Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thank God for Angelina and Brad!

For years, I have had the impression that the stigmatization of adoption was lessening, and that more and more people were seeing adoption as a healthy, normal (albeit "alternative") way to create families. But in the last few months, it again seems like it's socially acceptable to treat adoptions as a last resort and adopted children as leftovers. I am very troubled by this trend. The two events that really got me thinking about this were completely unrelated. First, I have been deeply offended by the discussions of families included in the recent court fights on the gay marriage issue. The way the groups defending marriage discrimination talk, the only way to have a "normal" family is for a husband and wife to raise their own biological children. In the way they characterize "traditional" families, they are marginalizing not only same-sex families and single-parent families, but also adoptive families. Second, some of the promotion around assisted reproductive technologies (including egg and sperm donation and embryo donation) makes it seem like children aren't "really" yours unless you "create" them in some manner. Several days ago, conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders (with whom I strongly disagree on most issues) published a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled "Embryos Made to Order." (For the full column, go to http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/08/08/EDGOBIQ0G01.DTL ) In her column, Debra Saunders told of a Texas woman named Jennalee Ryan who has opened "The Abraham Center of Life" in San Antonio, advertised as "the world's first donor created human embryo bank." Some background: when couples are experiencing infertility, many turn to in vitro fertilization -- i.e. the fertilization of eggs with sperm in a laboratory environment. This process creates embryos, which can then be implanted in the womb of the woman who is experiencing infertility issues, or in the womb of a contractual surrogate. But almost inevitably, more embryos are created than are used. And the remaining embryos can either be destroyed or cryopreserved or donated, depending on the wishes of the folks who "own" the embryos (which can be the clinic; the egg and/or sperm donor; or the contracting couple, depending on the policy of the clinic and the laws of the state in which the embryos were created). Current estimates are that there are over half a million cryopreserved embryos hanging around in various storage facilities, and what to do with these embryos is a source of endless debate. (One of the key issues in the stem cell debate is whether these embryos should be made available for stem cell research.) The "pro-life" position is that these are unborn children, and "embryo adoption" programs have been set up to try to find "adoptive" homes for them. (See, e.g., "Snowflakes" Frozen Embryo Adoption Program, "helping some of the more than 400,000 frozen embryos achieve their ultimate purpose -- life -- while sharing the hope of a child with an infertile couple." http://www.nightlight.org/snowflakeadoption.htm ) Now, Jennalee Ryan has added a new twist to this debate -- she has offered folks a chance to create embryos using their own carefully chosen egg and sperm donors, rather than accept other folks' "leftovers." And if you think I'm exaggerating, check out her own press release: "Until now, the only embryos that have been available for donation, also referred to as adoption, have been discarded embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles involving infertile families. Issues with this technique include incredibly low success rates (approximately 30 percent) and the emotional attachments that the infertile genetic parents sometimes have when relinquishing genetic offspring to strangers." Ms. Ryan goes on to point out that adoption "often has complications such as drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, genetic mental illnesses, fraudulent birthmothers and those that change their minds." http://newsroom.eworldwire.com/view_release.php?id=15132 Now, let me be clear about what's bothering me here. I understand that some people have a very strong impulse to have children that are genetically related to themselves. I understand that some of these people choose to engage in IVF procedures to try to have their own genetic children, rather than adopting a child genetically unrelated to them. I also understand that some folks who are unable to have their own genetic children want the experience of giving birth, causing them to look for egg donors, sperm donors, and/or donated embryos. And I understand that there also are many people who would prefer to adopt a newborn than an older child. Since it can be very difficult -- and also very expensive -- to locate a newborn for adoption, it makes sense that some of these folks would want to look into "adopting" some of those cryopreserved embryos. (I put adoption in quotes because you can't actually adopt a baby until there's a baby to adopt, so embryos aren't actually "adopted" in any state that I'm aware of.) Now here's the problem. We have over 100,000 children in foster care in California alone, and national estimates are that there are well over 100,000 children in foster care nationally that have been cleared for adoption and are just waiting for good homes. Add to that another 400,000 embryos in storage. And yet there is an industry starting to convince people NOT to adopt children who desparately need homes (after all, they may be damaged goods) and NOT to accept donated embryos (after all, they have already been "discarded" by someone else) but instead to CREATE NEW EMBRYOS from new eggs and new sperm, chosen on the basis of the academic credentials and good looks of the donors, among other things. Well, I'm sorry. I don't get it. And it seems to me that the combination of the vilification of "non-traditional" families by the "defense of marriage" folks, and the marketing efforts of those who hope to make their fortunes selling designer babies to people experiencing infertility issues, is creating an environment where it once again is okay to be downright rude about adoption, and -- as I said at the beginning of this blog -- to treat adopted children as "leftovers." Which brings me to the title of this blog -- thank god for Angelina and Brad, proud parents of adopted Maddox from Cambodia and Zahara from Ethiopia. At least they have put the wonders of adoption on the cover of People and Us -- and have portrayed adoption in an indisputably positive way. Now if we could just get them interested in the children of Los Angeles....


  • Excellent post, Deb. Just excellent.

    (And just for the record I have had zero use for the whole Branjolina bru-ha-ha until now. They have actually done something good...)

    By Blogger Richmond, at 5:49 PM  

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