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Why The Embryo Adoption Industry Is Not Pro-Life


No compassionate human being can live in a world alongside cryopreserved children without first asking, “What do we do?” and finally concluding, “We must do something!” For pro-life individuals seeking to help children frozen in liquid nitrogen, embryo donation and adoption provides a merciful option: adopting and transferring frozen embryos into their own wombs, offering these children a chance at being born.

Prospective parents won’t get very far in the adoption process, however, before discovering how closely related the embryo adoption industry is to the in vitro fertilization (IVF) industry. In fact, as long as the ungodly business of creating and freezing surplus embryos remains unregulated in the United States, the act of donating and adopting embryonic children increases the demand for what a cavalier market is already too eager to supply.

Marc Ramirez of The Dallas Morning News explains: “In 2002, faced with the issue of surplus embryos, Congress established funding to promote embryo adoption as a family building option, and the number of babies born through such placements has risen 18 percent a year since 2012. However, the surplus has also grown. And while some nations impose limits on how long embryos can be frozen before they must be donated or destroyed, the U.S. has no such rules.”

If You Can Buy Babies, People Will Supply the ‘Product’

Even the altruistic notion of “rescue” does not camouflage the reality that embryo donation and adoption, as it currently stands, supports the IVF industry. While adoption in itself is socially understood to be a nonprofit endeavor, embryo adoption is a profitable industry. Doctors and clinics are making money off the literal buying and selling of human beings. Tamar Lewin writes of this very thing in his recent article in The New York Times:

At Dr. Earnest Zeringue’s IVF clinic in Davis Calif., a program he calls California Conceptions goes beyond embryo donation to embryo creation. The Clinic buys eggs and sperm from donors whose profiles are likely to have broad appeal—like those who are tall, thin, and well educated—then combines them to make embryos that are doled out to three or four families. Both the donors and the would-be parents know the embryos will be used by multiple families. For $12,500, patients get three tries, from a different batch of embryos each time—and a money-back guarantee for those who do not achieve a 12-week pregnancy. “Our clients are typically people at the end of the line in terms of having a baby,” Dr. Zeringue said. ‘We used to have a regular donor embryo program, but the waiting list kept getting longer and longer, and in six years, we had less than a dozen donors.’ The new program, he said, helps him meet the demand.

In light of how enthusiastic this immoral and unregulated industry is to increase the supply of embryos when the demand for them is high, we begin to see that adopting embryos in order to rescue them is not unlike abolitionists buying slaves in order to free them. The aim may be true and the cause may be just, but the action ends up perpetuating a beastly industry and providing financial incentive for its future growth.

The abuses of the IVF industry aside, the question still remains: How can we who claim to be pro-life best care for these frozen children? Is there even a way to care for them that does not inflict further abuse upon them? In his book “Bioethics: A Primer for Christians,” ethicist Gilbert Meilaender writes: “the very fact that these embryos are leftovers from someone’s attempt at IVF suggests not that they may now be used, but, rather, that they should not be used. After all, these embryos have already been used once in the service of someone else’s project…They have been produced and used in an attempt to satisfy the desires of others. Is being used once not enough?

Most of us would scoff that adoption is hardly a mere “use” of these embryos, but, as any embryo’s survival rate for thawing ranges between 50-85 percent and as the success rate of implantation following a frozen embryo transfer (FET) in embryo adoption is currently at 47.2 percent, to rejoice in and promote a procedure that leads to the death of more than half of participating children seems short on mercy and barely pro-life.

Using Emotion to Cloud Your Ethical Decision-Making

The organizations that endorse and facilitate embryo adoption confuse the pro-life case even further by gearing their marketing, not toward married couples with the highest success rate of gestating embryos to full health and vitality outside of the womb, but toward those whose wombs have proven to be the least viable: the infertile.

For example, the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center, in an informational video on their website, chooses to narrate the subject of embryo adoption from the perspective of those struggling to conceive. The animated sequence of the video opens with the line, “I’m infertile. Now what?”

This is hardly a grand appeal to the consciences of pro-lifers, calling for immediate action as a unified community to rescue the most vulnerable in society. Instead, it is a marketing line aimed straight for the most emotionally vulnerable of target audiences, and for whose sake? Surely, not the children’s, for if we truly care about the health and vitality of these frozen children, we would not advocate for their lives being risked in wombs that have yet to successfully carry a child to full term.

Whatever hope we may still have that organizations such as the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center exist solely to lobby for the rights of abandoned embryonic children quickly fades as the video’s narrative continues:

I know, I’ll do a fertility dance. How about fertility potion? IVF? This is too much money, and it didn’t work. I can’t do it again. Adoption! We’ll go foreign. This is too much money. Too much time, too. Domestic adoption. This is too much time. I know, we’ll pray to the fertility gods. Let’s eat oysters! What is embryo adoption? Frozen, remaining embryos are often left over when people have completed their families through IVF, and you can adopt them. Embryo adoption: the newest form of adoption.

Not only is the video’s narrative disappointingly heathen in tone, but it, in poor taste, portrays traditional adoption in a negative light. It also, rather than appealing to our better virtues of compassion and mercy toward those in need, appeals instead to our more base desires of being comfortable, wealthy, satisfied, and in vogue.

This is not pro-life language. It is pro-self language, and our deepest fears regarding the organization’s philosophy are confirmed in the video’s affirmation of IVF families possibly being complete without the children themselves. We would be hard-pressed to find more compelling evidence of the ties that bind the IVF and embryo adoption industries together than in the marketing materials of the industries themselves.

Some in our communities and churches have used embryo adoption. For those adoptions that have resulted in the births of live children today, we rejoice in the same way that we do in the birth of any child. However, we who are pro-life cannot ignore that more than half of these embryo adoptions have resulted in the deaths of children.

Such a statistic is cause for grief, not celebration, and we should never sit in relief until we can do better for the most vulnerable in our society. Triumphalism in any industry is often imprudent, but in the case of a Pyrrhic victory such as embryo adoption, it can be deadly.