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Embryo Adoption Plants a Complex Family Tree

by Nancy Cambria,  St. Louis Dispatch,  Feb 14, 2010
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An estimated 500,000 frozen embryos are stored nationwide as the byproducts of advanced fertility treatments, commonly known as in vitro fertilization, or IVF. Although most who create the embryos will use all of them in an attempt to have a child, sometimes there are extras. Anna and Sarah were once two of them.

Last winter, Jen McLaughlin and her husband, Pat, were given the twins' embryos from a couple in California who had successfully birthed a son. With two children already, their family was complete.

But the California couple never anticipated that four frozen embryos would remain — scant specks in glass pipettes, each about a hundred cells in all and visible only to a microscope.

The McLaughlins are among at least 260 families nationwide each year who successfully have babies after embryo donation, sometimes called embryo adoption.

In the process, the couple have plunged headlong into the dicey ethical, religious and medical debate over the creation and fate of frozen embryos.

It's a debate that Jen McLaughlin, who is Catholic, has tackled with total certainty, grounded in a belief that the embryos are moral equivalents of children.

The embryos, too, needed a family.

Her conviction about the sanctity of family is also firm.

So much so that McLaughlin and the donors are pushing the bounds of a simmering ethical debate on embryo donation even further by rethinking what "family" really means and just how far their children's genetic bonds should go. Read more.


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