Last month, a woman in Tennessee gave birth to a baby girl who was conceived 25 years ago. Frozen as an embryo in 1992, the baby was implanted in her mother’s womb about ten months ago, and born on November 25.
Tina and Benjamin Gibson welcomed Emma Wren into the world on that day in Knoxville, Tenn. Emma holds the all-time record for the longest-frozen embryo to experience natural birth.
“It was really assuring to everybody to see an embryo that’s basically a quarter of a century old can still survive,” Mark Mellinger, marketing and development director at the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), told PJ Media.
The NEDC receives and stores extra frozen embryos — often the result of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) — and finds adoptive parents to raise them.
“We’re a faith-based organization, so we look at it as evidence of God’s desire to preserve and prolong life,” Mellinger said of Emma Wren’s birth. “You can have an embryo that was frozen twenty-five years ago and it comes to birth twenty-five years later. We think that’s a pretty powerful statement in favor of God’s grace.”
The NEDC director told PJ Media that the process of freezing embryos has improved over the past 25 years. The current process, vitrification, freezes embryos so fast that it does not allow potentially damaging ice crystals to form inside the embryo.
When a would-be adoptive mother chooses to adopt an embryo, implantation leads to pregnancy in 57 percent of cases, according to the NEDC website. About 49 percent of implantations lead to live birth.
“Our overriding purpose is to protect the sanctity and dignity of the human embryo, and we do that obviously by taking donations of embryos from anybody who has them remaining from IVF and placing them for adoption with fertile couples,” Mellinger explained.
NEDC has enabled the adoption of 686 babies, according to the website.
Emma Wren is a “perfectly healthy little girl,” Mellinger noted. Once a frozen embryo has successfully thawed, there is no evidence that the freezing and thawing process leads to any sort of diseases later in life. “The oldest born are now twelve or thirteen years old and they’re perfectly healthy.”
Some have suggested that if people like Mellinger consider life to have begun at conception, they should consider little baby Emma Wren to be really 25 years old. Mellinger laughed at that idea. The NEDC director explained, “I guess there’s a difference in this particular case between age from conception and actual legal and biological age. It is weird but it’s true that the biological process was just frozen in time.”
He also explained how NEDC sees the loss of embryos in the birth process. “There are embryos that perish that are created all the time as the result of normal human sexual activity that we never know about because they didn’t implant,” Mellinger admitted. “The man and woman who created them never knew they were there in the first place.”
IVF introduces a new element of knowledge into the process, he said. “We know these embryos were in existence because they were created in a lab.”
He admitted that many of the embryos they receive do not survive the thaw process, and do not survive to birth. “We look at it as we want to give them the best chance at life,” Mellinger said. He testified that NEDC mourns the loss of embryos.
The NEDC director drew a clear distinction between the moral evil of causing a fetus to die through abortion and the morally neutral fact that many embryos are lost before implantation.
“If they are not meant to survive through the biological process that’s one thing,” he said. Killing them would be a completely different matter. “We believe they are God’s tiniest image bearers. We owe it to God and to them to give them the best chance at life.”
Mellinger noted that the Greek New Testament refers to a baby by the same word, brephos, before or after birth — unlike the baby-fetus distinction central to the abortion argument.
The birth of Emma Wren is truly remarkable — some might say miraculous.