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In-Vitro Fertilization, “Snowflakes,” and the growing Christian Eugenic movement

I had hoped to get the Mississippi articles up this weekend, but as I’m still working with some of the pieces, I finish off the week with just a small post centering on IVF and tribalism.

A picture of Robert Edwards of Britain is projected behind Christer Hoog of the Karolinska Institute as Hoog announces in Stockholm, Sweden, Monday Oct. 4 2010, that Edwards wins the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. (AP /Scanpix Sweden/Jessica Gow) Earlier this month Robert Edwards won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine see In vitro pioneer wins Nobel Prize in medicine:

Edwards, an 85-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, developed IVF along with Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988. Together, they learned how to remove a woman’s developing eggs from her ovaries, fertilize them with sperm in a lab and then implant them back into the womb.

Their work led to the birth of the first “test-tube” baby, Louise Brown, who was born in Britain on July 25, 1978, setting off a revolution in fertility treatment.

“Approximately 4 million individuals have been born thanks to IVF,” the medicine prize committee in Stockholm said in its citation.

IVF has also been in the headlines this week as a result of an embryo frozen 19 years ago being implanted and brought to term.

The media have taken to propagandistically mis-labeling embryos left over after a couple undergo their own IVF process “leftover life forms.” See for example, Baby born from embryo frozen 19 years

A healthy baby born in Norfolk, Va., in May from an embryo cryopreserved for 19 years is raising questions about leftover life forms, bioethicists say.

The embryo, donated by an anonymous patient at the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine after she gave birth to a son via in vitro fertilization, was implanted into a 42-year-old recipient 19 years later who gave birth to that May baby boy, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported Sunday.

Both boys, brothers born of two different families through IVF, decades apart may be the oldest case of this kind, the previous record being 13 years.

While these may at first glance seem somewhat tangential to adoption, Nightlight Christian Adoptions has developed what they have termed their “Snowflakes Embryo Adoption & Donation Program” as a direct result of their theological stance and seeing a niche market they could work (what they are falsely labeling “adoption”, but with pregnancy and birth.)

The donation of these leftover embryos, often less viable, or more likely to have long term health issues than those embryos selected by the original couple for their IVF courses is a far cry from anything most people would recognize as “adoption.”

By Nightlight’s own admission no states have laws governing what they falsely term “embryo adoption,” it is, put simply, a legal fiction.

They are operating in an area by and large unregulated and without any clarity when it comes to legal status.

A realm that they themselves made up.

But by appropriating the term “adoption,” and doing their own “homestudies” in multiple states, they hope to avoid government eventually getting around to building genuine regulations pertaining to their particular business.

They are clearly hoping to slide in under existing “adoption” law instead.

It is our hope that instead of creating a new set of laws, the current laws for adoption will simply be expanded to include embryos.

Back in 2006, I wrote an intial piece, Stem-Cell Veto, Snowflake kids, and Christian Eugenics, about the “snowflakes” and how federal and state laws were essentially making other options for left over embryos such as  donation for stem cell or other forms of medical research all but impossible in some states.

Due to that closing off other options, couples utilizing IVF have been forced down legal chutes in certain states, such that their leftovers cannot be destroyed, and upon thawing are legally required to be implanted in a woman’s uterus. (See Louisianna.)

If the initial couple has no further desire to implant another, and balks at the prospect of expensive long term storage, there are a limited set of options.

  • Some remaining cryogenically preserved embryos will not survive the freezing and/or thawing process.
  • Others will be intentionally disposed of.
  • Still others could be transferred to and implanted in another woman who is pre-screened by the Christian agencies. Of those attempts, some will succeed, others will fail.
  • Or, the embryos can be donated for research purposes: stem cell research.

If states or the federal government decide to close off any subset of those alternatives, more and more couples are pushed towards that third prospect.

Waiting to catch those embryos is a christian movement growth effort.

This modern, christian eugenic movement I speak of is not rooted in notions of “race,” but in a different form of tribalism, one Mike and I have sometimes termed the “tribe of the fish.”

Determinations between who is “fit” or “unfit” depend more upon that tribal allegiance and willingness to consistently participate in social rituals than any facet of biology or arbitrary label affixed. (The American Eugenic movement was always, often by its own admission, rooted in a number of arbitrary definitions and labels.)

Thus on the receiving end (to the eyes of christian agencies at least) should not be just any old couple, only couples deemed to have the appropriate “spiritual home environment.”

As I wrote at the time:

These resultant kids are primarily the products of the Christian adoption industry, which sometimes includes in thier most casual materials, requirements such as a “constructive, wholesome, spiritual home environment” of the prospective non-biological couple – all code for a household of the fully-committed Christian kind.

Bush, some churches, and many in the Christian adoption industry consider this not merely the individual goals and aspirations of couples involved in this process, but a matter of national policy, the desired outcome, and the only destination of what they perceive as America’s embryo surplus. That’s why the children were such a critically important piece of the set design today. No, they’re not just cute, no, they’re not merely individual decisions of how to deal with the surplus in individual families’ reproductive lives. No, these are the living embodiments of the opposite end of the spectrum of possibilities from stem cell research. And thus, they believe, it’s a matter of national policy; because there are only but so many cryogenically preserved embryos, and this is what they and Bush want done with them.

Further down in the piece, I elaborated:

The Bush administration, many churches, and agencies in the christian adoption industry want to build what is essentially a funnel: a multipronged narrowing of the options, down to the one, whenever possible. The one option, that is, that leads to christian movement growth, by eugenically doling out embryos as rewards to “godly families” and withholding them from “unfit families”, Queers for example.

Through the courts, the pro-natalists are desperately seeking to establish personhood and rights be conveyed upon these cryogenically preserved embryos. For example, see cases such as this one.

This agenda is also being pushed via “wrongful death” suits against IVF clinics, alleging that destruction of the embryos amounts to the clinics and storage facilities “killing”. This is but an extention of the prexisting false frame they’ve worked on for decades now, of “abortion as murder”, and clinic workers in the abortion context as “murderers”.

Other legal fronts involve the confiscation of personal biological material. Under what circumstances are you not considered the owner of your own genetic material and under what premises can it be taken from you? Cases along these lines are going to ultimately set precidents reguarding the frozen embryos.

Restrictions on the destruction of embryos is another front. There are many efforts underway working to make destruction impossible.

Despite the piece having been written over 4 years ago, I find it’s held up very well over time, sadly as true today as the day it was written.

But with an ever grow populace of “snowflakes” to be used as props next time around.

As for the people produced via IVF and their human/civil/identity rights? They face a number of overlapping problems with the genuine adoptee community. They also face concerns uniquely their own (for example what happens when you realize you have potentially hundreds of siblings from your father who donated sperm?)

Confessions of a Cryokid is one of any number of very useful starting points when it comes to listening directly to those “artificially created bundles of joy.” She’s compiled an incredibly useful set of links to explore these complexities as well.

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