll never know (obviously), even if I wanted to. So I appreciate the maternal impulse to carry and birth a child...


I don't understand the obsession with going to extreme lengths to engineer a pregnancy rather than adopting an existing child. I just don't get it.

Rob said...

And it's not just that something for the woman about "giving birth" it's also about the couple and their journey down that 9 month road to the birth. Even for a man, there is something about that, that makes it unique and special. The child - though not of the couple's genetic material - is still a part of them in a way that walking a child into a room and saying "here you go" never could be. There is a physical bond and an emotional bond with an unborn child in the womb that cannot be replaced. Even for the dad.


Jeri said...

There's also the unfortunate fact that adoption is unaffordable to couples with average incomes unless they're willing to adopt a special needs child. Even many non-special needs adoptees have emotional problems due to lack of a proper nurturing environment during the critical first weeks of their lives, not to mention the possible health implications of lousy pre-natal care. So I can understand the desire to have an influence on your baby's well-being right from the beginning.

I wonder how many people opt to have their embryos available for adoption. It would be weird knowing you could have several children out there in other people's homes. Unlike sperm/egg donation, this baby is part of both of you, full siblings to your own kids.

I agree with Rob about the basic morality, though. It's a shame to spend so much money and effort to have a child when there are many who need adoption. But we can't expect most people to put aside their own preferences when it comes to something as important as raising a child. It's not like buying a used bookshelf at a yard sale to save money and reduce waste.

I don't understand the desire to be pregnant (other than the attention you get). Barfing, hemorrhoids, backaches--wow, what a joy that must be. For this reason and countless others, I don't want to be a mother, but I wouldn't mind being a dad. It seems like a much higher benefit/cost ratio.

Rob S. said...

Cool -- I'm learning stuff.

I guess its that law of supply and demand that make it so much more expensive to adopt a child without special needs* than one with. But it's a pretty bitter irony that the kids with these needs are most likely to be adopted by families with less money, putting an even greater financial burden on them than the average kid.

And for a long time, I'd thought that people who jump through all sorts of scientific hoops to get a kid are just not accepting the inevitable. But my thinking on that has turned around a bit. With so many scientific advances being made, the inevitable has become a lot more...evitable. What if the Wright Brothers had accepted the inevitable, after all. Not that they were trying to have a kid, but you get the idea.


*yep, the euphemism just explodes when you put it in the negative, dunnit?

Dave said...

Will the snowflakes be part of the "No Embryo Left Behind" initiative?

As a parent/breeder, there's a part of my mind that is happy that a part of my genetic material is being passed along. Adopting is a bittersweet 2nd place finish for people who can't have their own kids.

I also agree that adoption seems a better solution than creating more lives in hopes that someone will want one of those.

One thing I don't understand is Bush's inconsistent value of life. If you're an embryo, life has lots of value. If you're a brain-dead adult on a feeding tube, your life is worth massive government litigation & therefore has high value.

If you're a Muslim child or mother in Iraq, your life has very little value... because you're an insurgent-in-training, and don't believe in the Christian God.

Oh, and it has zero value if you're a convicted murderer on death row.

Talk about playing God.

Jeri said...

Rob: I'm not sure if it's supply/demand that rules the adoption of special needs kids. I think people who do that aren't necessarily less wealthy, they're just more heroic. If anything, people with limited funds would be less likely to adopt kids with medical problems due to the potential costs that, thanks to the new bankruptcy laws, could make them lose their house due to hospital bills. That's a theory, anyway. Anyone know of studies to back any of this up?

Dave: I can only relate my personal feelings on this, which I know are against the norm. Back when we thought we'd eventually become parents, I used to think that adopting would be preferable to having my own kids, because then I wouldn't have to be pregnant. Also, I don't think I have very good genes--you should see my contact lens prescription!

And you're so on the money about Bush's hypocrisy regarding the value of life.

Rob S. said...


If not supply/demand, why would adoping a special needs child be any less expensive (at the outset, at least) than a healty child, as you said earlier?

I agree with you about it being more heroic -- it certainly seems that way from the outside. I'm pretty certain I don't have that kind of heroism in me. I've balked at adopting a sick ferret, for chrissakes. Having been through caring for three of them as they got sick one after the other, I wasn't willing to bring another ailing pet (a hypothetical one, not one we'd been offered) into my life without first getting the years of fun and happiness. I don't want to deal with the (inevitable) heartbreak unless there's some good up-front value, pet-wise.

A kid? Fuggeddaboudit. If circumstances put me in that position, I'd soldier on and do the absolute best I could. But to choose that? It would break my heart every day.

My sister is a special ed teacher. That, in my opinion, is enough to qualify her for sainthood. I'm not made of that kind of stuff.

Rob said...

