In October 2015, I posted this picture to my Facebook wall with this message :
This is my friend Toby Harmon ‘s baby, which they called Elias and who was born just two weeks ago. Their baby was conceived and fertilized several YEARS ago and then abandoned by his parents. My friend found him dehumanized in a laboratory freezer, wasting away with his siblings as well as 600,000 more precious souls. They waited there, alone and suspended, until they would be destroyed.
My friend and his wife sacrificed much so that they could rescue him through an “embryo adoption”, where they saved the child from certain death and implanted the embryo in her womb, bringing forth renewed life after years of frozen purgatory.”
It garnered much interest and a lot of people contacted me with poignant stories and pointed questions. Some people who contacted me were extremely grieved, having friends and family who had participated in IVF and now were waking up to the horror of realizing that their loved ones had abandoned their babies to be killed- that they had discarded their nieces and nephews in this unholy pursuit.
One woman, talking about IVF in a different thread, spoke of how her daughter-in-law had created a child using IVF and had left the rest of their babies in limbo, and was asking if anyone would consider an embryo adoption so she could see her grandchildren one day. She also lamented that she would if she could, but being in her 50’s, it was no longer possible and her helplessness was palpable.
Still others were incensed. They were upset that I would dare hint that they had done anything wrong and vigorously protested the notion that their embryos were real human beings with souls. These were professing Christian women, specifically, and they refused to acknowledge the weight of what they had done.
But by far the biggest category was those who had never heard of embryo-adoption before- otherwise known as “snowflake adoption” due to the embryos being frozen and having to be thawed- and were curious to know about the process. Things like:
-What is it like?
-What is involved?
-Is this something that they could do?
-How much does it cost?
-Will the babies end up deformed?
These were asked alongside other theological questions such as of the nature of being born in the image of God, sin and culpability and the destruction of the embryos, and what ought the reaction and position of the Church be towards a society that finds that seeks after it’s own gratification at the cost of its children’s lives.
Instead of writing out a long post elaborating on these things, I thought it would be more fruitful to contact Toby Harmon, the man in the picture who had just lived this out, and ask him some questions about his experiences with the hope that many of those questions would be elaborated on and borne out in his responses. Toby was gracious to oblige, and hopefully when you’re done you’ll have some clarity on the situation, and perhaps be moved to wonder whether this is something that you and your family could do, and whether you could rescue those being taken away to death and hold back those staggering towards the slaughter.
q.When did you first hear about embryo-adoption, and when did the first serious conversations with your wife start taking place asking “should we as a family do this?”
We first heard about embryo adoption from our friends Chad and Brandi Baker (who gave birth to twins that were frozen for 11 years). Brandi actually spoke at our second Abolitionist Conference “Promote Redemption Not Destruction.” That was back in 2011 or 2012. It was sometime around 2013 that my wife began expressing interest in adopting children this way and we began discussing what it would take to be able to do it.
q.Was your wife on board the whole time, or was this something that you had to convince her of?
Actually, my wife was the one who had to continue to press me about it. She would talk about it, but I just kind of thought about it as something other people were able to do, but not something that would really ever be possible for us. I didn’t know how we could do it financially, she had her tubes tied after our last child, she had 3 c-sections already, and it just seemed like a huge Mountain to climb in my mind. But she was faithful to begin looking into options and places to begin and to continue to gently press me about it. Finally, we decided to save a large portion of our tax return one year and that was the beginning of God providing financially for the whole thing.
q.What made you decide to choose embryo adoption vs traditional adoption?
Well, we actually plan to adopt traditionally sometime in the future, so we haven’t actually ever decided against it. But we were intrigued by the Baker’s testimony regarding embryo adoption, and then some other Abolitionist couples we were close to adopted embryos (unfortunately neither of them brought children to term), and we just saw how great a need there is and how disregarded these “unknown millions” are. So we decided to take our light and let it shine in the direction of the IVF industry and the orphans that existed as a result of it.
q.How did your children react to your choice, as well as the rest of your extended family?
Our children were excited and completely accepting of the idea from the moment we told them. But they are used to being around Abolitionism and so it didn’t really seem all that outlandish to them. They love babies and were excited to have another little sibling. Our extended families were totally unaware of the fact that this was even a thing. So they had a lot of questions, some concerns (which we addressed), and ended up being supportive overall.
q.How did you decide to choose which children to rescue? did he have several siblings? Did you flip through a dossier with information on the parents and his genetic dispositions?
Actually, God chose these children for us. Some fertility clinics do have books of embryos to choose from, with short bio of the parents (such as GPA, career, eye color, nationality, height, weight, medical background, etc.). However, the clinic we adopted from does not have lists and lists of donated embryos. In fact there can be up to a 2 year wait for adoptive parents at the clinic we chose. When we got on the waiting list there were 5 couples ahead of us waiting for available embryos to adopt.
