Just 14 months old, fraternal twins EmmaLyn and Ian Burnett are oblivious to the embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) controversy dominating their home state of Missouri. It’s too bad they are too young to respond to actor Michael J. Fox’s TV commercials endorsing Democratic Senate candidates Claire McCaskill in the Show-Me State and Ben Cardin in Maryland. If EmmaLyn and Ian could speak, they might help Fox and other Americans understand how ESCR literally kills living human beings just like them.
Just like you, EmmaLyn and Ian began as embryos. On their first day of life, their biological parents froze them for later implantation. EmmaLyn and Ian were suspended in liquid nitrogen for four years.
Facing pregnancy risks after having two kids, EmmaLyn and Ian’s Illinois-based natural parents relinquished their remaining embryos. Rather than toss them in the garbage, they placed them with the Fullerton, California-based Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program.
“We pretty much had tried everything,” Anna Burnett, the kids’ 41-year-old mother, tells me from her Kansas City, Missouri, home. The then-public elementary-school music teacher and her network-engineer husband, Robert, had spent some five years trying to conceive a child. They finally turned to Snowflakes, which paired them with EmmaLyn, Ian, and their biological parents’ eight other cryopreserved embryos.
Anna and Robert Burnett of Kansas City, Missouri with their children, Ian and EmmaLyn, who spent four years as frozen embryos
“Snowflakes matched us with 10 embryos from the same family,” says Robert, 43. Of these, four were defrosted in October 2004. The three viable ones were inserted in Anna’s uterus, but did not stick. In January 2005, they tried again. Of the remaining six embryos, four did not survive thawing, but, Robert explains, “they implanted the other two, and both of those took. We used all 10, and out of them, we got our twins.”
“They’re both healthy, well-adjusted kids,” Robert adds. “They both are normal for their age. We’re truly blessed.”
“It’s like a miracle,” says Anna, now a full-time mom. “After waiting so long and finally getting what you dreamed about, it’s great…They are very curious. They are real live, little people. And I want to see other embryos have that same chance.”
Stem-cell research advocates overlook stories like EmmaLyn and Ian’s. Michael J. Fox’s ads caricature ESCR critics as heartless Luddites who supposedly oppose all stem-cell research. This claim is as broad, unfair, and inaccurate as saying that anti-vivisectionists want to end all medical research.
Republicans Jim Talent of Missouri and Michael Steele of Maryland oppose ESCR in which living, albeit frozen, human embryos, like EmmaLyn and Ian, would be killed to extract their stem cells for research.
If these embryos were mere medical waste, opposing their use to cure serious diseases would be cruel and stupid. However, Fox and his allies don’t tell Americans that frozen embryos are being thawed, implanted, and delivered as boys and girls.
To date, Snowflakes has placed 2,013 embryos, of which 1,419 have been thawed; 762 were viable, 222 were transplanted, and 116 were born alive. Another 25 babies are gestating. Expanded embryo adoption would help more of these souls on ice graduate from frozen orphanages into the warm, loving arms of mothers and fathers.
ESRC boosters eagerly point to the 400,000 embryos frozen in America’s fertility clinics. However, the RAND Corporation reports that parents are using 88 percent of these embryos for impregnation. So only 48,000 are “surplus” — not 400,000. If the Burnetts’ 20-percent success rate applied to this population, it could yield perhaps 9,600 little boys and girls.
The Burnetts, Snowflakes, Talent, Steele, and virtually everyone else support research on adult- and umbilical-cord stem cells, which is no more ethically problematic than research on barbershop hair clippings. According to the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, adult- and cord-blood research already has created 72 treatments for diabetes, leukemia, and other ailments. In contrast, embryocidal inquiries, ballyhooed from Hollywood to Broadway, have not generated even one therapy. It remains the most immoral and least productive stem-cell laboratory technique.
One need not be religious or crazy about kids to recoil at the horror of fatally dissecting microscopic human beings for medical experiments.
Anna with her EmmaLyn and Ian
While footage of Michael J. Fox suffering Parkinson’s disease saddens TV viewers, his pain and that of other disease victims should be treated through adult- and umbilical cord-stem-cell research, not by grinding up future EmmaLyns and Ians into pills and powders.
— Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.