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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.


Columbia Missourian
November 8, 2007 | 10:12 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Like many couples who can’t have children of their own, Chad and Tanya Tatro decided they would start a family through adoption. But they didn’t go to a local agency to begin paperwork on a domestic adoption. Nor did they decide to look into international adoption.

Henny Donovan Motif

Instead, the Tatros turned to Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, and the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program, which helps match potential adoptive parents with women and couples who have frozen embryos they want to donate.

Today, Chad and Tanya say they are still amazed at how God led them to the embryo adoption program as they watch their 1-year-old son Ethan toddle around the floor, his soft blond hair sticking up in all directions, his dark-blue eyes exploring the world around him.

“He’s really strong and energetic; he’s the cutest baby I’ve ever known,” Tanya Tatro said with a somewhat self-conscious laugh. “I couldn’t imagine a better gift from God.”

Embryo adoption is a growing phenomenon, especially among Christians whose faith has put them in the middle of the debates over abortion and stem-cell research. For people like the Tatros, this relatively new, controversial form of adoption is as much a moral issue as it is a personal decision. Moreover, many conservative Christians are re-focusing their energy on the culture wars in a way that emphasizes adoption and foster care as part of a solution. Embryo adoption is an option created by the explosion of in vitro fertilization, which often results in embryos that are subsequently destroyed or donated to stem-cell researchers. Stoddart, the executive director of California-based Nightlight Christian Adoptions, established Snowflakes in 1997 to give leftover frozen embryos a chance at life. A year later, the first stem cells were extracted from a human embryo, and Stoddart said the new science and the ethical debate it has generated have helped his business. “If it weren’t for that, trying to get the word out would be much harder,” he said. “Embryo adoption is more relevant when juxtaposed to the embryonic stem-cell debate.”

Keep reading the article.

NOTE: While embryo adoption might help some Christians with their moral dilemma over the excess embryos left over from their in vitro fertilization, the truth is that only a fraction of these embryos are being adopted. According to this Fact Sheet on the Snowflakes Web site, only 134 embryos have been adopted through the Snowflakes program. That's out of the more than 400,000 left over from in vitro procedures to date. Not a very convincing percentage when arguing embryo adoption over embryonic stem cell research.

And it's not cheap to become a Snowflake parent either. According to the site:

If you live outside of Southern California:
Program Fee of $8,000 (paid in 4 installments)
Fees from the agency performing your homestudy,
ranging from $1,000 - $3,000
The fertility clinic’s fee for a Frozen Embryo Transfer
(FET), usally ranging from $2,000 to $7,500

If you live in Southern California:
Our program fee of $10,600 (includes a homestudy)
*A $2,600 credit is applied if you already completed a
homestudy with another agency
The fertility clinic’s fee for a Frozen Embryo Transfer
(FET), usually ranging from $2,000 to $7,500

You do the math.

Oh, and what about the remaining 400,000 +/- embryos in labs all across this country? According to a University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics 2004 paper, "of 165 of the 175 clinics practicing [embryo] disposal (94 percent) disposed of embryos as biological waste material, 23 (13 percent) after thawing." And this is morally preferable to using them for research that might save countless lives? I still don't get it.

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