Five Heartbreaking Embryo Adoption Lessons From A British Court Case

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Read the fine print about your embryo adoption before you move forward with the process. That’s the bottom line of a heartbreaking case out of the United Kingdom, as described in BioNews, a British publication that spotlights news involving assisted reproductive technology for professionals and the general public.

An unmarried couple sought embryo adoption counseling in the UK, after which the woman successfully pursued a frozen embryo transfer in Spain. Eventually, the couple separated. The man noted he had no interest in a relationship with the child, despite the fact his name had been placed on the birth certificate as the father. The woman sought to set the record straight and won her request. The birth certificate will be updated to remove the man as the father.

Here are five lessons all of us — casual observers, would-be adoptive parents or existing adoptive parents — can learn from this case.

  1. Commitment to our partners. I get it. Try as we might, not all relationships will be successful. But shouldn’t we give it every ounce of effort to avoid dissolution? The couple in this particular case didn’t have marriage as its foundation. Commitment through thick and thin is a virtue too many have forgotten. Our society needs far more selflessness and commitment to proven institutions that have served families for millennia. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not always fun. Heaven knows it’s rarely easy. But is it worth it, especially when children are involved? Assuming both parties are acting responsibly and trying their best to serve rather than to take, you bet it is.

  2. Commitment to our children. What message are you sending to any children—especially adopted children—when you take the steps to bring them into the world and then bail? What kind of a world are you creating for these young people in their formative years? “Sorry, your daddy wasn’t actually your daddy. He loved you enough to bring you into being, but he didn’t care enough to be here for your birthday, let alone any other landmark moment in your life.” Forget for a moment the legal imperative and reflect on the moral deficit here. In this case, the man had a vasectomy yet—rather than calling it a day on his own reproductive choices—intervened again by taking steps to bring an embryo baby into the world without concern for its well-being in the years ahead. Now, the baby is 5 years old. Eventually, the baby will be a grown adult. How will the choices of this man shape how this young person parents and views the world in the years ahead? We create chaos that ripples across many generations when we make reproductive choices so flippantly.

  3. The importance of reading the fine print. It’s pretty clear this couple didn’t do its due diligence, according to the BioNews article. They didn’t understand the ramifications of British law, in that their adoption wasn’t conducted by the book. The man never completed the proper paperwork to be the baby’s legal father. If you are considering embryo adoption, please work with a reputable agency and read the fine print. Our agency even offered to let us run the contract language by our attorney. We chose not to do this because the contract was written in plain English and made no bones about the fact that my wife and I would become the baby’s legal guardians with sole responsibility for raising our child. At the same time, we are blessed with an open adoption that allows our baby to have a relationship with her placing family as the years go by. Others choose a closed adoption for privacy reasons. Both are OK and should be understood before you make a final decision. Don’t treat the paperwork carelessly. A child’s life is the collateral.

  4. The value of good information, legal protections and regulation. As someone who is generally politically conservative, I’ve been known to bristle at what I view as excessive regulation or government intervention into various activities of the people. But in this case, the situation proved so unusual that the British court “directed that the judgment was brought to the attention of the relevant authorities, including the Department of Health and the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority),” a British entity that regulates use of human embryos, eggs and sperm. Basically, any health clinic has an obligation to clearly explain how a person’s parental rights and responsibilities could shift based on where embryo transfer occurs. Provided you are pursuing embryo adoption in the U.S. as a U.S. citizen, I am very hopeful you won’t encounter this problem at all. But my research suggests more couples from abroad are coming to the U.S. for fertility treatments and even embryo adoption, and it happens frequently that couples go from one country to another in Europe for such procedures. Our flat world dictates that we be more studious before we enter a relationship as life-altering as adoptive parenting.

  5. Learning from other couples. I’m sure the man and woman in question in this case are lovely people who never expected their lives to turn out this way. But that in no way makes life any easier for for mother who the court case makes clear will one day tell her child—known as TSA in the court report—her origin story. Thankfully, the court report notes this young woman is “settled and thriving.” Sadly, though, this is a public chapter in her story that can never be unwritten. Her pseudo adoptive father’s choices prompted her adoptive mother to remove his name from the birth certificate. If nothing else, this case should be a wake-up call to all parents everywhere. All of us make many mistakes daily. But with everything in our being, let’s not make the mistake of losing out entirely on a relationship with these precious souls—and with the men and women committed enough to raise them through good times and bad.

I’d love it if you would share your thoughts on this case in the comments below. What can we learn as parents and people who have a special place in their hearts for adopted children?