One Solution to the Extra Embryo Problem: Craig’s List?

I’ve written about the extra embryo problem in the past.   Basically when people engage in IVF they generally end up with more embryos than the need for their own use.    What to do with extras?

As this story makes clear, there are  a few options;  the embryos can be destroyed, they can be used for research, or they can be used for ART by someone else.   This can be a difficult choice.  For some people the destruction of embryos, whether for its own sake or for research purposes, is unacceptable.   This makes the last option most acceptable, but it brings with it its own questions.   Who should get the embryos?  Who should decide who gets the embryos?   What process should be used?

Some people talk about embryo adoption and while this usually reflects their beliefs about the status of the embryos, it is legally incorrect.  No jurisdiction (at least as far as I know) has anything like adoption proceedings for embryos.   Instead, embryos (perhaps like sperm) are the property of the people who created them (or more accurately, who caused them to be created).  Those people can direct them as they wish.

Which brings us to Deb and Kevin McCrea.   They had 18 extra embryos–an unusually large number.   They could have donated them to a fertility clinic and let the clinic distribute them, but they decided not to go that route.  Instead, they posted them on Craig’s List.

Now they were not selling them (and I think that this is quite important.)   But it also isn’t clear that they were giving them  to just anyone who asked for them.  (I’d be pretty surprised if they were, given the replies I’ve seen to Craig’s List postings.)   And they were giving them away with conditions–conditions akin to those you might find in open adoptions.

It’s not hard for me to understand why the McCreas might want to have this kind fo control.   I’m assuming that the embryos were created with the McCrea’s own gametes.  (The story I’m looking at doesn’t discuss this question.)   If the embryos are used for ART and develop into children, then those children will be full genetic siblings of the McCrea’s children.   (This is true even if the gametes weren’t the McCrae’s.)   And the McCreas themselves will be the biological parents of the children.   So the McCreas would like to retain contact with the families created with these embryos.

But while I understand it, there is something a little strange about it.   It’s not adoption and yet in a way, the McCreas are acting like their own adoption agency.   They’re screening people (I assume) but they’re using whatever standards they choose.   And the agreements they are making–about contact and exchange of pictures–aren’t enforceable contracts.   (At least, I don’t think they can be.)

I do not mean to cast doubt on the motives of the McCreas or anything like that.   It’s just that ART takes you to such strange places sometimes.  This doesn’t look anything like adoption and it doesn’t look like gamete donation either.  It’s something all its own, I guess.  Something to think about.


4 responses to “One Solution to the Extra Embryo Problem: Craig’s List?

  1. Julie,

    Stories like this are exactly why ART needs checks and balances and preferably a court paper trail – even if it is simply an affadavit sworn out to the courts. It will get to the point where you must follow the methods used in adoption.

    There is no control in this manner and it leaves me feeling very sick. I understand the want contact but once the deed is done what legal protection will they have that contact will be maintained? What happens if the new parents want to just be parents and not keep in contact. The new parents destroy all documentation – the child if they need to know for any reason is out of luck.

    For what it’s worth – prospective adoptive parents and expectant mothers already use Craigslist. Can you imagine telling your child – I found you on a Craigs List advertisement…because they are going to ask.

    Just yuck!

    • The gifts technology brings us–I’m thinking here of Craig’s list. Find your child, find your gamete provider, etc. It frightens me, but you cannot really stop it, can you? If you closed down Craig’s List listing like this, you’d find the same thing cropping up elsewhere. (Is that too pessimistic?)

      On some level it is an incredible act of faith to allow anyone to be a parent. Parents have awesome (and sometimes truly awful) authority over the kids. You have only to pick up the paper to see instances of terrible things that parents do to their children and yet we must trust parents because we cannot have the kind of surveillance to keep an eye on them all.

      So it makes sense to me that we screen potential adoptive parents before we hand over a child to them. And you can say the same thing about people about to become parents via ART. But you can (for my money) say the same thing about most any other prospective parents. Which means maybe it comes down to practicality–you screen when you can? And part of practicality must be cost and potential benefit from cost.

      I don’t know where that leaves us. Court hearings for all just seems out of the question for me–we cannot afford the time and effort required. I see the problems of relying on the providers to screen, but I suppose that is where we are just now, and that’s hardly formal or standardized.


  2. Julie – what about simply sworn affadavits filed with the court – does there have to be a court hearing? Just some type of permanent record keeping because clinics close, out-of-business – requirements of record keeping are minimal at best.

    Just a paper trail…too much to ask for the sake of the child?

    • I understand the point about record-keeping and that’s important. I’m not sure courts are the way to go, though. Courts generally keep records when there are cases, and that implies all sorts of things. Vital statistics (and you could imagine this information being counted as that) are kept by a separate state department. I don’t know the details and I’m sure there is some variation, but vital statistics might well be recorded based on sworn statements so there could be a penalty for lying.

      You may know that Washington State enacted a law quite recently that requires something of the sort of record-keeping you might have in mind. RCW 26.26.750. It might be a problem that the clinic is the entity required to keep the record and I don’t actually know what clinics are doing to ensure the records are kept. Certainly it’s fair to wonder what will happen if a clinic goes out of business. I will try to remember to ask around.

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