I know I’ve been a very bad blog host, and I hope you all understand why–see the last post if you must. It’s just a busy time. But since it makes me fret when I don’t post I thought I’d put something quick up this evening before the second-to-last leg of the family event marathon. (This is son-to-college. Next (and last) is daughter-starts-high-school.)
Anyway, this story caught my eye today. Liam James Burke was born sometime earlier this year. An ordinary baby save for one thing: He was born after an embryo created 19 years ago was transferred to Kelly Burke’s uterus. That’s a remarkably long time for a frozen embryo to be preserved and then successfully transferred. Then again, perhaps we don’t really know how long they might remain viable.
The embryos had originally been created for an Oregon couple. That couple used IVF and ended up with twins plus four extra embryos. The embryos were frozen.
At some point the Oregon couple decided to donate them to someone. (I imagine this must have been somewhat recently. If they had decided to donate them in the 90s, say, surely they would have done so then.)
Now when the Oregon couple decided to let someone else use the embryos it was not the same as allowing a child to be adopted. Despite the fact that some people talk about “embryo adoption” there isn’t anywhere in the country where it really is an adoption. Embryos, after all, are not (legally speaking) children. No court officiates and very little law regulates the transaction.
This means that the Oregon couple was, to some extent, free to handle the matter as they chose. There could be as much or as little process as they wanted and they could make the decision themselves or turn it over to a doctor or the clinic where the embryos were stored.
A number of people wanted those embryos and presented themselves as potential recipients. It sounds like the Oregon couple took charge of the decisions making. The article notes there was “a rigorous process” involving lots of personal questions. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s interesting to think about. What, after all, would you ask? Does it make sense that anyone with frozen embryos can use whatever process they like to decide who gets to use them?
Anyway, they chose Kelly Burke who has now given birth to Liam James. Now, remember–the Oregon couple have their own 18 year-old-twins, created from the same batch of embryos. These twins are full genetic siblings to the newborn child. (Some might even want to argue that they are something more than that as they were conceived at the same time.
In keeping with the modern trend in adoption, Liam will know his older siblings as well as the Oregon couple. Everyone has agreed to keep in touch–to handle it as though it were an open adoption, had it been an adoption.
This leads me to wonder about what they will call each other. The sibling part is actually fairly easy. But what is the relationship between the parents of the twins and the new child? Or the mother of the new child? Do we need to terms to encompass these connections? Do we need new extended family terms to identify the relationships here? (I don’t think I’d call the Oregon couple “birth parents”–which is the language of adoption.)
There’s one other twist here. All the embryos were created for this couple using eggs from a third-party egg provider. Thus (assuming for the moment the Oregon couple is a male/female couple), the legal mother of the twins (the woman in the Oregon couple) isn’t genetically related to either Liam or the twins. There’s yet another woman out there somewhere who claims that connection–someone who now has three genetic children.
Brave new world, anyone?