Where Nobody Has Gone Before

Medically, today we are in uncharted territory. Technology is increasing at such a quick pace that people are being forced to make really difficult decisions that our parents and grandparents would never have had to face. How do you make ethical ones?

I was really touched by something I read over the weekend. For some reason I can’t get it out of my mind:

An Ohio woman who gave birth to a baby boy after a fertility clinic implanted her with the wrong embryo is a “guardian angel,” the boy’s biological parents said Saturday.

Paul and Shannon Morell of suburban Detroit said in a statement that they would be “eternally grateful” to Carolyn Savage, of Sylvania, for her decision to give birth to their child despite the clinic’s mistake.

“It’s been a long, difficult journey, and we’re thrilled that our family is now complete,” the Morells said. “We will be eternally grateful for his guardian angel, Carolyn Savage, and the support of the entire Savage family.

“We’re looking forward to spending the next few weeks getting to know our new baby.”

The boy was born Thursday at 5 pounds and 3 ounces at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo. He measures 18 inches long.

In a statement Friday, the Savages offered congratulations to the Morells.

“At this time, we would like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to the Morell family on the birth of their son,” the Savages’ statement said. “We wish Paul, Shannon, their twin girls and their new baby boy the best, as they move forward with their lives together.”

….

The two couples knew nothing about each other. Shannon Morell feared that the pregnant woman would choose abortion, ending their chance to give their 2-year-old twin girls a sibling.

A few days passed before they learned that the Savages were not only willing to continue with the pregnancy but also to hand over the baby without hesitation.

“This was someone else’s child,” 40-year-old Carolyn Savage told the AP on Wednesday. “We didn’t know who it was. We didn’t know if they didn’t have children or if this was their last chance for a child.”

So here’s the situation. Two couples are going to a fertility clinic because they desperately want children and can’t seem to conceive on their own. Often at fertility clinics they implant 7 or 8 embryos, and then “selectively reduce” the number of pregnancies, since that increases the chance that one embryo will actually take.

If you decide that you don’t want to selectively reduce, you end up in a Jon and Kate Plus 8 situation, with many all at once. Or you can choose not to put yourself in that position, and only be implanted with three at a time or something. But that reduces your chances of pregnancy.

In this case, it looks like they just had one implanted, and it turned out to be the wrong person’s baby. It seems to me that everyone in this situation behaved beautifully, and the “surrogate” mother did exactly what she should have, and the other family is being very gracious, but it doesn’t stop the heartache, does it?

I get the impression, from the article, that the Morrells, who were the biological parents, already had twin girls, while the Savages, who were given the wrong embryo, did not have any children yet. And the woman is 40. So imagine finally being pregnant, and carrying a baby to term, and realizing that you can’t keep it. The heartache must be so immense, even though she has the satisfaction that she did the right thing.

We’re in new territory. Even with my son, when he was very ill, we had big decisions to make. Would we give him a surgery that only had a 25% chance of success, which would not save his life, since he’d require four massive surgeries afterwards, too, or would we let him quietly go?

We opted for the surgery, but it was hard. I was putting my son through immense pain for a surgery that had only been developed six years prior to Christopher having it. Ten years ago he would have just passed away, and there wouldn’t have been any agony of thinking and praying over what to do.

Four years after he died, they pioneered the first in-utero surgery (in the womb) for the type of heart defect he had. Imagine! They can now fix it in the womb. But we didn’t have that option. And so I chose pain for my child. I still know it was the right choice for his circumstances, but it was hard.

Sometimes it’s our choice of technology in the first place that can hurt our consciences, like so much of IVF. It’s hard to do it ethically, in my opinion, because I don’t think creating a bunch of embryos that will be thrown away or never used is right. But some couples choose a very ethical path within IVF, and more power to them.

Other times these decisions are thrust on us when illness hits. When do you withdraw treatment? Do you need to try everything? When is it just time to go? These life and death issues are hard, and they’re only going to get worse. All we can do, I guess, is pray taht God will show us the way. And be gentle with our friends who are walking these hard roads.

Comments

  1. >Actually, the Savages already have three children, but it's been a long and difficult road getting there, apparently. That makes the heartache somewhat less because it's not a "this is probably my only shot" situation, but she still in a sense "lost" a child because her dream was not fulfilled.

  2. Cassandra Frear says:

    >You're right. It is getting harder to make these decisions. Much harder.

  3. >Thanks for posting such on such a thought-provoking topic. My heart goes out to both sets of parents.

  4. >Thanks for picking up on that, Melanie. Somehow that makes me feel a little bit better for them. It's not that the pain isn't there, but at least they have some other children to hug.

    My daughter was born less than a year after we lost our son, and it wasn't that she was a replacement. It was just nice to have someone else to think about and hold. It made it easier, somehow, though the grief was still there. So I'm glad she has some other little ones!

  5. The Sheepcat says:

    >This story illustrates the problems with IVF. The Savages did the best they could once the doctors discovered the mistake, but it would have been better for them never to have put themselves in the situation where a technical error was possible.

    Infertility is heartbreaking, to be sure, but not every way of trying to help a couple have a child is right. A child has the right to be the fruit of an act of love between its parents; IVF inherently treats persons as products–even when it is practised without destruction of the "spare" embryos, as you note is common.

    Natural procreative technology has conception rates that are at least as good as IVF's, and it doesn't have any of the ethical problems nor does it increase the risk of multiple pregnancy.

  6. >Why is it, that as Christians, it's okay to play God and "create" our own babies when God hasn't given to us naturally? Could it be that infertility is God's way of ensuring we take care of the orphans in this world???

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