December 20th, 2017

Baby, it’s not cold outside anymore

[NOTE: Hat tip: Instapundit.

The title of this post’s a riff on my recent piece about the Frank Loesser song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” But this topic is very different.]

It was a long and frozen wait—twenty-four years, to be exact:

A Tennessee woman gave birth last month to a baby girl who was frozen as an embryo in 1992, when her mother was just a year old.

Tina and Benjamin Gibson became the proud parents of Emma Wren on Nov. 25. Emma weighed a healthy 6 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 20 inches long.

According to staff at the University of Tennessee Preston Medical Library, Emma holds the all-time record for the longest-frozen embryo to come to birth.

In case you’re confused by the way that was written (some of the commenters at the site certainly were), Emma is not the Gibson’s biological child. Emma (who was not yet “Emma”) was conceived twenty-four years ago when her biological parents underwent treatment—most likely for infertility—that resulted in extra embryos that were frozen for possible future use and never implanted, and then apparently donated. In the case of Emma, this meant that her non-biological mother Tina Gibson (who, as far as I can tell, can now be called Emma’s birth mother, since she did give birth to Emma) happened to have been eighteen months old herself when Emma was originally conceived and frozen.

Freezing of unused embryos is a relatively common thing during the process of in vitro fertilization, and the frozen embryos present a dilemma:

IVF doctors must try to find a balance between retrieving enough eggs to give a couple a reasonable chance of obtaining a pregnancy and running the risk of potentially creating so many embryos that many are destined to remain unused by the couple that created them…

Hence, infertile couples are often faced with the dilemma of what to do with their remaining frozen embryos. Unlike England, where a deadline for storage of frozen embryos was implemented, the United States has no criteria for disposal…

There are 5 options to be considered by couples:

Keep the embryos frozen because you intend to use them in an IVF transfer sometime in the future.

Discard them

Donate them to another recipient

Donate the embryos to research

None of the above

At the link you can find a fairly lengthy discussion of some of the practical, legal, ethical, and philosophical considerations for each move. One also wonders whether there are medical ramifications of the long storage process. The frozen egg dilemma is an enormous responsibility that most couples undergoing infertility treatments have probably not considered before they start the process, and it’s one I’m glad I never had to face.

The embryo that developed into Emma was taken out of storage by a faith-based group called the National Embryo Donation Center. Couples such as the Gibsons have taken a leap of faith, as well. I wish them and Emma the best.

4 Responses to “Baby, it’s not cold outside anymore”

  1. Frog Says:

    Not a word about the Catholic position here, Neo.
    The ethics seem not to concern you, since you allude to them only in passing. See your 5 choices.
    When does a human life begin?

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Frog:

    I think it’s obvious that they are not MY five choices. I’m quoting the article. This is not an in-depth post with a lot of in-depth discussion of the issues. It’s a quick introduction to the topic, using one general reference about it and a lot of quotes.

    I not only ignored the Catholic position, I ignored just about every other position. If you want to talk about the Catholic position, go right ahead.

    You may not realize it, but I don’t always want or need to spend hours and hours writing a single post, researching and then listing the positions of every religion on earth. Or is it only the Catholic religion you require that I research?

    In case you’re wondering, the Catholic Church is against in vitro fertilization in the first place, so they are against the very process that would lead to the dilemma described in this post. You can read about it here. And perhaps it would surprise you to discover that the Church is against the adoption of embryos already frozen (see this). Or perhaps it would not surprise you.

  3. bdh Says:

    Thanks for writing about this Neo. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with the time-line until I read your post.
    There are of course unresolved ethical questions about all this, and likely will always be. It is a function of our modern era being medically capable of astounding things, and yet ethically unprepared at times. In a nation where a million unborn are aborted a year, this embryo issue will await a broader awakening.
    It is perhaps enough to wish the new family and baby well as you do. They all are a bit of a miracle.

  4. Michael Rosemann Says:

    Thanks for this excellent and illusive post. in one sentence you ask “… One also wonders whether there are medical ramifications of the long storage process. “. All research done on long-term frozen embryos of mice and of long-term frozen human cells (bone-marrow, stem cells, cell lines) have never shown any detrimental effect of cryo-storage (if it is done properly). The (unfertilized) egg in a womans ovary are stored there from birth until ovulation (i.e. up to 45 – 50 years), and here we know that with every year the risk for genetic abnormalities goes up (not so for cryo-storing the fertilized egg or embryo). It could become a problem if sperm cells/eggs/embryos are stored over centuries, because natural background radiation will cause a slow but persistent accumulation of gene mutations.
    regards, Michael

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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