When does life begin?
Blog Post by Corinne Heather Copnick - Oct.10.2008 - 6:03 am
Two fascinating articles about the choices (freezing for future use, donating to medical research, adoption, destruction) faced by infertility patients about what to do with unused embryos appeared in the L.A. Times recently. Respectively titled "Infertility patients caught in the legal, moral and scientific embryo debate" (www.latimes, Column One, Oct.6, 2008) and "On the cusp of life, and of law" (www.latimes, Column One, Oct. 6, 200*), both were intelligently written by Shari Roan, and one appeared in the online edition and the other in the printed edition. What the articles don't mention is that not all the eggs produced by stimulating the ovaries of an infertility patient with harsh drugs turn out to be "good eggs." Just like chicken eggs, the eggs an infertile, hopeful prospective parent produces are graded ("A," "B," "C," "D," etc.). Not all of them are usable for the eventual production of human life. Some may be too small to remove from the follicles; others are sub-standard and won't respond to fertilization. I speak from personal experience, detailed in my book, "Cryo Kid - Drawing a New Map" (www.cryokid.com). One of my daughters, who had been unsuccessful with ten attempts at artificial insemination, then tried to conceive through in vitro fertilization, her eleventh and twelfth attempts to become pregnant. On the eleventh attempt, her ovaries were hyper-stimulated, hopefully to produce 20 eggs, the desired number. She produced 13, none of which were "A" eggs; two were "B's," and the rest were "Cs" or less. Only 8 of these eggs responded to fertilization through the injection of sperm. The doctors can tell which eggs respond because the cells multiply when the eggs are fertilized. Only then do they become embryos. So my daughter had 8 embryos resulting from 13 eggs. Her written decision was to donate all unused eggs and embryos to medical research, but they were not to be used for the creation of life. When too many embryos are inserted, the patient runs the risk of multiple birth, so doctors tend now to insert fewer eggs than they did previously. However, my daughter's doctor decided to insert all eight embryos into her uterus in the hope one of the embryos would implant itself, and that she would conceive. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and my daughter did not become pregnant. No embryos were left over in this case. With tremendous courage, she decided to try a 12th time, but this time, a different technique was used. Some embryos were inserted in the fallopian tubes (requiring a delicate surgical procedure) and some in the uterus. Fertility drugs were administered for a longer period in order to produce fewer eggs of better quality. All the eggs my daughter's tired ovaries produced were "A" eggs this time, but there were only seven. All responded to being injected with sperm and became embryos.The doctor implanted four in the warm fallopian tubes immediately and three in the uterus after these embryos spent some time in the incumbator. Through this process, one embryo successfully implanted, and my daughter was pregnant. Unfortunately, as I have described before in this blog, the baby, although healthy throughout the pregnancy, was still born. She was strangled in the womb by her umbilical cord a week before her due date. There were no embryos left for anyone, so no decisions had to be made. If there had been embryos to spare, my daughter would have frozen them for her own future use. Obviously, she did not have to make an adoption decision or donate them to medical research. So now here is the big question. When does life begin? Some people think it begins at the moment of conception. I don't. Personally, I adhere to the traditional Jewish belief that life in the womb is a potential life until it emerges from the womb and takes its first breath. Then it is a realized life. My daughter buried her little child who never lived. And personally, I think it would be a kind act for women who do not intend to use "leftover" embryos to allow others to "adopt" them. A code of ethics would have to be adopted as well. Would these be "open" adoptions? Would the contract state, as with artificial insemination, that the resultant child could request meeting the egg donor at 18? Many, many ethical questions. I think donation to medical research, which also assists other people, is an acceptable alternative, and I further believe that believe these ethical questions have to be firmly separated from the issue of abortion. I believe that to bear a child or not to bear a child should be a woman's choice, but not one that should be taken lightly, a choice to be used wisely. For me, a potential life exists in the realm of the future. A realized life is one you hold in your arms. I know this very well. My potential grandchild rests in the graveyard. We held a memorial service for what might have been last week and thanked God that my daughter is alive to try again.
Born in Montreal, Canada, and now living in Los Angeles near her children and grandchildren, Corinne Heather Copnick, C.M., M.A., is a multi-talented writer and performer. Her career in the arts has spanned radio, television, film, and stage. For several...
Corinne’s Favorite Books
Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage. Ray Kurzweil, Spiritual Machines; Singularity is Near.