Frozen Humanity

A recent AP piece dealing with the burgeoning problem of what to do with the extra frozen embryos used in in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures is downright spooky. Consider the actions of some clinics:

The reverence that some clinics gave to the task surprised researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University.

Seven clinics said they performed a quasi-religious ceremony, including a prayer, for each embryo they destroyed.

Seven others took the technically unnecessary step of culturing the cells in a lab dish, then allowing them to multiply on their own, briefly, before they perish.

Four insisted that, whatever method was chosen for disposal, the patient be present when it happens. Others barred them from being in the room, or recommended that they be uninvolved.

University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan said the survey results, published last month in the journal Politics and the Life Sciences, show that the clinics have a level of moral sensitivity unrealized by the public.

“I don’t think anyone who deals with these frozen embryos considers them to be persons,” Caplan said. “But I think that they feel they are deserving of respect … They see the potential for life in this material.”

It’s bizarre that clinics would go through such an antic as performing a “quasi-religious ceremony” (whatever that means). It is, however, very telling in that it reveals how confused people are on what to do with human life at such stages. One would not expect what appears to be—for all intents and purposes—a funeral to be held by the very ones who would facilitate the funeral’s need.

The article does point to some who have a little more moral understanding of what it means to freeze human embryos:

Dr. Vincent A. Pellegrini, a fertility doctor in West Reading, Pa., said he wrestled with the issue for two years before deciding that destroying surplus embryos would be akin to “throwing away human life.”

“It just wasn’t an option,” Pellegrini said. “Once we have a dividing embryo, it is human material I can’t discard.”

The policy poses an additional burden for patients. It requires that the clinic sometimes implant more developing embryos in a woman’s body than they generally need to ensure a successful pregnancy, meaning that the women carry an increased risk of having twins, triplets or quadruplets.

Pellegrini said some patients decide to go elsewhere because of his policies. But he also attracts some patients who share his views.

I suppose that it is good that at least some of the clinics are wrestling with the question. If, after all, one holds to the belief that life begins at conception, it follows that an embryo is a human being in the earliest stages of development. Whether frozen or discarded, the descruction of human life (not material) is just that—the destruction of human life.

[see also Albert Mohler’s recent columns on IVF storage: Part One and Part Two]