The Dark Aspect Of Big Fertility: Embryo Mix-Ups, Abortions, And Emotional Trauma IN THE OPEN West Of Assisted Reproduction


It would make sense that those seeking fertility treatment would have pro-life views. 

After all, the people who visit fertility clinics are often couples who have spent years trying to conceive while suffering through the unique torture of watching other people effortlessly – or accidentally – conceive. Many women who undergo treatment measure and track early pregnancy with the utmost care, nurturing those early days with hope and referring to frozen embryos as their sons and daughters. If infertile individuals see parenthood as a gift, then abortion represents the very worst kind of ingratitude. 

Pulling back the curtain on big fertility reveals a very different reality. There are certainly people who pursue treatments ranging from intrauterine insemination to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) who would classify themselves as pro-life. However, a surprising number of would-be parents approach assisted reproduction similarly to how they navigate online shopping. They demand healthy babies who are created to their exact specifications, and there can be dire consequences – including aborted pregnancies – if things don’t go as planned. This troubling realization is compounded with the awareness that there are possibly millions of frozen embryos currently trapped in a suspended state of existence with little hope of ever being born.

The fact remains that the infertility industry is largely unregulated, and, for reproductive endocrinologists, it is extremely lucrative. Since the first successful “test-tube baby” was born in 1978, reproductive technology has become a multi-billion dollar industry that is often called the “Wild West,” given its extraordinary lack of standards and regulation. Data shows that more than eight million children worldwide are conceived from these procedures, with around 80,000 births, or 2.11.9% of total births, in the U.S. being produced yearly through IVF.

To some extent, regulations are lax in the United States because lawmakers don’t want to enter into the minefield of legislating embryos as the abortion debate rages on. This industry is yet another place that demands an answer to one essential question: When does human life begin?

The rising age of first-time motherhood has led to an increase in fertility issues. Additionally, an increasing number of same-sex couples are utilizing fertility clinics to conceive children. These issues have led to the recent publication of news stories highlighting some of the most extreme cases of moral ambiguity in the world of assisted reproduction. These concerning stories call into question: where should the line be drawn for what’s acceptable, and, ultimately, can fertility treatments be justified at all?

Recently, a Massachusetts couple made headlines for aborting a six-month-old, unborn child after it was discovered that the implanted embryo was not biologically related to them. According to the Washington Post, the couple, identified as John and Jane Doe, sued New York Fertility Institute for accidentally implanting the wrong embryo during an IVF procedure.

The couple underwent routine genetic testing and eventually discovered that the DNA of their developing child did not match with their own. At first, the clinic blamed the DNA mismatch on a rare genetic disorder called “mosaicism,” which involves one person having two sets of DNA in their body. The clinic further insisted that the mix-up wasn’t possible because the defendant was “the only implant that entire week.” Unswayed by the very rare possibility of mosaicism, John and Jane Doe opted to abort the growing child just days before the law would have forbidden it. They sued the clinic for “incomprehensible physical and emotional pain and suffering” resulting from the “errors” caused by the embryo mixup. However, the couple involved in this situation were not the only ones to walk away harmed. An innocent and healthily developing baby died because of a lab error and the refusal of two parents to accept a child who was different from the one they ordered.

Embryo mix-ups aren’t as rare as it may seem. Earlier this year, a lesbian couple sued a different New York-based clinic for mistakenly implanting a male embryo after the couple had specifically requested a female embryo. One of the mothers was the victim of sexual assault and had extreme anxiety at the thought of having a male so close to her.

At first, the expectant mother became convinced that they had the wrong embryo entirely and that she would “return” the child to his mother once she gave birth. “It scared the s*** out of me. I don’t know how to explain this — it felt like there was an alien living inside of me,” the carrying mother, Heather Wilhelm-Routenberg, told The New York Post. “I said to [my wife] Robbie, ‘If this is someone else’s kid, we will have to give it back.’”

Heather’s OB offered to abort the child, but she refused, “hoping beyond hope someone would have our baby and we would switch after birth and it would be this happy story.” However, it was confirmed that the fertility clinic had accidentally implanted a boy embryo instead of the girl embryo they had requested. This confirmation became even more devastating for Heather when she realized that the developing baby boy was genetically related to Robbie, as the couple had used Robbie’s egg during their fertility treatment.. 

