By Nina Shapiro
Six years ago, Maria Lancaster took her first step to becoming pregnant by having a frozen embryo FedExed to a Bellevue clinic. Having been through three miscarriages, the Snoqualmie resident had contacted a Christian group that matches infertile couples with those who have surplus embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. The embryo destined for Lancaster had sat in the freezer of a North Carolina lab for four years. Her Bellevue clinic thawed it out in a dish, watched it grow from two to six cells, and then implanted it into her womb. The result: her 5-year-old daughter, Elisha, who likes ponies and ballet.
Lancaster, who owns a small business that supplies fishing vessels with groceries, had always believed that life begins at conception. "Now I had another level of revelation," she says.
On Nov. 9, Lancaster launched a partnership with Cedar Park Church in Bothell to start an embryo adoption service, one of only a handful in the country. "Embryos are not simply human material to be used for medical experimentation, vaccine cultivation, or trash to be discarded," says Pastor Joe Fuiten, a prominent evangelical conservative.
Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, counters that embryo adoption will never solve the problem of what to do with the approximately 400,000 embryos sitting in freezers nationwide (at a cost per couple of more than $500 a year; clinics typically give couples the choice of freezing, destroying, or donating excess embryos). "It's just not going to get that many customers," he says, adding that many embryos won't survive the freezing and thawing-out process, and the ones that do may not be that healthy to begin with.
Angela Thyer, a doctor at Seattle Reproductive Medicine, a long-standing fertility clinic with offices in Bellevue and Seattle, estimates that the chance of pregnancy using frozen embryos is about half that of "fresh" ones. Still, she says it might be a good option for some infertile couples, and her organization has told Lancaster it is willing to take patients she refers.
Lee Hickok, a doctor at Pacific Northwest Fertility, a private facility located at Swedish Medical Center, also believes donated embryos are worth trying. In fact, since its inception three years ago, his clinic has accepted donated embryos and offered them to patients who have failed other treatments. An added benefit, he says, is that "it's cheap"—$5,000 as opposed to the tens of thousands it can cost to adopt an infant.
Only days into the program, Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park enlisted its first donor: Lisa Maritz, an Everett mom who had twins through in vitro fertilization before conceiving a third child naturally.
"We knew this was a gift," she says—and now she wants to give a gift in return.