Every year, untold numbers of human babies are killed, not via abortion while still in their mothers’ wombs, but as “excess” IVF-conceived embryos.
IVF is in vitro fertilization, a type of assisted reproductive technology used for infertility treatment, wherein an egg is fertilized with sperm outside the woman’s body, thus in vitro. The process involves monitoring and stimulating a woman’s ovulatory process, removing an egg or eggs from the woman’s ovaries, and letting sperm fertilize them in a liquid in a laboratory. The fertilized egg is cultured for 2–6 days in a growth medium and is then transferred to the uterus of the same or another woman, with the intention of establishing a successful pregnancy.
To maximize their chances of a successful pregnancy, women who undergo IVF typically have more than one egg fertilized.
What to do with the leftover embryos if the woman has successfully carried one or more pregnancies to term? The methods of disposal include:
- Donating the excess embryos to other women or couples as a means of third party reproduction.
- Freezing the embryos indefinitely, which cost money. The Rand Consulting Group has estimated there to be 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States.
- Donating excess embryos for research, typically embryonic stem cell research, which effectively means the embryos are killed.
- Outright destroying, i.e., killing, the excess embryos via burial or cremation.
A small Australian company, the cutesy-named Baby Bee Hummingbirds, has figured out a way to make money from those women who opt for Method No. 4, by turning cremated human embryos into jewelry.
Kevin Jones reports for CNA, May 5, 2017, that an Australian mothers’ website Kidspot recounts the story of a couple who had conceived three children, including twins, but faced financial strain in paying for the annual storage of the leftover embryos. So they turned to Baby Bee Hummingbirds.
Families send the jeweler IVF straws containing the embryos, which are cremated into embryo ash, which is then incorporated into the jewelry, like the heart-shaped pendants below.
Since 2014, Baby Bee Hummingbirds has made 50 pieces of jewelry with embryos. The company also makes jewelry using breastmilk, placenta, hair, ashes, and umbilical cord stumps. The pieces cost from $80 to $600.
Baby Bee Hummingbirds founder Amy McGlade said, “I don’t believe there is any other business in the world that creates jewelry from human embryos, and I firmly believe that we are pioneering the way in this sacred art, and opening the possibilities to families around the world. It’s special because the embryos are often signifying the end of a journey, and we are providing a beautiful and meaningful way to gently close the door. Reactions from families who understand the journey are amazing and heartfelt. They are so grateful for our service. at a better way to celebrate your most treasured gift, your child, than through jewelry? It’s about the everlasting tangible keepsake of a loved one that you can have forever.”
Jennifer Lahl, the founder and president of the California-based Center for Bioethics and Culture, disagrees.
Lahl said, “I have no words. I have no category for who would think this would be something good to do. It’s so undignified that these embryos have been destroyed to become jewelry. I thought, ‘My gosh, it really has hit rock-bottom’. If anything it creates even more complex ethical problems, a new novel way of disrespecting human life.”
Lahl, who has a background as a pediatric critical care nursing and hospital administration, has long been a critic of IVF, which she sees as symptomatic of parents who think they have “a right to pursue that child at whatever cost, and at whatever manner. It loses sight of the fact that children are intended to be gifts and blessings, not something we have a right to.”
Lahl believes that “creating life and calling it surplus” is “an undignified view of early, nascent human life,” and that the solution to “excess” embryos is to stop creating surplus embryos: “The solution is to stop freezing human embryos, so that parents aren’t left with these ethical dilemmas of what to do with them when they decide they don’t want any more children.”
Lahl said that people considering IVF should have the facts on what is really involved in reproductive technology. “People are uninformed about the risk of these technologies, the ethics of using these technologies and all the problems that come about.” In-vitro fertilization is “fraught with ethical problems” due to the health risks to the mother, the conceived children, the cost, and the way in which the use of medicine creates more problems, rather than treats and heals conditions. “Most of the people who enter into the assisted reproductive technology enterprise don’t get a baby. Overwhelmingly, IVF cycles fail.” Typically, it costs six figures to successfully conceive and bear a child through IVF.
The Catholic Church stresses that all human life – including those in the embryonic state – have an invaluable human dignity. Catholic teaching opposes IVF.
Although she is not Catholic, Lahl said “I think the Catholic Church has gotten these issues quite right. If you really look at the evidence and the medical literature, it will only reinforce the teaching of the Catholic Church.”
Kidspot cited one woman who had seven cremated embryos turned into a heart-shaped pendant through Baby Bee Hummingbirds. She said: “I’d heard others had planted them in the garden but we move a lot, so I couldn’t do this. I needed them with me. My embryos were my babies – frozen in time. When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them. Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake.”
But readers of the CNA article observe that making human embryos into jewelry is no different than the Nazis making lampshades from human skin, or the Hindu goddess Kali adorning herself in a necklace of human skulls.