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'Adoption' an alternative to embryo disposal?

test tube embryo graphic

July 30, 1996
Web posted at: 1:15 a.m. EDT (0515 GMT)

From Reporter Don Kladstrup

LONDON (CNN) -- There is no question that test-tube conception has brought happiness to thousands of infertile couples.

However, thousands of embryo donors may be in for a rude surprise shortly. Fertility clinics in Britain will begin destroying more than 3,000 frozen human embryos on Wednesday.

"We have fought for months now to try and preserve all these embryos, to save them for the future use of couples. But we are going to be required by law, and it is now the law of the land, that we destroy these embryos," said Dr. Peter Brinsden, director of a fertility clinic in Cambridge.

A law passed in 1990 stipulates that human embryos can only be kept in storage for five years, unless the donors specifically request an extension.

frozen embryos in storage

For various reasons, many have failed to do so. Some can't decide what to do with their frozen embryos and are letting the state decide for them; others have been disappointed by failed attempts to carry an embryo to term.

Other donors, like Nanette Monaghan, could not be tracked down by their clinics. Monaghan, the mother of twins born almost four years ago from frozen embryos, was unaware that her clinic had been trying to reach her because she had been living in Australia.

"Well, I came back and I'd thought I'd give them a ring, and they said, oh, good job you phoned now, you've just got us in time because there's a deadline on Tuesday where they dispose of all the eggs. And it just doesn't bear thinking about because when you see my twins, I mean I couldn't have them any other way."

Mrs. Monaghan, who was sterilized several years ago, would like to have more children. She told her clinic to preserve her embryos for another five years.


When embryos are destroyed, they are simply lifted from the freezer, and allowed to disintegrate. The law was passed because Britain's Human and Fertilization Embryology Authority said it was impractical to keep every embryo indefinitely.

Yet, many think destroying the frozen, two-celled structures is a terrible waste. "They are potential human beings," said embryologist Dr. Robert Evans.

"I am not one of those who grants the embryos the same rights as a child, but we have stored them to establish a pregnancy."

Doctors create extra embryos because in-vitro fertilization does not always work. There is only a one-in-ten chance of a frozen embryo becoming a human being. Nevertheless, their scheduled destruction has been called a "pre-natal massacre" by pro-life forces.

Parliament member David Alton is one of that number. He suggested an alternative: "Rather than destroying the embryos that have been frozen and are simply going to be flushed down the pan," parents should be given the right to adopt the "orphaned" embryos.

embryos in Petri dish

As much as Dr. Brinsden dislikes the idea of defrosting any embryos, he is adamantly opposed to the suggestion of making them available for adoption.

"I believe it is quite morally and ethically wrong to do so. It would be out of the question, to put them up for adoption without the consent of the couple for whom they were originally created," he said.

"Although many of the groups say that would be acceptable, the very large majority of people would feel very unhappy and the couples would feel very unhappy if they knew there was a child (of theirs) wandering around this world they knew nothing about."


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