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ADOPTION OR DESTRUCTION? DEALING WITH `ORPHAN’ EMBRYOS ISN’T EASY

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QUESTION: Recently, fertility clinics in England began destroying thousands of "orphan" embryos after a government deadline for keeping them alive without special requests from their parents ran out. Pro-life groups oppose their destruction, and the doctors involved are uneasy. Is there any alternative?

BETSY HART: Once again, technology has raced ahead while humanity hasn't paused and pondered the tough ethical questions involved.In-vitro fertilization has brought the joy of children to many otherwise infertile couples.

Because the rate of any one embryo's successfully implanting is low, several embryos usually are created, then held in reserve if needed. Thus, the same technology that gives life to some creates other embryos that are orphaned.

What to do? Sever "parental" rights to these embryos. Under current British law, they can be adopted by others only with the parents' approval. That's nonsense. Thousands of the donor couples at issue here cannot even be located. Others just don't want the embryos. Meanwhile, thousands of couples desperately desire children but cannot successfully create a healthy embryo outside the womb and find adoption of an existing child extremely difficult.

In the United States, at least, embryos that become available are routinely "adopted" in some states. With enough advance public notice of their availability, the same could be true in England.

BONNIE ERBE: I have a much better answer than my colleague and her similarly irrational friends in the pro-life movement. Instead of severing parental rights, let's make all people who claim to care so much for the "unborn" make sure that each child brought into this world has a safe home in which to live, access to health care and a quality education.

That, and only that, would persuade me and millions of others that their true concern is for children, instead of making everybody else's lives miserable.

If anyone needed proof that the pro-life movement has gone completely off the deep end, this British embryo scenario is it. These people are concerned about zygotes - collections of between two and six cells. Come on. It's absolutely batty.

So is the idea that we should, as my colleague avows, "sever parental rights." People who claim they have some kind of legal right to use other people's genetic material without the biological parents' permission are trying to invade the private realm of parenthood in a way never envisioned before.

Actually, a much better solution to the British situation is to adopt the American method of storing fertilized eggs. Over here, the biological parents must pay regularly to keep the fertilized eggs in storage. As soon as they stop paying, the eggs are destroyed. Instead of mass destruction, they are dissolved simply and quietly and without much fanfare.