Life, what a beautiful choiceMichigan Christians for Life

Life, what a beautiful choice - April 2007

Parents of baby adopted as frozen waste fight embryonic research
By Gary Morton   (the Dialog)
Erin and her parents
CHILD ADOPTED AS EMBRYO PICTURED WITH PARENTS – Erin Smith, 2, who was conceived in a petri dish through in vitro fertilization and adopted as an embryo, is seen with her adoptive parents, Dawn and Tim Smith, outside Holy Cross Church in Dover, Del., in early March. The Smiths are involved in the fight against a Delaware Senate bill that would sanction stem-cell research using human embryos that would kill the embryos to harvest their stem cells.

Dover, Del.  - Erin Smith was conceived in a Petri dish through in vitro fertilization, a process through which an egg taken from a woman is fertilized by sperm taken from a man to help the couple achieve pregnancy. Since the process is invasive to the woman, and often requires more than one embryo for a pregnancy to occur, the woman’s ovaries are stimulated to produce eggs which are then put in vitro with the man’s sperm to create embryos.

Unused embryos such as Erin are frozen for possible later use. Most are never used and eventually discarded.

Erin is fortunate. Tim and Dawn Smith wanted children, perhaps three or four. But in 1997 – a year after Erin was conceived – the couple learned they were infertile. In January 2004 they adopted the embryo that was Erin, which was then implanted into Dawn’s body. Erin was born Oct. 5, 2004.

At the time they had no idea it would lead them to a public battle in coming years with legislators and lobbyists seeking to let such embryos be destroyed for embryonic stem-cell research. The fate of such frozen embryos no longer wanted by their genetic parents is at the heart of a debate in the Delaware Legislature. On March 29 the Senate voted 13-7 to adopt the Delaware Regenerative Medicine Act, which would allow couples to donate leftover embryos for use in stem-cell research, sanctioning researchers to kill the embryos to harvest their stem cells. The bill was awaiting action in the House.

Tim Smith is the father who, in radio advertisements last year and again this year, talks about his blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter as “a typical 2-year-old” and who takes offense to language used by some backers of SB 5.

“Some would call Erin medical waste,” he says in the commercial. “I call her my daughter.”

The ad’s message came as Smith listened to debate over a similar bill in the last legislature. One person rankled Smith by referring to “excess” embryos as “medical waste.”

“I didn’t like him calling them that,” Smith said in an interview at Holy Cross Church, where the Smiths are parishioners. “I started jotting down some notes. The commercial is pretty much the way I jotted it down.”

That bill failed, but its backers introduced SB 5 this year, saying that human embryonic stem cells hold potential cures or treatments for a variety of illnesses and conditions.

Stem cells are removed in a process that destroys the embryo, which the Catholic Church opposes. Catholic teaching holds that life begins at conception, when the egg and sperm unite and form a unique DNA separate from that of the parents, and that human life should be protected from conception through natural death.

SB 5 backers justify the bill because “at present, excess human embryos created during in vitro fertilization procedures are typically discarded, and thus destroyed, when embryos are no longer needed for fertility treatment,” according to the bill’s synopsis.

Smith counters with a personal slant on radio. “If Delaware’s legislature passes Senate Bill 5,” he says, “embryos like Erin could be killed and used for medical experiments.”

Adopted embryos

The Smiths never imagined they would become embroiled in such debate when they met at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where each earned degrees. They married in 1991.

In 2001 Tim Smith joined ILC Dover, the Frederica firm that designs and manufactures space suits for NASA. The couple moved from Indiana to Magnolia, south of Dover. One day Dawn Smith glanced through a phone book listing of fertility clinics and noticed one that offered embryo adoptions. After considering traditional forms of adoption, the Smiths opted for embryos.

“I really wanted to experience pregnancy,” said Dawn Smith, 38. “It is kind of neat to be both Erin’s birth and adoptive mother.”

“And now,” she said, “I’ve got the best job in the world, as a stay-at-home mom.”

The Smiths adopted four frozen embryos in 2004, including Erin. “All four survived the thaw, but only three began to reproduce and continue to survive,” said Tim Smith, 42. “Of those, Erin came to be.”

Today “Erin is a bundle of energy,” he said. “She talks a blue streak. She loves gymnastics, loves music and loves to sing.”

A second embryo adoption was fruitless. The Smiths want to try one more time for another child.

Tim Smith is  now speaking out for frozen embryos as a way of paying back. “God’s blessed us with Erin,” he said. “You take care of what you are entrusted with, and you make the most of it. She’s a gift to us, an absolute gift.”

Back to Home Page