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PROOF: Laina and Debi Beasley.
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PROOF: Laina and Debi Beasley.

Womb to grow

Lifestyle | The thriving practice of embryo adoption is saving little lives from destruction

Issue: "Boy Scout dilemma," May 18, 2013

Many moms remember on Mother’s Day how they gave birth. Debi Beasley remembers driving with her husband Kent for seven hours from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa, Calif., in 1997 with seven frozen embryos in a tank in the backseat. They blasted the air conditioning in their teal Astro van as they drove nonstop through the Central Valley’s 100-degree temperatures: “If the car temperature went over 70 degrees, the embryos would die,” Debi said. Upon arriving home, they placed the tank at their bedside. “We laid there praying and wondering if any of them had survived,” she said. 

Debi quickly tried to conceive with their embryos, but she had a severe reaction to fertility drugs that left her sick for years. Seven years later she tried again, and in 2004 doctors successfully implanted one of the embryos into Debi’s womb. In 2005 she gave birth to Laina Beasley, and soon the Beasleys were appearing on the Today show: With Laina dressed in a frilly dress and squirming on Debi’s lap, the Beasleys spoke out against embryonic stem-cell research, telling Katie Couric, “Here’s proof, there’s life right here.” 

Today Laina is a sprightly 8-year-old homeschooler who collects American Girl dolls and sleeps in a pink princess room. Her amazing birth illustrates the reality that the 600,000 frozen embryos stacked in high-tech storage facilities across the nation represent babies. Some couples who use in vitro fertilization discard their extra embryos or give them up for scientific research, but pro-life Christians have pioneered an increasingly popular alternative: Parents donate their embryos to evangelical adoption agencies that allow infertile couples to adopt them.  

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The Los Angeles–based Nightlight Christian Adoptions is one of eight organizations in the United States that offer embryo adoptions. Executive director Ron Stoddart says, “We are not happy that the dilemma of extra embryos exists, but we believe God has a plan for every embryo. By thawing and transferring an embryo, you are facilitating that plan.” Many fertility clinics also allow couples to use donor embryos, but the process is treated as an anonymous medical procedure instead of a formal adoption.

The federal government has spent $21 million over the past 10 years to promote embryo adoption, and Christian groups have received most of those funds. Stoddart began Nightlight’s embryo-adoption program in 1997, when “it was hard for people to think of a couple of cells as a baby.” With the help of federal dollars, Nightlight advertised the program, which has resulted in the birth of 330 babies. 

The Obama administration cut that funding last July due to “limited interest.” But Stoddart says interest has peaked in recent years as “people see those cute baby pictures and the word gets out.” The process is hardly simple. Fresno, Calif., couple Matthew and Michelle Gage turned to Nightlight after learning they were infertile in 2004. Similar to an adoption, they completed a CPR course, a home study, and compiled a family profile book. “We thought it would be a piece of cake after that,” said Michelle, 30.  

Each time a donating couple chose the Gages, the embryo transfers proved unsuccessful. As in an IVF procedure, couples have a 35 to 40 percent chance of an embryo resulting in pregnancy. Altogether, the Gages adopted 19 embryos: Some did not survive the thaw, while others simply failed to result in a pregnancy. Michelle suffered one miscarriage: “At that point I thought, maybe we are just not meant to have a baby. Maybe we were meant to give those other couples closure with their embryos.” Finally in 2010 they were ecstatic when an ultrasound revealed “what looked like this little gummy bear with a heartbeat,” Michelle said. Their daughter Paityn was born later that year. 

The Gages realize their daughter will have questions about her beginning. Michelle is compiling a book for Paityn, now 2. The Story of Me begins, “While you were an embryo, Mommy and Daddy wanted to have a baby so much. We decided to adopt a baby and learned about these tiny little embryo babies that were in need of a mommy and daddy. These tiny babies were called Snowflakes because just like the flakes of snow each one is delicate and unique.” 

Adoption advocate and theologian Russell Moore encourages Christians to consider adopting embryos. But his blog warns that embryos could become “a commodity in the buying and selling transactions of the reproductive technology business.”

At first sight

Tecnologia Humana 3D

Vision-impaired expectant mothers (and fathers) can now see their developing babies in the womb. Using data from ultrasounds and CAT scans, industrial designer Jorge Roberto Lopes dos Santos of Brazil developed a way of making computer models that allow doctors to examine in great detail the baby in the womb. Although they are primarily used as a diagnostic tool for doctors, dos Santos realized that with a 3-D printer he could print out copies of these models. 

The website io9.com reported on this development and quoted Neva Fairchild of the American Foundation for the Blind: “Fifteen months ago, my first grandchild was born, and they had numerous sonograms, and I missed out on all of that.” This new technology allows the legally blind Fairchild and others like her to “see” what others are seeing. The models cost about $200 for a 12-week unborn child, and about $300 for the face and arms of one at 24 weeks. —Susan Olasky

Elder care

Almost half of U.S. states have “filial responsibility” laws on the books. Although rarely enforced, the laws require adult children to support financially their elderly parents when those parents can no longer support themselves. Elderlawanswers.com recently reported that a Pennsylvania appeals court “found a son liable for his mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill under the state’s filial responsibility law.” Pennsylvania’s supreme court has refused to review the matter, letting the appeals court ruling stand. —Susan Olasky

Mary Jackson
Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and three young children.

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