We start counting our age from the day of our birth, but if we think on that for a moment we realize that’s not, technically, accurate. Life begins at conception, not birth, so most of us are nine months older than we’ve been owning up to. But in the case of little Emma Gibson, the difference between conception and birth wasn’t nine months, it was just over 24 years. When she was born this past November, she was already 25 years old because Emma had been conceived, via in vitro fertilization (IVF), back in 1992. And at that time her adoptive mother, Tina Gibson, was just 18 months old.
Since 1992 Emma had been left in frozen storage. As WORLD magazine’s Jamie Dean reported, Emma isn’t the only child that’s been left waiting.
At least 600,000 embryos sit frozen in storage facilities across the United States, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Some reproductive experts believe the number is closer to 1 million.
Canadian estimates are hard to come by, but a 2014 CBC article put the number at 60,000.
To the world, these hundreds of thousands of embryos are a legal headache. While they don’t acknowledge them as human, they do seem to recognize there is something special about them, which is why so many of these children are not being destroyed but being indefinitely stored, without plans as for what to do with them.
Emma’s rescue underscores the opportunity Christian couples have to save embryonic children via what’s called “snowflake adoption” – a frozen embryo can be thawed, and if it survives that thawing, can then be implanted in its adopted mother’s womb and, hopefully, carried to term.
But even as Christians are involved in rescuing children from this frozen state, what should we think about IVF for our own infertility treatments? When couples struggle with infertility, IVF is presented as a near miraculous means to help them get the baby they’ve been yearning for. IVF is all about babies, and we’re pro-life, so we’re all about babies too! On the face of it, IVF would seem a life-affirming medical procedure.
But there is a reason hundreds of thousands of children are left frozen, waiting to be born. IVF, as it is commonly done, involves the intentional creation of “excess” embryos – the creation of more children than will be implanted in their mother’s womb. That’s not how it has to be done, but that’s how it is done most of the time for reasons of cost effectiveness. These embryos then face one of four fates:
- Any that seem abnormal are, as a rule, “discarded” – British numbers indicate that this happens to roughly half the children.
- Some are implanted in the mother.
- A small number are donated to science for experimentation (where they are killed).
- The rest are left in a frozen state, waiting to be born. But unless something dramatic happens – unless “snowflake adoptions” start happening by the hundreds of thousands – the most likely fate for these children is eventual death.
Christian couples struggling with infertility need to understand that the IVF industry offers hope, but has a great darkness to it. We don’t think of IVF doctors as abortionists, but when we recognize that life begins at conception then it’s no slur to make the comparison. Abortionists kill half their patients and it seems the same, or worse, can be said about IVF doctors too.
So, of course, to rescue babies like Emma, we’ll need help from this IVF industry – there is a right way that IVF can be done. But we mustn’t be naïve about the darkness underlying this industry, lest, in our ignorance, we get caught up in it.