Defunding of the “Snowflake” Frozen Embryo Program

The consummate bio-ethicist Wesley Smith has a column on the defunding of the Snowflake program by the Obama administration. According the a story in the Washington Times, the “White House has sought to defund the Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign in its fiscal 2013 budget. The Department of Health and Human Services “is not requesting funds for this program” because “the Embryo Adoption program will be discontinued in FY2013,” HHS officials said in a February funding report to Congress.”

In vitro fertilization generates thousands of frozen embryos every year. There are probably something like a half a million frozen embryos in the United States alone. The complete lack of regulation of this industry is a very poor model for other countries and, additionally, is a national disgrace. The Snowflake program brought couples who wanted to adopt embryos together with available embryos. The Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign provided funds to agencies to create videos about embryo adoption awareness, maintain a blog, about embryo adoption and the embryo adoption agency, generate embryo adoption materials, and to help pay the salaries of staff members that were employed by the agencies.  Essentially, these funds were used to advertise for the embryo adoption agency.  The embryos available for adoption were designated by the genetic parents of the embryos as being available for adoption.  Embryo adoption agencies include; Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program, Embryos Alive, National Embryo Donation Center: A Centralized Clinic/Adoption Service Provider (NEDC), Adoption and Fertility Resources, Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park, Crystal Angels, Embryo Adoption Services, and Blessed with Infertility.

Apparently, genetic parents who wish to give up their embryos for adoption must contact the adoption agencies themselves.  The Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign helped fund advertising for those agencies to make potential adoptive couples aware of the availability and option of embryo adoption.  If the embryos were not designated by the genetic parents for adoption, they were designated for research or flushed down the sink.

The program was terminated because it there was a lack of interest in it.  Those agencies that used the funds also apparently did not do very much with those funds.  Therefore, termination of a government program is a potentially good thing as money-saving is certainly a good thing.  However, there are hundreds of federally funded projects whose performances are worse than poor, but still these programs exist.  Given this administrations’ spendthrift ways, it is doubtful in the extreme that termination of this program was to save money. This is almost certainly a poke in the eye at pro-life conservatives and it is a rather childish one at that. Read Smith’s column here.

PS – A hearty thanks to the commenter Sheila who corrected much of the erroneous information in the original post.

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Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).

2 thoughts on “Defunding of the “Snowflake” Frozen Embryo Program”

  1. You are incorrect on a few different points. The only embryos available for donation or adoption are ones where their genetic parents have consented to place them for adoption or donate them. Embryos that are destined to be destroyed, based on the genetic parents’ wishes, will never be available for adoption or donation. A clinic cannot go against a genetic parents’ decision, even if the embryos are eventually abandoned. When the embryos are created, paperwork must be signed indicating what should be done with the embryos in case of divorce, death, or abandonment. Also, the funding provided by our government for “Embryo Adoption Awareness” programs, does not help match embryos with adoptive couples and/or recipients. They did away with the program, because of a “lack of interest.” I believe there were only two entities that requested the funds. It didn’t make sense for our tax dollars to go towards a program that wasn’t even in demand. The funds were used to create videos about embryo adoption awareness, maintain a blog, generate embryo adoption materials, and to help pay the salaries of staff members that were employed by the agencies. Also, I don’t know of any clinics or agencies that “search” for embryos to place them for adoption. I’m quite certain that practice does not exist. It’s the responsibility of the genetic parents to contact and search out a clinic or agency, should they choose to place their embryos for adoption/donation. I don’t feel the agencies effectively utilized the funds. The majority of our population still doesn’t know that embryo adoption/donation exists.

    1. Sheila,

      Thank you for the correctives. I am not an insider to these proceedings, but there are three things I would like to address.