“We scheduled an ultrasound for the next day,” Heather said. “That was the worst night of my life. I had this overwhelming sense of immobility. I remember lying in my bedroom, thinking, ‘This can’t be happening!’ Not only was the baby in my body not ours, but the baby in my body was male and he was put there against my will, just like rape.”

“That was the most isolating thing — that we had a healthy baby, but I had no emotional connection and now I had to wrap my head around having a child forever that I wasn’t planning on,” she continued. “The whole pregnancy, I couldn’t connect to the baby. I hate saying that. It’s painful. It was a terrible experience.”

Even after the baby was born, Heather said she struggled to bond with him. 

“I started experiencing extreme anxiety. I would look at the baby and it would contort into the faces of all these grown men that I know,” Heather said. “It was so creepy. Whenever that happened, I had to give the baby to Robbie.” She continued, “I literally thought I was going insane. There were several incidences of suicidal ideation, some of which were very dangerous. I had complex postpartum depression.”

Now Heather says she’s accepted that she has a son and not the daughter she had wanted. “We both love our child but we have had to work harder than anyone should have to work to make sure we are all alive,” Robbie said.

These are the two most recent examples of embryo mix-ups, and these specific cases are only making headlines because of lawsuits. Countless others fly under the radar thanks to embarrassed parents who make the decision to abort or give up their babies privately. These situations are far from rare.

A Los Angeles-based couple also sued for an embryo mix-up. According to People, Alexander and Daphna Cardinale chose to swap babies with the parents who received their genetic embryo three months after both of the couples’ babies were born. This scenario would be emotionally devastating for anyone, but what made the Cardinales’ situation even more heartbreaking was that “their older daughter Olivia, who had become smitten with her little sister, was also crushed by the news and begged her parents not to switch babies.” Two years later, the families still get together and see each other for the holidays, but the emotional trauma inflicted on all family members is impossible to measure. 

In 2018, an actress posted in a Facebook group that she was looking to trade her female embryo for a male embryo so that she could give her son the brother he desperately wanted. Her message drew criticism and questions, with followers wondering if her request was even legal. Ultimately, human embryos exist in a legal gray area where they’re considered property in some cases but  human in others. 

There are instances of grandmothers giving birth to their grandchildren. There was even one case in Spain where a 69-year-old woman was deemed “incapable” of caring for her four-year-old twins after undergoing an IVF procedure, and the children were placed in foster care. The Mirror reported that her case wasn’t related to age, but it did call into question whether there should be age limits on the procedure. The publication noted that the oldest IVF patient was 70 when she gave birth. 

And what about all those leftover embryos? 

In 2019, NBC News interviewed a Florida-based reproductive endocrinologist who said he was unprepared for how many embryos would be simply abandoned at his clinic. “Twenty-one percent of our embryos have been abandoned,” Dr. Craig Sweet told the publication, noting that parents leave their embryos behind for a variety of reasons. 

Some balk at the expense of paying monthly storage fees while others have one or two children and then become unsure of what to do with the other embryos they previously conceived. Plagued by indecision, they simply disappear.

“The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the main guiding society for fertility doctors, has put out numerous papers indicating embryos are deserving of respect,” Sweet continued. “This idea of abandoned embryos is an ethical conundrum.”

“We have embryos that are not claimed and people are not paying for storage and we do not know where the people are,” Director of Yale Fertility Center Dr. Pasquale Patrizio told NBC News. 

“The problem is, even if an embryo is considered abandoned, even if there’s a contract in place, it’s very difficult to get rid of. What if one day someone shows up and says, ‘Where’s my embryo?’ And you wind up on the front page of the newspaper for destroying someone’s embryo? The damage would be done.” 

Lab mix-ups, elderly pregnant women, and second trimester abortions don’t represent the typical experience of undergoing reproductive technology. They do, however, call into question what should happen when life-altering mistakes are made. Abandoned embryos are an important problem, and this issue doesn’t typically get emphasized with potential IVF clients. 

At the very least, these types of stories should inspire the public to demand some regulation for an industry that is quietly making billions, profiting off the pain of infertile couples and exploiting the lives of the unborn.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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" Conservative News Daily does not always share or support the views and opinions expressed here; they are just those of the writer."

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