As a Social Worker and an international educator in child right’s, over the last thirty years I have researched many interesting topics, and written blogs on the sexualisation of children, children and pornography, global surrogacy, orphanage tourism, baby hatches, embryo donation and adoption and the Luuk Thep Dolls of Thailand.
Every three or four months I decide on a topic to inform, challenge and stimulate debate amongst my many readers. This blog relates to interesting issues concerning children: embryo jewellery, designer babies and the adoption of different race embryos. I discuss if the commodification of children is now complete.
Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities, or objects of trade. (8)
IVF is in vitro fertilization, a type of assisted reproductive technology used for infertility treatment, where an egg is fertilised with sperm outside the woman’s body. To maximise their chances of a successful pregnancy, women who undergo IVF typically have more than one egg fertilized. For many, the dilemma of what to do with the leftover embryos once the woman has successfully carried one or more pregnancies to term, can be problematic. The methods of disposal of ‘excess’ embryos include:
Donating the embryos to others for third party reproduction (embryo adoption)
Freezing the embryos. There is a fee and a time limit. It is estimated there is up to 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States
Donating embryos for research
Thawing the excess embryos making them ‘non-variable’ (1)
There is now another option which is being seen by some as a celebration. An innovative Australian company, Baby Bee Hummingbirds, is turning ‘excess’ embryos into jewellery. Using cremated ash from the embryos, their jeweller designs and create individual pieces. Since 2014, Baby Bee Hummingbirds has made 50 pieces of jewellery with embryos. The company also makes jewellery using breastmilk, placenta, hair, ashes, and umbilical cord stumps. The pieces cost from AD80 to AD600. (2)
Baby Bee Hummingbirds founder Amy McGlade said, “I don’t believe there is any other business in the world that creates jewellery from human embryos. We are pioneering the way in this sacred art, and opening the possibilities to families around the world. It’s special because the embryos are often signifying the end of a journey, and we are providing a beautiful and meaningful way to gently close the door. Reactions from families are amazing and heartfelt. They are so grateful for our service. What is a better way to celebrate your most treasured gift, your child, than through jewellery? It’s about the everlasting tangible keepsake of a loved one that you can have forever.” (1)
Yes, families are embracing this option. One mother who had seven cremated embryos turned into a heart-shaped pendant said, “I’d heard others had planted them in the garden but we move a lot, so I couldn’t do this. Donating our embryos wasn’t an option for us and I couldn’t justify the yearly storage costs. I needed them with me. My embryos were my babies – frozen in time. When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them. Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake.” (1) “Donation wasn’t an option, the annual storage fee was an added financial strain, and disposing of them unimaginable,” writes one woman on Facebook. “When we heard about Baby Bee Hummingbirds, we jumped at the chance. “(2)
But there are also many critics. Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of Bioethics and Culture (USA), is a longtime critic of the IVF process. She believes it symbolises the belief that all have a right to a child, and creates ethical dilemmas regarding excess embryos. She sees the new option of embryo jewellery as undignified, disrespectful of human life and creating even more complex ethical problems. (1)
What do you think? Is the making of embryo jewellery disrespectful of human life? Is it commodification of children? Should we criticise those who find it a comfort?
In previous blogs regarding donor conceived children and surrogacy, I discovered the practice of ‘producing babies’ is huge and global. Medical clinics, hospitals and donor centres in India, Spain, UK, USA, Italy, Australia, France, Portugal and many other countries offer a range of procedures, including using donor egg and sperm. Often the costs are high, some countries have little guidelines and will assist singles, gays, lesbians and older women. (5) In the world of global surrogacy, the eggs may come from Peru, the sperm bought off the internet, and the surrogate is in India. (7) You may like to read more about these topics on our website. Commercial surrogacy is being banned in many countries, due to corruption and a belief that women in poverty are being exploited. (6) However, donor conception and surrogacy to form a family may soon be ‘old school’.
While there has been discussion about artificial wombs, in an anticipated new development, researchers from Harvard and Brown universities believe that future scientists may be able to create embryos from skin cells. This exciting new procedure for women whose fertility has been damaged by cancer treatment, will enable them to have their own children. But it could also take mothers out of the reproductive process. A man will be able to fertilise his own cells to produce a baby containing a mixture of genes inherited from him and his parents. It will mean gay men will be able to produce their own offspring. This new “motherless” technique would be another step in the progression of genetic engineering and a greater departure from natural conception, gestation, and birth. (3)
Family therapist Nancy Verrier in an interview for the documentary ‘Breeders: A Subclass of Woman?’, believes research shows that a baby is hurt by the loss of a mother. She asks what trauma is a child going to experience with no mother in the reproductive process? (3)
In another development that would revolutionalise reproduction, in the UK leading doctors have stated that they will back NHS funded womb transplants for biological males who identify as women. Advances in science means that within a decade, womb transplants will be successful and homosexual, straight men and others will be able to experience the joy of carrying a child. Already after pioneering operations on ‘womb-less’ women, five children have been born.
