A Gay Dad Asks: Is Destroying an Embryo Similar to Abortion?
It's a question many LGBTQ parents using advanced fertility treatments will need to face — what to do with "left over" embryos.
Let me start off by saying that I have always been pro choice and support all laws that allow people to have full reproductive rights including safe and legal abortions. This is a complicated subject and not one that I ever thought I would really have to deal with on a personal level, especially being a gay man.
I remember a very heated discussion on abortion in my biology class back in university. I was young, idealistic and had very strong convictions about abortion. I was debating with a female classmate who was pro life. She felt there was no reason for an abortion ever, not even if raped by your own parent or sibling. I could not really understand her position, then or now. Don't get me wrong, I still don't agree with her, but now that I'm older and wiser, and also a parent, I have come to respect and accept opinions other than mine.
Turns out that men do have a say and I don't mean the male lawmakers that try and take these rights away. When my husband and I decided to have a child through surrogacy six years ago, this was an issue that we had to think about. When finding a surrogate to work with, it is important to find someone who shares similar beliefs and values as you do. You need to think about what would happen if you discover abnormalities with your embryo or even if the embryos split. Would you want your surrogate to abort or use selective reduction? These are real discussions that are needed prior to signing surrogacy contracts. Everyone has different beliefs, but these are important discussions that need to be dealt with early on. At the end of the day you can talk about this all in theory, but my husband and I knew going into this that it was always the surrogate's decision, as it was her body after all. We could not force her to do anything she didn't want.
MILO'S FIRST ULTRASOUND
There was a case in California in 2013 that demonstrates this, though there was no men involved, this could have easily have been my husband and I. A California woman named Andrea decided to be a surrogate for her friends that were unable to conceive themselves. During the six week check up they found out the baby had Down Syndrome and might not survive to birth. Upon hearing the news of the diagnosis, the baby's intended mothers decided they no longer wanted Andrea to move forward with the pregnancy. The surrogate had other ideas and refused to abort and decided to keep the baby herself.
In our case we were very lucky, though we had discussed a possible termination with our surrogate in certain situations but never had to act on it or discuss it ever again. We were blessed with a healthy little boy on June 27, 2014. So why so much talk about abortion you ask? We have decided not to have any more children; we are "one and done" as they say.
Here is our dilemma: we are left with nine embryos and don't know what to do with them. We have been paying $500 a year to keep them frozen since they were created six years ago. Every year when we receive the bill, my husband and I have the discussion: Do we keep paying, donate them to another couple or to science, or do we destroy them? We have contemplated all of these choices, and then we just pay the money and wait another year.
I love the idea of donating the embryos, but it's a very difficult decision. I have talked to a few couples who are looking for embryos but at the end of the day I couldn't go through with it. These couples didn't live close by and were perfect strangers. It's been recently brought to our attention that there is a facebook group for LGBTQ couples who are looking for donated embryos with an open adoption relationship. I think if we were to donate them, it would be to someone we knew and we could possibly have a relationship of some kind with my family after. The question then becomes how much of a relationship would we have with them? Would we co-parent on some level? Would we discuss parenting styles? So many unknowns.
Another option is that we could donate them to science, but this is something we have not discussed too in depth with each other. I like the idea of helping with the advancement of fertility options and stem cell research, but not sure this is the right option for us. I have to admit this is something I need to talk to more people about and do more research on. I also wonder if in the end if we should be keeping these embryos for our son in the future for any unforeseen reason.
MILO'S FIRST 3-D ULTRASOUND
If I can't find someone I know to donate them to, we will have to make the decision to destroy them at some point. This is where the discussion of abortion all of a sudden became very real to me. I have really had to think about how I feel about embryos and whether they are just a bunch of cells or my son's brothers and sisters. A recent bill, proposed by Anti-abortion lawmakers in Pennsylvania, would require burials and death certificates for "fetal remains," which in their terms includes any fertilized eggs that never implanted in a person's uterus.
I have to be honest—this is not an easy decision for me or my husband and I can't imagine how difficult it must be for most women to abort their fetuses. I completely respect their rights to do so, and I expect others to respect mine. It is such a personal decision. I have a friend who had an abortion when she got pregnant by her "holiday boyfriend" in her early twenties. She was in school, not married and was not really ready for a baby. Her family heavily pressured her to terminate the pregnancy and she decided that was the best decision at the time. I know there is not a day that goes by that she doesn't think about that difficult decision she made. She is happily married now, with a beautiful family but I feel it is one of her biggest sorrows in life. I worry it might be one of mine as well, which is why we keep paying to keep them frozen.
Recently the clinic that was storing our embryos had a failure in one of the freezers and the temperature went too high and 65 people lost their embryos. We were lucky to find out that we were not one of those of those people, but on the other hand, I sometimes think that it would have made the decision easier for us. I know that sounds awful, but I am just being truthful as I am not sure if I am ever going to be able to make a decision on my own.
I am currently a board member for a non-for-profit organization that helps gay men have babies through surrogacy. Through our conferences around the world, we discuss everything surrogacy related and termination does come up when we discuss "questions to ask your surrogate", but we never discuss what people do with their unused embryos. I was hoping this article might open up this conversation. We would love to hear from others what they are doing with their unused embryos. It might help us and others make more informed decisions.
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