Stem Cell Update: Using Your Embryos in Research

While a debate is swirling around us about such issues as the definition of life, the life-saving nature of research, and how politics fits in to the argument, the people who will be creating embryos for use by researchers have been mostly silent.

Just about a year ago, we created a poll asking "Would you allow your embryos to be used in stem cell research?" As of today's update (July 21, 2001), we've had just a little over 60 responses to that question.

Is this an indication that folks who are going through IVF and thereby creating the embryos in question are not interested in the outcome for their "leftovers"? Not according to the responses we garnered.

The trials and tribulations of infertility treatment are stressful and exact a great emotional and physical toll on patients. Perhaps many of them, especially those who are just now coming to grips with their need for treatment, simply don't even know about the connection between the decision that lies before U.S. President Bush and their precious embryos. Is it possible that the majority of people who are experiencing the daunting task of family-building in the face of infertility are simply too busy to care?

What's the Big Deal?

At issue -- whether or not the Federal government will be allowed to financially support research using stem cells created from several sources, including frozen human embryos which go unused in the IVF process.

As President George Bush took office earlier this year, he made plain his stance on stem cell research derived from abortions. While he did not at that time comment on the use of embryos created through IVF, his pro-life stance on many issues is widely known. He is under enormous pressure from all political sides now as he nears a decision. In Norfolk, Virginia, the esteemed Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine found donors for the specific task of creating embryos for use in stem cell research. Just this week, children who were themselves frozen embryos at one time were paraded in a House hearing to demonstrate that using embryos in research is tantamount to taking lives. On the other side of the story, press conferences were held featuring children with diseases for which no cure will be available except through stem cell research.

The Overwhelming Big Picture

Most of the few respondents to our polling said that the thought of their embryonic creations being used in research, thereby destroying them, is unsettling. The catch, however, is that many fertility patients wind up creating many more embryos than can reasonably be used by either themselves or other prospective parents to go on and create babies. Even bearing in mind that not all of the embryos currently suspended in cryopreservation would result in successful pregnancies, there are still most likely too many to attempt it, even if the technique of embryo adoption was widely accepted.

The most probable reason for the silence by the majority of patients choosing IVF is that they are far too overwhelmed by all of the conflicting issues to be involved in the decision-making process.

Whatever the issue, the thoughts of the creators of the vast majority of embryos to be used for research will soon be moot. Whichever way the politics fall, we have entered a brave new world.

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