- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005


In politics, it always helps to put a face on a cause.

For supporters of embryonic stem-cell research, nobody played that role quite like Christopher Reeve, the paralyzed actor who touted the promise of such research before his death in October.

Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research also have found their face — 21 of them. They are the children who helped President Bush show what a frozen embryo has the potential to become.

“The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo,” Mr. Bush said last month at the White House.

The embryos that would become these children were created through in vitro fertilization and placed in frozen storage. They were donated by couples who no longer needed them and implanted into a woman who became their mother.

So far, 81 “snowflake” babies have been born through embryo adoption, the president said.

“We hear a lot of rhetoric that these are just clumps of cells,” said David Prentice, a senior fellow at the conservative Family Research Council. “The snowflake kids are very effective in showing that they are very young humans that need to be given their chance for development.”

Over the past two decades, since the first “test-tube baby” was born, an estimated 400,000 frozen embryos have accumulated in more than 400 fertility clinics across the country. What to do with those frozen embryos has become a matter of intense debate.

Some advocate donating excess embryos for stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem cells are master cells that can turn into any tissue in the body. Many scientists hope to harness them to grow replacement tissue to treat diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other diseases.

Some religious groups and conservatives oppose the research because obtaining those stem cells kills the embryo.

They say excess embryos could be donated to some of the 6 million to 7 million infertile couples in the United States.

“There is an opportunity to give every one of these embryos an adoptive set of parents,” Mr. Prentice said.

Bob and Angie Deacon of Virginia Beach thought they had only one option for the 13 embryos they created more than six years ago — giving them to another couple.

For years after having twins, they wondered how to deal with the leftover embryos. Then they heard about Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which coined the term snowflakes for children born through embryo donation.

“The story for me was just very touching. I just knew that was something I needed to do,” Mrs. Deacon said.

Nightlight Christian Adoptions said it has not sought to align itself in the fight against embryonic stem-cell research, but it doesn’t mind the attention if that is what it takes to advertise its program to the public.

“We certainly don’t have a political agenda. We’re not seeking the political limelight, but if these 81 children … get the message out that these embryos are not medical waste, that they are not just something that’s going to be discarded anyway, then I’m very happy about that,” said Lori Maze, director of the snowflakes program.

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