An Ethical Solution to a Difficult Problem
Allowing Frozen Embryos to Develop and Live
In the debate over embryonic stem cells, proponents of destroying living human embryos to obtain their stem cells argue that frozen embryos are going to be discarded so why not get some “good” out of them. Perhaps you have been persuaded by this argument.
There is a beautiful and heartwarming alternative to this argument. Frozen human embryos can and have been adopted!
There are an estimated 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States. Only 2-3% have been designated for research. Through the in vitro fertilization process, multiple human eggs are harvested from a woman and fertilized with the father’s sperm. If the couple conceives a child or children through implantation of their embryos, there are sometimes embryos leftover in the frozen state.
Families who no longer wish to implant their remaining embryos can and do release them for adoption to a recipient family who is willing to implant them. This creates a positive outcome for the donor family, the recipient family, and the embryo who is allowed to live and develop.
There are children living today who were once frozen embryos! For more information on embryo adoption and to read testimonials from families who have adopted embryos, please go to: www.snowflakes.org.
The Amazing Adoption of Tanner Brinkman
His name is Tanner. If his riveting blue eyes don’t take your breath away, his fiery red hair and adorable laughter certainly will. Tanner came to a legislative hearing in Madison to help put a real face on a hard-to-visualize group within the human family: frozen embryos. Not too many months before, Tanner himself was just that: a two-cell frozen embryo (zygote).
While some scientists are fighting for the chance to kill these so-called “spare” embryos to advance research, Tanner’s Mom and Dad (Donielle and Jim Brinkman of Phoenix, Ariz.) understandably have a different view. Unable to conceive children themselves, friends suggested they contact Nightlight Christian Adoption’s Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program – an agency that helps genetic parents place their (frozen) offspring with adoptive parents.
As I read their literature, I realized instantly that this was going to be the perfect opportunity for us,” said Donielle. “The fact that any children born to us would not be genetically related was never of any consequence to either of us. Families are about…commitment, not about genes.”
Of the three embryos thawed on August 22, 2000 one did not survive, “but the other two were implanted in my womb on August 23rd,” explained Donielle. Sadly, Tanner’s twin did not survive the implantation.
“Tanner’s estimated due date was May 13, 2001 – Mother’s Day! Of course,” Donielle smiled, “Tanner decided that date was not good for him so he decided to arrive via C-section on May 22nd, weighing in at 9 pounds, 11 ounces and 22-1/4 inches long. When Jim held him up for me to see, I was astounded. The most beautiful little baby – my baby – was looking at me. And I knew that someone was finally going to call me Mama.
Embryo adoption is one more step in the struggle to protect the lives of America’s littlest, most vulnerable ones. We need only look into Tanner’s eyes to see that the cause is just.
Donielle Brinkman’s Testimony to Wisconsin State Assembly Health Committee Hearing January 25, 2002 at the state capitol.
To gain support for the Human Embryo Protection Act and help legislators see the value of the human lives that are now in a frozen embryo state, Wisconsin Right to Life invited the Tanner family of Phoenix, Arizona to present their story of the adoption, implantation and birth of their son Tanner. Tanner was adopted when he was a two-cell frozen embryo. The following is a transcript of Danielle Tanner’s statement to the Wisconsin Assembly Hearing held January 25, 2002 at the state capitol in Madison.
Chairperson Underheim and members of the committee, my name is Donielle Brinkman. My husband, Jim, and our eight-month-old son Tanner, are in and out [of this Assembly Hearing room] and will not be speaking because Jim is trying to keep Tanner from speaking. . .(laughter). Thank you for allowing our family to come share our story with you. Today I would like to take you on a brief journey through the last 7-1/2 years of our lives, in the hopes that you can see a glimpse inside this mother’s heart. My goal is simply this that you would be encouraged to support and act to protect and respect what is most precious and treasured – our little ones and ourselves.
In September of 1994 my husband and I were married. We were eager to start a family and had decided early on that we wanted at least five children. When after a year I had still not conceived we began to seek out the cause of our apparent infertility. Finally in 1997 we were told that we were not likely to conceive a child without medical assistance and we were advised to consider in vitro [fertilization] or consider adoption. Devastation could not adequately describe the depth of emotion that we experienced. I once heard a quote that says, “peace is the ability to remain faithful in spite of the panic of unfulfilled dreams.” I for one was most definitely in a panic. Since childhood, my life goal was to be a mother.
In 1998, Jim and I decided to attempt in vitro fertilization. This was a very difficult decision for us. Most importantly because of our spiritual convictions, we knew that our options were going to be limited. We would not allow any conceived embryos to be frozen, destroyed or given to research. Nor did we want to donate our embryos to unknown parents. This, of course, left our doctor in a quandry. Because we would not freeze embryos, we were essentially placing all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. Because we would not “selectively reduce” our doctor did not want to take the chance that I would become pregnant with more children than I could carry. Ultimately, our doctor injected my husband’s sperm into only six of my eggs assuming that not all would conceive and of those conceived, not all would implant.
As the Lord would have it, none of them conceived. In the end, we decided to pursue adoption, but I could not get past the longing to carry a child.
