Thursday, February 19, 2009

Leggo My Embryo

Like many of you, I subscribe to Rep. John Mayo's email list. It is often a useful way to keep up with the Mississippi Legislature; also, the good Representative and his wife are movie buffs, and provide a constant stream of reviews of first-run features.

Sunday's email from Rep. Mayo was a head-spinner. Apparently, the Mississippi House of Representatives has passed a bill that authorizes the adoption of frozen human embryos. Yep, you heard that right. The bill, HB 561, is called "The Mississippi Human Embryo Adoption Act" -- you can find it here:

According to the bill, there are over 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States. If passed, HB 561 would provide a process for adopting one of them.

Oh, but not everybody can try. Line 215 of the bill states, "Adoption by couples of the same gender is prohibited."

I suppose the argument is that "adoption by couples of the same gender" is not "natural" or "traditional" -- but then, neither is "human embryo adoption," is it?

Representative Mayo, while supporting the bill, objected to this language. As he said in his email:

I find it repugnant that when we get a chance to make a point on this topic we take the opportunity to demean, either intended or unintended, another person who’s not like us, we go ahead and do it.

I moved to amend and remove the language. “It’s already state law,” most said. “If it is, why do we need to take another opportunity to say it?”, I replied.

I do not know why we take every opportunity to say, “You’re not wanted,” especially when we allow children to live with dope head, miscreant single, straight parent mothers at least until the live-in boyfriend shakes the baby to death because it disturbed him at the wrong time.

That's what I call a down-to-earth argument!

But putting aside the gay adoption issue, it's not at all clear that human embryo adoption is a good thing. The Bush Administration gave seven-figure grants to religious organizations that promoted this practice. But over five years ago, Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, exposed the serious problems with the practice. Dr. Caplan started by explaining the embryo surplus:

The woman takes fertility drugs that cause her to produce far more eggs than the one she normally would release during her monthly cycle. These eggs are then surgically removed from her ovaries and fertilized in a dish with either her husband’s or a donor’s sperm.
Often many embryos are created through this process. But since multiple-pregnancies — quadruplets, quintuplets, septuplets and the like — produce premature and often unhealthy babies, doctors will only put two or three embryos back into the woman’s body to try and help her become pregnant.

The clinic chooses to implant the embryos that look the healthiest and asks the couple if they want to freeze the rest. The couple also has the option of having the remaining embryos destroyed, donated to other couples, or donated for embryonic stem-cell research.

So what's wrong with using the 400,000 unused embryos? Dr. Caplan explains further:

[M]ost frozen embryos are not healthy enough to ever become babies. The chance they will grow to full term is about one in 10 for those frozen less than five years, and even less for those that have been frozen longer.

Moreover, using terms like “adoption” encourages people to believe that frozen embryos are the equivalent of children. But they are not the same. In fact, infertile couples who want children can frequently make embryos but they cannot make embryos that become fetuses or babies. . . . .
The inability to make embryos that become babies is why couples turn to donor eggs or donor sperm.

* * * *

“[E]mbryo adoption” . . . . is a nice way to score points with those who advocate the view that embryos are actual babies and should not be used for research purposes. But it is not the best way to help couples who want to have actual babies.

[The money spent on embryo adoption] would be far better spent matching fertile couples willing to make embryos with infertile couples, rather than trying to get them to use unhealthy frozen ones.

Dr. Caplan concluded that the only explanation for a movement to allow embryo adoption is ideology, not medicine. By allowing adoption of embryos, legislatures cater to the ideology of those opposed to stem-cell research (which is conducted with unwanted embryos). And it affirms a reductio ad absurdum of the anti-abortion definition of a fetus as "human life," which will get them points from the Pro-Life League when re-election time comes. But as Dr. Caplan proves, it will NOT help people who want to become parents.

In that context, it makes sense that HB 561 excludes gay and lesbian Mississippians. While you're sucking up to the fundamentalist Right, you might as well go all the way. So to speak.

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