      1. Just because couples fill out paperwork beforehand does not change 1) the difficulty of the decision when it comes to embryo deposition; and 2) the tendency for many couples to change their minds or put off the decision. A major literature review found that the majority of parents struggled with the disposition decision and some even called this decision the most difficult decision of their lives (Hug K. Fertility and Sterility 2008;89:263-277). An Australian study (Hammarberg K, Tinney L. Fertility and Sterility 2006;86:86-91) found that 25% of parents described the decision-making process as “very distressing.” Parents in another study described the decision as “anguished” or even “agonizing,” and many even said that they wished they had never had to make this decision (De Lacy S. Hum. Reprod. 2005;20(6) 1661-1669). Some parents indicated that they would rather leave their embryos in cryopreservation indefinitely, even though the embryos would eventually die in deep freeze. Many parents delay the decision until they are forced to do something about it. Robert Nachtigall and his colleagues from UC San Francisco found that after 4.2 years of cryopreservation, 72% of parents had not reached a disposition decision (Nachtigall RD, et al. Fertility and Sterility 2005;84(2):431-434). Likewise, another Australian study found that 70% of Australian women with extra embryos were unable to come to a decision regarding their embryos 5 years after they had completed their families (McMahon, C., et al. Reprod. Technol. 2000;10:131-135). Likewise, another study by Cattoli, Borini, and Bonu showed that 25.1% of Italian patients allowed their embryos to be destroyed without making a definitive decision (Cattoli M, Borini A, Bonu MA. European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology 2004;115(Suppl 1):S16-18).

      To preempt this problem, fertility clinics in the United States have their patients prepare an advanced directive that delineates disposition choices before beginning the IVF process. However, even this proactive step has not resolved the issue as significant numbers of patients change their minds over the course of treatment. For example, Klock, Sheinin, and Kazer found that there were substantial differences in choices from pretreatment baseline to those made after or during the IVF course. Only 29% of families adhered to their initial choices. Of those who opted to dispose of their remaining embryos, 59% later chose to use or donate their embryos to other couples. Of those who initially wished to donate unused embryos to others, 82% changed their minds. Of those who wished to donate their unused embryos to research, 87% later chose to implant them themselves or dispose of them. Further complicating this information is the fact that these numbers only reflect 57% of the families with cryopreserved embryos in the practice because other families could not be located for these interviews (Klock SC, Sheinin S, Kazer RR. New England Journal of Medicine 2001;345(1):69-70).

      From this we can conclude that just because couples fill out paperwork beforehand does not mean that they will not change their minds or put off the decision.
      2. I have met and spoken with many embryo adoptive parents who procured their adopted embryos from different agencies and all but one stated that they were told that the embryos they adopted were abandoned by the genetic parents. None of them had heard of or had ever met the genetic parents or were even unaware that the genetic parents had signed the embryos over to the agency. The agency had to actively advertise to ensure that genetic parents knew about them and that embryo adoption was a possibility. Federal funding for the program was a small part of how these parents found the program, but it still allowed the adoption agency to keep the advertising program afloat.
      3. Just because the funds were not being used efficiently has NEVER been a reason for this administration to cut funding of a federal program. The Obama administration has SHOVELED billions of dollars out the door into failed green energy companies that were suspect at the beginning, but had borrowed Chinese money thrown at them anyway. Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare programs are pockmarked with redundancies that the Obama administration has been reminded of repeatedly but they have not cut them. For example,
      • 342 economic development programs;
      • 130 programs serving the disabled;
      • 130 programs serving at-risk youth;
      • 90 early childhood development programs;
      • 75 programs funding international education, cultural, and training exchange activities;
      • 72 federal programs dedicated to assuring safe water;
      • 50 homeless assistance programs;
      • 45 federal agencies conducting federal criminal investigations;
      • 40 separate employment and training programs;
      • 28 rural development programs;
      • 27 teen pregnancy programs;
      • 26 small, extraneous K-12 school grant programs;
      • 23 agencies providing aid to the former Soviet republics;
      • 19 programs fighting substance abuse;
      • 17 rural water and waste-water programs in eight agencies;
      • 17 trade agencies monitoring 400 international trade agreements;
      • 12 food safety agencies;
      • 11 principal statistics agencies; and
      • 4 overlapping land management agencies.
      Many welfare and educational programs have failed to show any success. No Child Left Behind must be judged a colossal, expensive failure by any metric, yet lawmakers and the Obama administration want to keep it in place. Other duplicative and wasteful educational and welfare programs exist, but this administration keep s them afloat with infusions of borrowed money that puts us deeper and deeper in debt. The only reason this program was cut was animus, pure and simple and that is the only reason this administration cuts anything. It was a political statement pure and simple by the most pro-abortion president in our history.

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