Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The frozen ones

  • Print

Baby Liam Burke is just learning to crawl. But he was conceived when Bill Clinton was president, the World Trade Center stood tall and home computers had the new-found ability to dial into something called the World Wide Web.

Suspended 19 years in deep-freeze, Liam is the beloved new son of Kelly Burke -- and one of the oldest embryos ever thawed and restored to life.

"He is the most awesome baby there is," said Burke, 45. "He is a happy, healthy baby, a little bundle of joy, smart and interactive."

What's more intriguing, Liam is adopted. An Oregon couple who had twins two decades ago through San Ramon's Fertility Sciences Center kept his embryo frozen for years, keeping open the option of expanding their own family. Ultimately, they decided to donate the embryo to Burke for her own pregnancy -- a profound example of technology's extension of life.

Like Liam, about 10,000 embryos a year are thawed and join families, thanks to advances in the field of cryopreservation. Others linger, sometimes for a decade or more, raising medical and ethical dilemmas never imaginable a generation ago.

Infertile couples create embryos using in-vitro fertilization, which joins eggs and sperm in a petri dish. They typically create as many as possible to maximize their chances for parenting -- but if the first attempt results in a baby, other embryos are left over.

In 1985, there were 285 frozen embryos in the entire nation. Now an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 human embryos live as souls on ice, carefully held in liquid nitrogen tanks.

Of these, about half will eventually be implanted into their mothers, according to ReproTech, a company that specializes in long-term storage of embryos. Most of the rest are discarded or donated to research. A lucky few -- 1.5 per cent -- are, like Liam, gifted to women like Burke.

Embryo abandonment is a problem every clinic faces. As long as the freezer bill is paid, the embryo is safe -- for years, decades, maybe generations.

That growing longevity on ice raises an ethical issue. "Imagine in 1,000 years someone doing IVF with a long-frozen embryo just to see what a 21st-century -- or, in this case, 20th-century -- human being was like," said Hank Greely, director of Stanford University's Center for Law and the Biosciences. "Just keeping them frozen -- kicking the can down the road a little farther -- seems wrong to me. Use them, destroy them, donate them for research, or donate them for adoption. But make a decision. If you keep putting it off by keeping the embryos in liquid-nitrogen limbo, who knows how they may eventually be used?"

 

-- San Jose Mercury News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2013 0

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- WINTER FILE. Snowboarder at Stony Mountain Ski Hill. November 14, 2006.
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Gardening Column- Assiniboine Park English Garden. July 19, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Now that the snow is mostly gone, what are your plans?

View Results

Ads by Google