Consultant Gynecologist Dr. Arianna D” Angelo, said “from an ethical and equality point of view it was right to offer the procedure to all.” Many others agree, and suggest that womb transplants for transgender men and gay couples who wish to procreate in this fashion, will eliminate the need for surrogacy arrangements.
Women’s’ campaigner Laura Perrins, disagrees and suggests that the notion of NHS funded womb transplants for transgender people, will “impinge on the meaning of motherhood and womanhood.” (9)
There is a now a wide range of acceptance in how people form their family, which suggests if you desire a child, who should tell you how to produce one! Consequently, there is a huge demand on medical and other professionals to produce babies. Have scientists gone too far without societal discussion? Is there a lack of guidelines to ensure the best interests of the child is paramount? I suggest that the future genetic engineering of laboratory grown babies is a huge leap forward in the commodification of children. Do you agree?
My last topic, embryo adoption, is increasingly being recognised as an alternative to other methods of forming a family, including adopting an existing child, using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with the patient’s own eggs/ sperm (or donor eggs/sperm) or using an altruistic surrogate (such as a friend or relative and without payment except for medical expenses) or paid surrogate (a contract with financial reimbursement). Medical professionals consider embryo donation provides patients a way to conceive that may be less medically complex, is cost effective and provides a sense of fulfillment for the donor. (7)
Aaron and Rachel Halbert are a pro-life, white evangelical couple from the USA who chose to adopt five black children, three as embryos. First, the pair adopted two African-American children. 'Deeply moved' by the thought of having more children, Rachel has just given birth to black triplets after the adoption of ‘excess’ African-American embryos from another couple's IVF treatment. Caucasian embryos were not an option as the Halbert’s wanted the babies to fit in with their existing children and believe there was a large group of willing white parents for white embryos.
'We did this with the deeply held conviction that if the Lord wanted us to have a fully Caucasian child my wife would conceive naturally. There is something beautiful and enriching being a multi-ethnic family. The differences are the very thing that make ours richer and fuller. It forces you to think in a new way about the way you think, speak, act and live,'' Aaron explained.
What do you think about embryo adoption, and specifically implanting and giving birth to children of a different race? Do you commend this couple or believe they are naïve? Is this commodification?
What a complex world we live in! Once there was the biological method of producing a child or adopting an existing child. In this global world, have children became a commodity to be obtained regardless of method, to be worn, made in a laboratory or transferred at will?
Do you agree or disagree with Anna Mussman who writes, “Our kids aren’t pets or accessories. They are not objects to make our life more fun. Instead, they are human beings with their own needs.” (3)
Is the commodification of children now complete? I look forward to your response.
1.Boorman, G., “Embryo jewellery made from cremated IVF-conceived human embryos”, https://fellowshipoftheminds.com/2017/05/08/embryo-jewelry-made-from-cremated-ivf-conceived-embryos/, 2nd May 2017
2. “Couples are turning extra IVF embryos into jewellery.” http://www.ncvalues.org/the_federalist_couples_are_turning_their_unwanted_embryos_into_jewelry, May 2017
3. Boorman, G., “Gay Marriage Is Fueling Research On Lab-Grown GMO Babies, http://thefederalist.com/2017/02/02/gay-marriage-fueling-research-lab-grown-gmo-babies, Feb.2nd 2017.
4. 'We practice what we preach': White missionary couple give birth to black triplets after 'adopting' leftover African-American embryos from discarded IVF treatment”. The Daily Mail (Australia) www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3552751/White-evangelical-couple. 20th May 2017
5. Pepall, J., “The Global Business of Donor Conceived Children: Who is Serving the Best Interests of the Child?”, www.nationaltrainingforchildrenatrisk.com. 9th November 2016
7. Pepall, J., “Embryo Donation and Adoption: Whose Interests are being Served?” www.nationaltrainingforchildrenatrisk.com. 5th November 2016
9. Hale, Virginia, “Doctors Back NHS Funded ‘Womb Transplants’ for Transgender People”, http://www.breitbart.com/london/2017/07/03/nhs-womb-transplants-transgender/, 3rd July 2017