Many parents who have children using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) are faced with a difficult decision if they no longer wish to attempt pregnancy but have embryos remaining. The most common options are to preserve the embryos indefinitely, to destroy them or to donate them for research, after which they will be destroyed.
Elly Jaspers-Fayer, mother of two young children, said, “I really want people to know there is a fourth option.” That fourth option is embryo donation, whereby an embryo (fertilized egg) from one couple is given to another person or couple for implantation.
In an article in The Globe and Mail, fertility lawyer Sara R. Cohen commented that many of her clients and friends who have extra embryos are unaware that embryo donation is possible (Feb. 14, 2014). She wrote, “people are making decisions about what to do with their leftover embryos without knowing all of the options available to them. How can it be said, then, that they are truly providing informed consent?”
A number of Canadian parents use reproductive technologies to welcome children into their families. According to the Canadian Assisted Reproductive Technologies Registry, 27, 356 cycles of IVF were reported at a total of 32 centres in the year 2012. From these cycles, 5,971 live births were reported.
A lifelong relationship
Embryo donation is offered at some of Canada’s fertility clinics in a “closed” process in which the recipient family would not have contact with the genetic parents. Currently, Beginnings Family Services is the only agency in Canada to arrange open embryo donation in which the child, the birth parents and the genetic parents have an ongoing, life-long relationship. Their program began on April 5, 2010. In keeping with Canadian law, donor parents are not reimbursed in any way for the donation of embryos – it is an act of altruism. The parents who adopt pay all the expenses.
In 2013, Don and Elly Jaspers-Fayer were the first couple to give birth to a child through the Open Embryo Donation program at Beginnings. Their son Dawson is now twenty months old and has since been joined by his baby sister Dennalyn who shares the same genetic parents, Benjamin and Christina Stapper.
Elly values the ongoing connection her family shares with the children’s genetic family. She believes that openness about the children’s origins is in their best interest: “In my experience in life, any place where there are secrets, there is anxiety.” The two families stay in touch through regular communication and visits throughout the year and have found the openness to be a real blessing. Benjamin, Christina and their three sons, Amos, Jesse and Seth, were present to share in the joy of both Dawson’s and Dennalyn’s baptism at Discovery Church, a Christian Reformed church plant in Bowmanville, Ontario.
‘Called to do this’
In an exclusive interview with Christian Courier, Elly spoke of being guided by God to this form of adoption. She said, “In our situation, God made it really clear. We just knew this is what we had to do.” Through years of infertility, she and Don did not feel that God was calling them to traditional adoption or to doing IVF themselves. At a New Year’s celebration in 2012, they reconnected with their old friends Benjamin and Christina, who shared their story of infertility and of having their three children through assisted reproductive technology, and of their concern about the remaining embryos kept in storage. Both couples left the event with a feeling of calling toward embryo donation, and they jointly approached Beginnings Family Services to help them navigate the process.
Both attempts at pregnancy through embryo donation were successful on the first try and resulted in healthy babies. Elly was grateful for the chance to bond with both of her children through the pregnancies and breastfeeding. For her husband, the bonding happened more when the children were born, though he also enjoyed the movements of the children in utero and anticipating their births. Elly’s advice to others who may be considering embryo donation is that, like adoption, “it is definitely something to pray through. It’s not for everyone, but God is definitely calling some of us to do this.” She recommends the resources and counselling available through Beginnings for families who may be interested.
All of life is in God’s care
To people who find themselves storing embryos indefinitely, Elly gave this encouragement: “There is hope. Your embryos can be given life in another family if you choose to go this route.” One couple whose story appears on Beginnings’ web site shared that a desire to nurture life prompted them to seek out open embryo donation. They learned “the sad news that a pregnancy had not occurred for the other couple,” but it was important to them that their remaining embryos had been given an opportunity to live and grow.
Even from its tiny beginnings, all of life is in God’s care. Dawson’s birth announcement included this assurance from the book of Job: “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (12:10, NIV). As was printed on Dennalyn’s birth announcement, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps. 139:14).
What is in-vitro fertilization (IVF)?
IVF is a clinical procedure whereby fertilization is accomplished outside a woman’s body, and involves three basic steps:
Fertility drugs are used to stimulate the female’s egg production by the female’s ovaries.
Eggs are retrieved from the female partner and mixed with sperm from the male partner.
Fertilized eggs (embryos) are transferred to the uterus. Depending on the number of embryos produced, some may be frozen for later use.
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