Embryo ashes

By Maaike Rosendal

With the rise of fake news and satirical sites, I’ve made it a habit to double-check sources to ensure the stories in my newsfeed are real. It’s exactly what I did after reading “Couples are turning extra IVF embryos into jewellery.” My heart couldn’t quite believe what my brain was registering. 

Sadly, the story is true. A quick search confirmed the existence of Baby Bee Hummingbirds, the Australian company which produces keepsake jewellery for moms from breast milk, umbilical cord, placenta, and baby locks. Whether one finds that weird or wonderful, I’m sure we all recognize that’s worlds apart from using embryos—their latest project, which has been done 50 times already. 

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The company’s social media accounts share the story of the couple in the above-mentioned article. After fourteen cycles of IVF, the process during which a woman’s eggs are removed from her ovaries and mixed with sperm to artificially bring about fertilization in vitro—in glass, they had three born children. Their family felt complete, but was saddled with a huge problem: seven embryos remained frozen at the IVF clinic.

Some, such as a recent contributor in the Huffington Post, choose adoption in such circumstances: “my husband and I shared the unwavering conviction that Baby D was a life that should have the opportunity to flourish.” Not this couple, however.

“Donating our embryos wasn’t an option for us and I couldn’t justify the yearly storage fee,” the mother commented. “I needed them with me.” The natural desire to be near your offspring requires, one would think, that the child is alive. Somehow this was irrelevant so the jewellery became a perfect solution.   

“I tortured myself for months over what I would do with my remaining embryos and this has given me so much comfort and peace,” the woman writes. “When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them.” And: “My babies will forever be next to my heart, always loved and cherished.” 

Can anyone read that and not do a double-take? Were the embryos’ lives not destroyed after all? The caption of the social media post is much more accurate: “Embryo Ashes.” Seven tiny children were killed and cremated to craft a heart-shaped pendant for their mother. What, pray tell me, is then the definition of love?

My stomach turned as I tried to process this. And suddenly I was back on my friend’s couch… many years ago.  She had just shared that a family member was pregnant. “How nice for them!” I replied. “Yeah, it finally worked,” she said. I must have looked puzzled because she clarified, “They’ve been trying IVF for a long time.” 

My heart began to beat a little faster. I’d just read a position paper on IVF. “Wow,” I said. “That must be hard for them.” “Yeah,” my friend responded. “The other times the egg didn’t take.” I must have looked puzzled again. “What do you mean?” “Oh, the eggs that they put inside of her? She said they got flushed out. Something like that.” “Do you mean fertilized eggs, as in, embryos?” I asked. My pro-life friend shrugged. “Same thing, right? I’m not sure how it works, but I’m happy for her that she’s pregnant.” 

I took a deep breath. I haven’t travelled the road of infertility, yet I have walked alongside enough people to know that IVF is one of the first solutions being offered in the doctor’s office. Without the knowledge gained through pro-life work and the guidance of church teachings, perhaps I’d consider this promising chance at parenthood too. But, I thought to myself, what about the little ones who ‘didn’t take’?

The truth, after all, is that every time a sperm and an egg successfully fuse, a new, living, human being comes into existence. That precious little person may be referred to as a fertilized egg, but scientifically there’s no such thing. Either we’re dealing with an egg or we have an embryo. The former is part of a human being and will in and of itself never become a whole human organism; the latter is a whole human being and, provided with the basic necessities of life, will move to the next, more mature stage of human development. Same thing? Not quite!

This may seem technical, perhaps only relevant to pro-life activists, but in reality it affects all of us. Because no one goes from valuing life to turning embryos into necklaces overnight: a process of dehumanization takes place prior to that. Until embryo and fetuses are valued in the exact same way as infants, toddlers, teenagers, adults, and elderly, we contribute to a culture of death.     

If you become a parent once you have a child, should we not avoid everything that endangers his or her life from the moment the child comes into existence? 

If we recognize the humanity of the pre-born at sperm-egg fusion, and human beings have human rights, must we not do everything to protect them as members of our species? 

If we don’t refer to born human beings in this way, why in the world would we place pre-born human beings into categories such as wanted, unwanted, graded, quality-controlled, and remaining, extra, or surplus embryos?  

If children, by virtue of their vulnerability, deserve extra protection, how much more should we then not promote pro-life efforts, foster care, and adoption to care for the most vulnerable, including embryos?  

Recently, Baby Bee Hummingbirds posted on their Facebook and Instagram accounts: Be kind. Ephesians 4:32. Be kind to whom? To one another, the verse continues. Do very young children not qualify? 

Our culture is so out of touch with truth that people genuinely believe, as online comments reveal, that turning babies into ashes is a beautiful choice. We’ve dehumanized the youngest of our kind to such an extent that, not only do we keep tens of thousands of children indefinitely trapped in a frozen state, we simply don’t think of them as human beings like ourselves. 

If we did, we’d live our lives differently.  

In order to build a culture of life, we must do two things: expose injustice for what it is, even the intentional killing of tiny embryos for keepsake jewellery, and respect all human beings in every stage of life, especially when our culture has forgotten what that looks like. 

I realize that’s an enormous task, but if there’s anything that should motivate us to give it all we have, it’s the ashes of children who never knew love.