Real Adoption Stories: Baby of Their Dreams

Two couples 1,700 miles apart were both struggling to get pregnant and start families. Both of their dreams came true in one of the world s most unusual -- and controversial -- adoptions.
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Two Families

In March 2003, Amy and Keith Fisher, of Tucson, Arizona, and Robin and Kurt Houk, of Stow, Ohio, traveled to California to meet for dinner. The couples were excited -- and apprehensive -- about getting together, even though they had talked on the phone and exchanged e-mail for two years. The Fishers are the parents of Samantha Erin, then 3 months old. The Houks have four children -- Sarah, then 13, and then-4-year-old triplets Kevin, Kyle and Samantha Joy.

The more the couples talked over dinner, the more they felt like old friends. "Robin and Kurt are people we'd like even if we didn't have this circumstance," Amy says. The "circumstance" is adoption, but with a 21st-century twist: The Houks are the biological parents of Samantha Erin, whom the Fishers "adopted" from the Houks as an embryo.

The couples were introduced by Nightlight Christian Adoptions, a Fullerton, California-based agency that facilitates traditional domestic and international adoption services, but also runs Snowflakes, a unique program begun in 1997 that pairs couples who have frozen embryos from their in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments with those willing to have embryos implanted in the hopes of having a child.

In the past seven years, 208 couples have donated more than 1,500 embryos to 140 infertile couples through Snowflakes; 72 babies have been born, and 16 are on the way. Embryo adoption began to draw public attention in 2001, when President Bush announced that the government would pay for limited research on stem cells that already had been taken from embryos left over at fertility clinics.

During his address Bush mentioned embryo adoption as one of several options for frozen embryos. Since then, the government has been promoting it, and in 2002 the Department of Health and Human Services gave Nightlight a $506,875 grant to increase public awareness about embryo donation through videos and a Web site.

Although Snowflakes welcomes couples of all faiths, the families involved are mostly Christians who believe that frozen embryos are human beings. After both the genetic and prospective adoptive families provide comprehensive biographical information, the genetic parents and the adoptive parents, who must undergo rigorous screening, including an FBI background check, mutually select each other.

Both parties sign a contract in which the genetic parents relinquish their rights to their embryos, and the adoptive family assumes legal responsibility for them. Under the law, this is a "transfer of property," because no court in the nation recognizes the adoption of embryos. Once the paperwork is complete, the embryos are shipped to the adoptive family's fertility clinic. Snowflakes also stipulates that the adoptive family not abort any of the resulting fetuses.

Continued on page 2:  A Wrenching Dilemma


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