There had just been 3 sets of 2 embryos (a total of 6) donated to this clinic (from former clients). 2 sets had been adopted out prior to us getting on the list, and two embryos were left. The 5 couples ahead of us all passed on the two we adopted because they were African American and these couples did not want African American children, so we jumped straight to the front of the line. We were willing to rescue any children that were available for rescue.
q.Has it been strange choosing to give birth to a child that is not biologically your own? Have you thought different about him or had differing affections towards him compared to your other children?
We had very little information about their biological parents, so it has always been a toss-up regarding what these children might look like. With your own children, you expect that they will have many or most of your features and look somewhat like their siblings. We had no idea (not that it mattered, but it was very exciting to wonder about it). I can say without the slightest doubt that we have loved these children we adopted to an equal degree as our own. There hasn’t been even a hint of partiality in our hearts between our differently conceived children.
q.In a few short paragraph, what does the process of embryonic adoption entail?
It starts off with the application and initial medical history, choosing embryos, legal transfer of rights of embryos before a judge (depending on the state what this entails varies), lab-work of husband and wife, determining the wife’s last day of menstruation to figure out a start date of the transfer cycle.
You begin birth control pills to regulate the woman’s cycle, lupron injections for several weeks in the stomach, a trial transfer to make sure there aren’t any unforeseen obstacles to transfer, which in our case there were and required an additional outpatient surgery, baseline check to determine uterine lining thickness, which determines transfer date, Progesterone injections in the hip, both injections administered by husband, and estrogen patches which lasted at least until the pregnancy test.
If positive, injections continue until about the 9th week of pregnancy, about 10 weeks total. They thaw the embryos the morning of the transfer (5-6 days after uterine lining is where it needs to be) and praying that they are all still alive. If not, the whole process has to start over from the beginning.
Then they transfer the embryos through a catheter through the cervix and wait for pregnancy test a couple weeks later. If the test is positive, daily Progesterone injections are continued for about 8 more weeks. A second blood test is required to make sure the pregnancy is progressing (if the HCG numbers do not double daily this likely means you miscarried after implantation).
The whole thing is both physically and emotionally draining on both parents, but especially the mother. In our case we had to drive back and forth to Tulsa from Norman, about a 3 hour round trip. Injections had to be administered each day at the same time , which sometimes required us pulling over on the drive back from Tulsa and do the injection on the side of the turnpike. One of our children did not survive after implantation (our daughter named her Ruth) and our positive pregnancy test was bittersweet when the Endocrinologist told us.
q.What is cost/price difference for doing a snowflake adoption vs a traditional open/close/oversees adoption?
Our total cost was $12,000 which included an extra $2,000 surgery to dilate my wife’s cervix due to scar tissue interference from previous c-sections. To break that down, there was a “package deal” that was a total of $5800. But we had a $500 legal fee, $850 trial transfer fee, costs of medications around $2500-$3000, plus labs and initial clinic visits before the package deal kicked in.
If foster to adopt parents do so through DHS the adoption is essentially free. Adopting from a private agency can run $8,000-$40,000 after attorney fees, counseling fees, medical fees, etc., and to adopt overseas you will likely pay no less than $30,000 (for both legitimate and illegitimate fees to corrupt governments and orphanages). But I would never discourage adoption by any of these options. Adoption is needed in all of these areas.
q.Do children born through IVF and were frozen for long periods of time have a higher risk for birth defects and abnormalities than babies conceived the natural way?
After the thawing process it is observed that there is often times cell loss or cell degradation. I’ve seen people talking about “our embryos only had 10% cell degradation/loss.” I was reading on the Genetics and IVF Institute website and it stated that embryos thawed that maintained greater than 50% cell viability (or retained 50% of it’s blastomeres) is considered to be an embryo that has ‘survived. Less than 50% is considered to have “partially survived. ” The lower the cell degradation rate the better chance of survival unto implantation.
As far as birth defects are concerned, there is a greater risk of low birth rates and premature births with children conceived through IVF. My son was premature due to Placenta Previa which is also more common in IVF conceived pregnancies. There is also a greater risk of multiple births, such as twins, triplets, etc. which also causes lower birth weights in children. This information is from the Mayo Clinic website.
It is hard to determine whether birth defects resulting from children born through IVF are caused from the process itself or from the infertility of the woman (although since infertile women aren’t really supposed to be getting pregnant the use of IVF to do so would be a factor in any child conceived having birth defects IMO). This article in Time Magazine suggests that birth defects are higher from IVF births (but they admit it could be due to fertility complications in the mother). So, all that to say there are conflicting studies out there and the jury is still out.
q.If in-vitro is the process that helps families have babies who are otherwise infertile, which then brings them great joy to have a child that is their own flesh, why is this a bad thing?
