Test Tube Babies: To Whom Do They Belong?

photo of test tubes

In vitro is a Latin term meaning “in glass.” It refers to cells or biological molecules studied outside their normal biological context. In contrast, the Latin word in vivo means “in the living organism.” A child that is in vivo is growing and developing in the body of a living mother, as opposed to an artificial context.

Like many of the social experiments of the past fifty years, many aspects of in vitro fertilization have not been fully thought through. Just because something can be done through science, many ethical issues remain as to whether it should be done. So what exactly are we dealing with in in vitro fertilization? Once the egg and sperm are fertilized, do we now have a living human being?

Courts and legislators can’t agree. Two states, Louisiana and New Mexico, have statutes referring to fertilized human ovum as a “human being.” The Catholic Church holds the same position: the embryo is fully human.

In every situation the question remains: What is to be done with unused fertilized eggs?

One option is for them to be adopted by infertile couples. These eggs are sometimes referred to as “snowflake babies.” More often, the embryos are either abandoned to the fertility clinic or they become a source of conflict when the creating couple dissolves their relationship.

photo of an adult holding a baby’s feet

Courts are being asked to decide these difficult issues. Most courts have taken the view that these embryos are property and will be governed by the agreement of the parties. If the parties have no agreement, the court is left to decide who it believes has the superior right: a cancer-survivor mom who froze embryos to use post-cancer but is now facing divorce, or a divorcing man who wants to ensure he has no future child-support obligation? And courts are going either way: some find in favor of the parent who wants to choose life, while others are siding with the parent who wants to destroy the embryos.

These are exciting but perilous times for us at the National Center for Life and Liberty. As we research these cases and counsel those who call us seeking advice on these difficult issues, we need your prayers and support. Courts and legislators may differ and bicker, but the NCLL holds firm: we stand for liberty…and we stand for life.