Finally, in 1999, we had a glimmer of hope. Two different friends brought me information on Nightlight Christian Adoption’s “Snowflakes program.” I read the literature and realized instantly that this was going to be the perfect opportunity for us. The fact that any children born to us would not be genetically related was never of any consequence to either of us. Families are about choice and commitment, not about genes.
In February of 2000 we received the much anticipated phone call: we had been chosen. The genetic couple that reviewed our letter and video wrote us a letter and included photographs of their family. We were also mailed the genetic family’s medical history. This family, like ours, had chosen the in vitro route when their own attempts at conception had failed. Their procedure was successful and when their family was complete, they were faced with an agonizing decision: what to do with the embryos still frozen. The primary reason they chose Jim and I was because of shared spiritual beliefs. The embryos left frozen weighed very heavily on their hearts and they felt that they were accountable for these little lives and could not allow them to be harmed. They also could not anonymously donate them because they felt it was incredibly important who would parent them. Therefore, the Snowflake program met their needs as well.
In preliminary discussions with our doctor, he asked us, why would we be willing to transfer another couple’s embryos into my womb when we not willing to allow our own embryos (if conceived) to be frozen. While this may seem at first to be a dichotomy, it is not. If I were to adopt a child already born, I would not make the decision to adopt based on the circumstances of that child’s conception. In like manner, these embryos that we adopted were also living human beings who needed a father and mother regardless of decisions made regarding their conception.
After a few months of paperwork, scheduling conflicts and trial cycles, we were finally ready for the transfer. All eleven embryos were shipped to us via Federal Express in May of 2000. Due to an inadvertent error in the addressing, the embryos were delivered to a Federal Express warehouse in Phoenix instead of their intended destination. Calmly reminding myself that God is in charge of the drama of my life, quickly drove to pick up my little ones. The shipping error turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I had the privilege of holding my children while still in their frozen state. I placed the black canister in my car, put a seatbelt around it, offered up a prayer of thanksgiving for their safe arrival, pleaded with the Lord to allow me the chance to one day hold them in my arms. For at least two [of the embryos] this was my first and only chance to hold them as they did not survive.
On August 22, 2000 three embryos were thawed. These embryos were conceived in April of 1997 and were three years, four months old at the time of the thaw. As they had been frozen at a two-cell stage, we anxiously waited for them to divide to four cells. One did not survive the thaw but the other two were implanted into my womb on August 23. From that moment on, I considered myself pregnant. I knew that I carried two living little individuals inside me and whether they would attach and continue to grow was, at that point, unknown. But we were in awe of them and celebrated from the very beginning.
On September 10th, Jim and I sat by the phone all day, waiting for the doctor to call. When the call finally came, I was crying and jumping up and down with excitement because I was officially pregnant! October 24th was a day of sadness mixed with joy. We grieved because one of the twins did not survive. We rejoiced, because we had the opportunity to see the beating heart of our precious child.
At our subsequent doctor visits we were overjoyed each time to hear that our child was perfect and healthy. While my pregnancy was technically an ordinary one, everything about seemed extraordinary to me. There are precious moments etched upon my heart with the remembrance of every little detail. I’m sure all mothers count these moments as pure blessing. But I am also sure that the mothers that have endured what I have, know that they are nothing short of a miracle.
Speaking of miracles, would you believe that Tanner’s estimated due date was May 13, 2001 – Mother’s Day! Of course Tanner decided that date was not good for him so he decided to arrive via C-section on May 22nd, weighing it at 9 pounds, 11 ounces and 22-1/4 inches long. When Jim held him up for me to see, I was astounded. The most beautiful little baby – my baby – was looking at me. And I knew that someone was finally going to call me “Mama.”
Having shared my story with you, I’m sure that it comes as no surprise when I do now plead with you to support the Embryo Protection Act. While some would call Tanner a mere “dot” while still in his frozen state, we know that our son’s life had already begun. I did not contribute to that incredible red hair nor those beautiful blue eyes nor perfectly formed mouth or contented disposition. I simply did what mothers do: I gave him a warm place to grow, food to eat and an enormous amount of love.
While some contend that sacrificing embryos can lead to “greater good” with regard to embryonic research, I would argue that the sacrifice of any individual is always a loss. This cannot be a win-win situation. A life will be required. When we look into the faces of loved ones who are burdened with sickness and disease, we are desperate to find any avenue to find cures for those whose faces have already been written upon our hearts. But just because we cannot yet see the faces of these tiny humans does not make them expendable.
If we were to stand at the backside of a beautifully woven tapestry, we may be able to see some colors and certainly intricate design. But we cannot see the incredible beauty of the finished creation. Not because it didn’t exist, only because of where we were standing. If we had the ability to project the faces of every frozen human embryo in our country I think it would be easier for us to evaluate the truth. Any harm done to a human embryo harms a unique and precious human life – a life that will never again be repeated.
Tanner’s eight siblings are waiting for us. We will attempt another transfer this spring and intend to continue transfers until all eight embryos have had a chance to be welcomed into our family.
In closing, I would like to remind you of something Plato once said. “What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.” If we cannot honor, respect and protect ourselves, how then will we stand? Thank you.