In Vitro Fertilization is sinful for many compounding reasons. First is that we have a great need for parents to adopt already existing orphans. IVF says “I will go out of my way to ignore these orphans in order to unnaturally have my own flesh and blood children.” So, the IVF industry actually discourages the adoption of already born orphans in the world.
Second, IVF unnecessarily endangers human beings. They are created in a petri dish, and the “leftovers” that survive or are not weeded out, are frozen in liquid nitrogen to -196 degrees. If they were frozen prior to the newer freezing method called “vitrification” (a flash freeze process) they could have as low as a 50% chance thaw survival rate. With vitrification it is claimed there is as high as a 90% survival rate. But, needless to say, freezing humans you have unnecessarily created, with a good chance of death is inhumane and unethical.
The IVF industry also dehumanizes these preborn children by treating them like disposable commodities. They create large numbers of embryos, knowing that most of them will not survive (either through intentional discarding or unintentional death through freezing or miscarriage). When the parents and Doctors learn that one embryo implanted but the other 1 or 2 dies, they celebrate because that is all they really expected and were hoping for.
If parents have any kind of history of genetic or health defects themselves, they can opt to to PGD and/or PGS testing which tests the embryo (by taking a portion of it which can result in it’s death) and testing it for recessive genes that may result in that embryo being born with whatever disease the parent has. If the embryo tests positive, they are simply destroyed and “better grade” embryos are chosen for transfer and/or freezing.
There are other kinds of testing that are done as well. When we filled out our paperwork we filled out the same paperwork as parents coming for IVF. On one of the pages was the options we wanted for any “leftover embryos” after a successful cycle. This page did not apply to us since we were not creating any embryos, but instead rescuing the “leftovers.” The 3 options included donating remaining embryos, destroying them, or donating them to scientific research, which results in their destruction.
So even if a couple decided that they were going to only create as many embryos as they were willing to have transferred into her womb, without freezing any of them, it is still unethical. Why? Because you are ignoring orphans already among you. You are unnecessarily legitimizing and funding the IVF industry which in the majority of cases does most or all of the above practices. Recent studies have shown that doing fresh transfers (transfers of embryos without freezing them) may, actually be more dangerous for the embryos because they are being introduced into the uterus which may become irritated and inflamed from the egg retrieval process just days before, and therefore unnecessarily endangering your children. This is in part because an irritated and inflamed uterus will expel the embryo rather than allowing him to implant.
And lastly, as stated above, the IVF industry not only discourages adoption of already existing orphans, but is responsible for the creation of hundreds of thousands of new orphans; it is an orphan-making industry.
q.Why should we consider embryos to be human beings? Why would you equate discarding or freezing embryos to be no different than having an abortion?
Human embryos are human beings the same way that human fetus’s, human infants, human adolescents, human teenagers, human adults, and human seniors are human beings. Each of these descriptions are merely descriptions of the human stages of development. None of them speak to the ontology of the being. Therefore if any humans possess human rights, based upon the fact that they are human, than all humans must possess them, regardless of their stage of development, abilities or inabilities, or any other arbitrary standards or qualifications.
But that begs the question and we must go deeper. Why do humans posses rights at all? Why is human life more dignified than other life? This is a theological question with a theological answer. The Bible gives us that answer. It is because we are made in God’s Image (Genesis 9:6). God demonstrates the value of His image bearing creatures by sending His own Son to become one of us (in the womb of a virgin), in order to redeem us from our sin, separation, and judgment of God. Our value is so great in God’s eyes, that is cost Him the life of His Son.
q.What do you think the Christian and the Church’s obligation should be towards our 600,000 frozen pre-born neighbors? What can we do?
First pastors and teachers should start shining the light onto the evil of IVF rather than ignoring it and allowing the majority of Christendom to remain in ignorance about it. I believe there really is much ignorance here. Most Christians who know anything about IVF see it as a pro-life thing. After all, it is the pursuit of having children and making families. Most do not see or know about the dark underbelly of this practice.
Secondly, when Christians begin to become educated about it, as its preached against as sin and discouraged as sin, they as individuals needs to verbally and actively oppose it, in the same way and to the same degree they should oppose abortion.
Thirdly, we should view these pre-born children, imprisoned in freezers, the same way we view already born children who have been orphaned by their parents (although, I hesitate to say this because I don’t think Christians currently view born orphans rightly evidenced through the overwhelming Christian inaction in fostering and adopting them or in opposition to abortion), and they should begin thinking through how they might go about rescuing these orphans themselves.
Further, we desperately need Christian medical professionals and entrepreneurs,, and business men and women, to begin figuring out how we might open clinics that do only embryo adoption and have no participation in IVF, but rather are a visible and vocal reminder of the evil of the IVF industry. This is something that has become a vision for some Abolitionists already.
Oh, and in case you were wondering how Elias in doing now, rescued and provided for and well loved? Pretty good, I would say.