Freedom of Choice

So yeah … this is going to be one of those long, rambling posts. One where I will express my opinions about ethical issues. Besides, what better time to do this; less than a week after Election Day?

Remember Michigan’s Proposal 2? It’s the proposal that allows stem cell research within the State of Michigan? The same proposal that had gotten many conservative “Pro-Life”-er’s up in arms? The same one in which had my Mom placing a “2 Goes 2 Far” bumper sticker on her car? (Which, by the way, I took off her car before having to go pick them up from the airport last Thursday … 😛 )

This is the same proposal that had me on the fence for a long time on if I should vote yes or no during the election this past Tuesday. And as I mentioned in passing, I struggled with my decision because of my own experience with IVF.

Like many others, there was so much involved when Hubby & I went through our IVF cycle. First there was all the medication (read: shots) I had to take. Then there were all the “blood donations” I made to the laboratory (read: vampire) to measure my hormone levels; sometimes on a daily basis. And of course, there’s those “special dates” I had with the US tech and her “magic wand.” All of this was done so that my IVF doc (called a Reproductive Endocrinologist, or RE for short) could gain some sort of a “controlled environment” over my (already screwed up) body in order to achieve the “optimal conditions” (read: lots of eggies to fertilize and a cushy uterus to house any baby blastocytes) for a pregnancy.

When we entered our IVF cycle, we basically knew that we were giving ourselves (mind and body) over to the process. If we were told that I needed to go into the office for lab draws and an ultrasound; we didn’t question why, we just did it. If I was told to increase the dose of my medication in order to stimulate follicle growth, I knew I hated to give myself more hormones… but I still did it. Because the end result of a successful pregnancy and live birth is what Hubby & I were aiming for. And we obviously wanted biological child of our own so much, that we were willing to give up anything to achieve it.

To say that we lost a little bit of control over the situation at hand is an understatement. Actually, it was probably about twenty yards BELOW what an understatement normally would be. Simply put, in the midst of an IVF cycle: There. Is. NO. Control.

Now, I bet you’re wondering why I’m reliving this aspect of my life. And what this all has to do about Proposal 2. But before I explain … let’s go through exactly what was written in this proposal:

In basic language, Proposal 2 allows stem cell research on human embryos that were created soley for the purpose of fertility treatments. There are strict criteria for what kind of human embryos can be use. First of all, the embryos must be voluntarily donated specifically by the person(s) seeking fertility treatments; and this must be documented in writing. Second of all, the embryos donated should be either in excess of the clinical needs of the person seeking treatment and would otherwise be destroyed if not donated … OR the embryos donated were not suitable for implantation and would also otherwise be destroyed if not donated. And finally, no stem cells may be taken from any human embryo more than 14 days after cell division begins.

(Sidenote: Why 14 days you may wonder? Prior to the 14 days, the fertilized egg is technically still called a blastocyte. After 14 days, when the blastocyte begins to divide and properly turn into the placenta and the umbilical cord, the blastocyte is then considered an embryo. For an in-depth explanation of these stages, click on these links. For a basic, non-medical explanation, click here.)

Okay, now that it’s explained … let me focus on one specific part of that proposal. The part that says voluntarily donated. And now go back to what I said before. About having no control over the situation when going through the IVF process.

When starting the actual IVF process … when literally signing up for an IVF cycle, not only is there a lot of instructions given up front, but there is also a ton of paperwork to go through. Most of that paperwork has to do with timetables, schedules, and payment of services.

But there’s also all the legal paperwork; the stuff that forced Hubby and me to slow down and really think about what we were getting ourselves into. How many blastocytes did we want to implant at one time? (Two) Did we want to freeze any remaining blastocytes for a possible future frozen cycle? (Yes) After one year, what would you like to do with the frozen blastocytes? (Will decide after the one year) If something should happen to either partner, who decides what to do with the blastocytes? (Remaining spouse or designated relative, if neither spouse is physically able to make the decision) And finally, in the event of a divorce, what would you like to have done to the frozen blastocytes?

Up until that moment, the questions were simple. And the choices provided to us were obvious to us. But that last question … that one stumped us. First of all, neither one of us could fathom not being married to one another … especially at that moment, when we were over our heads in baby-making.

And then the options? Woh. Talk about having to make major decision. We could either give that decision to one or the other. We could choose to have the remaining blastocytes destroyed. Or we could choose to donate them for research.

These were one of those ethical issues. Those choices that had you literally deciding between life and death. Because even though I’m far from being a full-fledged, card-carrying Catholic “Right-To-Life”-er … and even though science tells me that a blastocyte is technically not an embryo or even a fetus for that matter … I believe that what is formed during conception (whether if it’s “naturally” or through IVF) has the ability to become a life.

Just for added emphasis, let me reiterate it again.

I am a Pro-choice Catholic who’s scientific reasoning believes that what is formed during conception … even if it was created through IVF … has the ability to become a life.

How oxymoron-ish does that sound?! But I do believe that if any reasonable person thinks long and hard about everything involved in creating a life and the circumstances that surround the creation of a life (from love and sex … all the way to rape and abuse) will feel the same way I do.

And that’s because when trying to create Hubby’s and my biological child, we had to think long and hard about those decisions. And we had to make choices about what we’d want to do in any given situation.

As difficult as it was and even though our IVF cycle did not result in a pregnancy … what I was most grateful for when looking back at it now, was that we were given choices.

Choices. In the midst of everything else that we had no control over. Choices during a situation in which it seems impossible to make decisions. Choices to do what we feel is best for us at that moment. Choices.

So ultimately, with my election ballot in front of me … during a time where it was not a life and death situation … I chose to vote YES on Proposal 2.

Because even though Hubby and I chose not to donate our one single blastocyte left over from our IVF cycle, I want other people going through IVF treatments to be able to have some sort of control … a “choice“, if you will … to know that their donation will assist in the research that will benefit other people who absolutely have no control over their various health issues.

And (even though I’m prepared to get H*LL for my vote) I’m happy that other 53% of Michigan voters voted the same way, too.

4 Replies to “Freedom of Choice”

  1. I think you made a good, well thought out decision. I think IF can open us up to realizing that life is so much more complicated than we realize.
    And if I have embryos that I don’t use or cant use, I think I will consider donating them if it is an option. Imagine if a cure that could save someone is discovered from an embryo that would otherwise be discarded?

  2. Yay for Michigan!

    It’s wonderful your heart is big enough that you want for others what you and el Hub did not have while going through IVF.

  3. Hi Emily,
    I’ve checked out your blog before but never commented. But I’ve been moved to tears by this post. I’ve also had unsuccessful IVF/ICSI treatment and in my more positive moments (in the midst of all the sorrow) I remember that through all this I hope that I’ve become more compassionate. You prove that this is a possible outcome. Thank you for your thoughtful post. (This links to my craft blog but my fertility one is Just in case you wondered)

  4. GREAT post! Thanks for de-lurking so that it spurred me to come over and read it. 🙂

    I would send this to a friend who thinks all stem cell research is the devil, but then she would have to conclude that IVF is also the devil (which she currently doesn’t).

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