The last of my really sporadic posts concerned a new story about Liam Burke, a child born a little under a year ago. His mother–and here I mean the woman who gave birth to him who is also his legal mother and his social mother–is Kelly Burke. The embryo that became Liam was transferred to Kelly’s uterus after it had spent 19 years cryogenically preserved. (You can just go read the post, if you like.)
Here’s the thing. The embryo in question was given to Kelly Burke by a couple who had created these embryos 19 years earlier when they were having children. The article (and perhaps the people involved) refer to the process by which Burke was selected to receive the embryo as adoption. But I’m quite sure it wasn’t really adoption–not adoption in the legal sense. Instead, I think this is a private transfer of the embryo from one set of people (the OR couple) to another (Kelly Burke). (I think this because I don’t think any state’s laws actually consider a frozen embryo to be a child and thus, no state’s adoption procedures apply to a frozen embryo.)
This leads me to two different observations. First, what the Oregon couple did is somewhat akin to rehoming–except for the fact that they weren’t rehoming a child, but instead they were rehoming a frozen embryo. And to me this makes all the difference in the world. In my view an embryo is not a child. Thus, while it would make sense to have all sorts of rules for who can take on care of a child (rules that might be evaded via rehoming), I don’t have the same response with respect to embryos. I suppose this really comes back to a point I made years ago–adopting embryos doesn’t make any sense–unless you think embryos are the same as children.
So this is a private transaction and (unless we’re going to start screening all people who want to be parents) ought to be a private transaction. But that said, look at the process the Oregon couple employed.
[F]or four months, by email and phone, she [Kelly Burke] answered questions about politics, spirituality and her views on education. She and the couple agreed to an open adoption, which means Liam will get to know the couple who gave him life and his siblings.
It doesn’t sound like there’s anything quite akin to a home study here, but it was hardly a casual handoff. Indeed, it may well be that the Oregon couple’s inquiry was more thorough than some of those made by those rehoming their kids.
There are, of course, a number of reasons for that. The people seeking new homes for their children are generally in desperate straits and time is of the essence. They don’t have time to spend four months in dialog with potential new parents. By contrast, the Oregon couple, having waited 19 years, could wait a few more months. The embryos weren’t changing and didn’t have any unmet needs. They were frozen in time. So I don’t point to this contrast to blame the people rehoming their kids, but only to note that just because it is done privately, doesn’t mean it isn’t done thoroughly.
In fact, I’m somehow vaguely troubled by the sorts of things the Oregon couple explored. Perhaps it all makes perfect sense–especially if there’s the prospect of a long term relationship between the person chosen to receive the embryo and the Oregon couple. And of course, I don’t know what the precise questions were or what the right answers are (or maybe even if there were right answers).
I think my unease might go back to the public/private thing. If the state places kids for adoption there are non-discrimination principles it is obliged to follow. It cannot rule out atheists, say. But when the process is private (here not adoption, but still private) discrimination may be permissible or at least impossible to avoid.
I know this is all rather far afield, but the story about the 19 year old embryos does keep resurfacing and I was suddenly struck by the odd resonances with the last topic here. Just thought it was worth thinking about for a little bit.