To protest President Obama's lifting of the ban on stem cell research, Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey is hosting a press event this afternoon featuring so-called "snowflake babies." These children are the result of one couple donating a frozen embryo, conceived through in vitro fertilization, to another. When George W. Bush banned embryonic stem cell research in 2001, he appeared publicly with snowflake kids and their parents.
But is the possibility of embryo "adoption" really an argument against stem cell research? Not at all. There are approximately 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States, but less than 2,000 children have been born through embryo donation. As Liza Mundy reported in a 2006 Mother Jones feature and subsequent book, couples often agonize for years over what to do with embryos left-over from IVF treatments. But a study by Northwestern University psychologist Susan Klock found that almost every couple who believed they would donate an embryo to another, infertile couple ended up backing out. Why? It was just too strange for those parents to think of another family raising children that would have been, biologically, the full siblings of their own kids. Far more parents were comfortable with donating the embryos to scientific research, or simply allowing them to languish in a laboratory.
In short, given the tiny interest in embryo donation and adoption, there is no reason why embryonic stem cell research cannot coexist with "snowflake" programs. Some experts, though, go even further, calling embryonic adoption unsafe. Arthur Kaplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, has said such programs are a "sham" perpetrated by anti-abortion activists intent on portraying all fertilized eggs as full-fledged human beings. Kaplan writes, "If you are infertile and are trying to have a baby, your best bet is not to use a frozen embryo made by a couple who had themselves been going through infertility treatment and whose embryos were not used because they did not look healthy enough."
cross-posted at TAPPED