In all the commentary about stem cell research, I haven’t seen any yet from someone who has actually gone through IVF. I have.
Eight years ago, I went through two rounds of IVF. I injected myself with drugs to stimulate massive egg production, until my ovaries were the size of softballs. My husband injected me with drugs to improve my uterine lining, to increase the odds that when we did put embryos back in, they would implant. I went in for daily blood tests to monitor my estrogen level, and every other day near the end of the cycle, I had an ultrasound to check on the eggs. When the time came, I went in for a surgical procedure to harvest the eggs from my ovaries. My husband contributed his sperm, and in a process known as ICSI, each of my eggs was individually fertilized with one of his sperm. The resulting fertilized eggs were allowed to grow for a couple of days, then they were graded based on a number of factors believed to be predictive of the likelihood that they would implant and continue to grow into a baby.
At the time of implantation, we were looking for grade A, 8-cell embryos. Out of approximately 16 eggs harvested each cycle, we were lucky to get 4 grade A embryos to put back. The others weren’t good enough to put back, and definitely weren’t worth freezing.
I go into this level of detail because, despite all that effort, none of those embryos ever turned into a real, live baby. So perhaps you’ll understand why I can’t agree with the ‘life begins at conception’ crowd. If conception were all it took, I’d have more than one child today. Those collections of cells had the possibility of becoming a human being if a lot of things went right, but most of the time, something doesn’t go perfectly, and the embryos fall to implant. Or they implant in the wrong place. Or they implant but fail to continue to develop. Or you can even end up in a kind of limbo for a month, with some indication that maybe something is happening, only to find a month later when an ultrasound can be done that whatever was happening in there, it wasn’t a baby growing in the uterus.
So, yes, I’m in favor of stem cell research using left-over, unused IVF embryos. There’s enormous potential to save the lives of actual, living human beings, at the cost of embryos which, yes, have some potential to become human beings, but are very unlikely to do so. The alternative is to throw away those unused embryos.
I have a hard time understanding why some people are opposed to using these unused embryos, unless they are also opposed to IVF in general. Maybe they just weren’t aware of how IVF worked; maybe IVF will be their next target. I have read some comments expressing unease about IVF once people learned how the process worked. I think one important factor to keep in mind is that in nature, in unaided conception, this process happens regularly, too. That is, not every fertilized egg implants, not every embryo survives, and often this happens without any awareness that there was ever a fertilized egg. Imagine the overpopulation that would occur if every fertilized egg became a human being!