Celebrity frozen embryo controversy highlights important ethical questions

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Sofia Vergara, famous for her role as comic Columbian maven, Gloria, on ABC’s Modern Family, is embroiled in controversy over the fate of two of her preborn children.

In 2012 and 2013, Vergara and her then-fiancé Nick Loeb, conceived a total of four daughters together.  The babies were created via in-vitro fertilization (IVF) using Loeb’s sperm and Vergara’s eggs.  Vergara only agreed to have children with Loeb on the condition that a surrogate would carry them to term.  The first two attempts at carrying their daughters to term were unsuccessful.  One daughter could not successfully implant, and the other was miscarried.  Before the other two girls could be implanted in the surrogate, Vergara and Loeb split.

During the creation of their daughters, the couple signed a form agreeing that the girls would only be brought to term (the two remaining daughters are currently frozen) with the consent of both parties.  But the form did not indicate what should occur if the couple separated.  Vergara intends to keep their children “frozen indefinitely,” according to her lawyer, which Loeb believes is “tantamount to killing them” (indeed, not all embryos even survive thawing).

Loeb believes that he should have paternal rights to protect his children, and considers his quest to carry the babies to term his obligation to save their lives.  Loeb wrote an op-ed for the New York Times which was published last week, saying:

Many have asked me: Why not just move on and have a family of your own?  I have every intention of doing so.  But that doesn’t mean I should let the two lives I have already created be destroyed or sit in a freezer until the end of time.

Aware that Vergara is disinterested in becoming a parent, Loeb has offered to let his ex-fiancée relinquish all parental responsibility for the babies, and is willing to consider her nothing more than an egg donor.  But Vergara has refused the offer, prompting Loeb to seek legal intervention.  The outlook is bleak for parents like Loeb, however, as only 20% of comparable legal challenges have resulted in the Right to Life for the frozen embryos—and even then, consideration for the gravitas of each parent’s wishes, not concern for the actual children, was the deciding factor.

Loeb openly conveys the Pro-Life philosophy that drives his quest, saying:

When we create embryos for the purpose of life, should we not define them as life, rather than as property?  Does one person’s desire to avoid biological parenthood (free of any legal obligations) outweigh another’s religious beliefs in the sanctity of life and desire to be a parent?  A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term even if the man objects.  Shouldn’t a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term even if the woman objects?

Fundamentally, problems like Loeb’s (and his daughters’) are entirely preventable.  Creating children artificially and storing them as embryos outside of their mother’s womb – regardless of the motive for doing so – gives commodity status to preborn children when they deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect afforded to other human beings.  No civilized society condones interrupting a human being’s development after he is born in order to ‘freeze him for later,’ when he is more convenient or more useful.  So why do so many condone doing just that to the tiniest and most helpless among us?

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