You can't think about the issue logically. Logically - it makes all sorts of sense. Of course! Every couple who wants to have a child should adopt instead! Society needs it!

But emotionally - it's a totally different story. Having a child is an emotion based decision.


Rob S. said...

Of course.

Makes me feel a bit like Spok in that regard.

Jeri said...

Yes, having a child is definitely an emotional decision, and my emotions go AAAAAAAAUGGGGHHHHH! at the mere thought of it.

Logic would tell me to do it, because Chris and I are both kind, conscientious people with loving support systems who would probably raise happy, thoughtful children who would grow up making the world a better place and hating the New York Yankees. A friend of mine said once, "You're the kind of people who should have kids."

But in the end it's a "selfish" decision to have them or not, and one choice, IMO, isn't any more selfish than the other. Perhaps "self-concerned" is a better word.

But the world could use a few more Yankee haters....

Kit said...

It's very easy to say "just adopt" until you actually have to face the decision. You can't have your own biological baby, thus will not know the frenzy, excitement and joy that surrounds pregancy and childbirth. Having children is a dream people have with them since their own childhoods, and now it has been ripped away from them.

Adoption is NOT an easy process--your are interviewed, reinterviewed, have to have your entire social, community and financial life scrutinized beyond belief in the hope that "eventually" you may get a child; oh and you may have to lay out up to 30 grand in the process.

If you do decide, then comes all the unknowningness about the child. You have no idea what the prenatal care was like (if any) that the child received. If you go international, you will know even less, and have difficulties with bonding. The child will most likely have developmental delays. Domestic may get you a healthier baby, but you have to wait years for a birthmother to CHOOSE YOU. Who needs that?

Adoptive embryo programs allow couples that have been given the most crushing diagnosis of infertility a chance at parenthood as close to the "traditional" way as may come. It may not appear as "unselfish" as adoption, but the couple has already been going through hell. Those going through adoptive embryo processes still have to consult counselors and attorneys. Sixteen year olds get knocked up and no one stops them from parenting.

It is not an easy decision for anyone who has gone through it. I have friends who have, and it is heartbreaking. They chose adoptive embryo, and have two beautiful children. So to sit on a pedastal and say "just adopt" is insensitive to those for whom the decision has been taken from their control.

Sorry to sound like a rant, but this gets me to no end.

Rob S. said...

No problem, Kit; rant away.

And heck, I knew it was an insensitive question when I asked it. Or, at least, I knew my feelings about it were insensitve. But I *don't* know what people go through in adopting, or really any of this process -- and raising the question is one way to find out.

Rob pointed out that having a child is an emotional decision, and whatever might seem logical to an outsider is irrelevant. That makes a lot of sense to me.

A new question, then: adoption, from every account mentioned here, is a royal, excruciatingly slow, unbelieveably expensive pain in the ass (in a purely administative way, above and beyond any bonding difficulties). Must it be so? Are there forces aligning to keep it that way? In whose best interest is the status quo?

Because if there are a lot of people who want to be parents, and a lot of kids who need parents, why is the system keeping them apart?

Kit said...

This is an issue most people don't understand until they are slammed with it.

Does the system have to be that difficult? No. Is it in someone's best interest? Probably, but certainly not the children or the parents. Internationally you're dealing with unstable governments that have administrators with palms to grease. Domestically, there are lawyers who have their hand out and the mentality that a pregnant 16 year old should be able to pick the best parents. Generally those chosen will be young and well-to-do. If you're not picky about a child (any age, any race, middlin'-to-major medical issues, middlin'-to-major psychological issues) then the process through social services is relatively inexpensive and fast. But there will be lots of baggage, and not everyone is willing to take that on. (Of course a biological child could have these problems as well, but it's a gamble most people prefer over the certainty with adoption that there will be some level of difficulty.)

The point is--if you (I don't actually mean you Rob, just you being Joe Citizen) aren't willing to adopt, don't expect infertile couples to be forced to do the "altruistic" thing. Just because their eggs and sperm can't come together doesn't put them in the position of having to be more noble than those for whom reproduction came easily.

Ideally, any couple that wants a child should have to adopt first before producing a biological one, IMO. Then noone would feel that one type of family is any better than another, and everyone would have a home.

Jeri said...

I was told by a friend who is going through the adoption process that some agencies won't let fertile childless couples adopt, meaning you can't simply choose to adopt instead of having children. She said it's because they worry about the equivalent of "buyer's remorse." Ugh.

Shakespeare's Sister had a great take on the existing 400,000 embryos going up for adoption. She said, "Not to get all V.C. Andrews about it, but the thought of 400,000 children being born into the gene pool, all of whom have biological siblings out there that they don't personally know, is just a weirdfest waiting to happen."

(V.C. Andrews wrote the Flowers in the Attic series, which concerned an lifelong affair between a brother and sister.)