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Monday, November 1, 2023
The Uncomfortable Politics of Stem Cells and Donor Eggs
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:51 pm

Slate asks the provocative question: Did Elizabeth Edwards Use Donor Eggs? - All signs point to yes.

Do the math, and it’s not hard to figure out that Edwards gave birth to Emma Claire at age 48 and Jack at 50. And yet if Edwards used her own eggs, this is all but impossible—a woman’s ovaries completely stop producing viable eggs by age 45 in all but a tiny percentage of women.

Edwards has publicly stated that she “used fertility treatments” and “took hormone shots” in order to have Emma Claire and Jack. (She wouldn’t comment for this story.)


Alas, no one but the Edwards family and their doctor—and maybe an egg donor, though most remain anonymous—can say for sure if donor eggs were used in the creation of Emma Claire and Jack. But reproductive endocrinologists agree that having babies with your own eggs at 48 and especially 50 is, well, just not going to happen: “The probability [that she used donor eggs] is 99.9 percent,” said David Adamson, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based reproductive endocrinologist and clinical professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. “If she hadn’t, she’d probably say, ‘No, I didn’t use donor eggs.’ ” Adamson, who sits on the medical advisory board of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, added that in the 25 years he’s spent treating thousands of infertility patients, he’s only seen one woman of 45 and one of 46 give birth using their own eggs. Fecundity starts to drop off long before that, he says. At 35, one in four women trying to have a baby will run into difficulties. At 40, about half will fail to conceive naturally. Above 45, there are so few births using one’s own eggs that no one keeps records of it, said Adamson. When it happens, you’re in miracle territory.


But if Edwards–who mothered two children before Emma Claire and Jack (Catharine, now 22, and Wade, who died in a car wreck in 1996 when he was 16)–did go vocal, it’s likely she would provide all manner of fodder for the religious right. Many organized religions have serious misgivings about the use of donor eggs or sperm, not to mention the very concept of conception taking place outside the womb. And then there’s one question that might really trouble the right: If Edwards did use IVF–a procedure one must undergo when employing donor eggs–what did she do with the embryos that weren’t transferred back to the uterus? If she and Sen. Edwards discarded them or donated them to science (read: stem cell) instead of freezing them for later use or donating them to another couple, the right-wingers would have an absolute field day. It’s no wonder Edwards has kept her lip tightly zipped.

While my initial reaction to this was that it was a crass question (and in many ways, it clearly is), the degree to which the Kerry campaign has made stem cell research such a big deal, it does beg a question: if Edwards does believe that better stem cell research would result in people like Christopher Reeves walking again, would he ben willing to donate any remaining embryos to science?

That sounds like a “gotcha” question, but if one finds that question rude or distateful, is it because there are, in fact, some serious ethical and moral questions concerning the usage of these embryos for medical research? If it really is no big deal, or nothing more than a non-scientific worldview to suggest that these embryos oughn’t be considered more than lab fodder, then why not ask the question? At a minimum, why consider it a crass question?

Now, granted, discussing the biological parentage of two small children on the national stage would be highly problematic, but if the stakes are as high as Edwards and Kerry claim they are, perhaps that isn’t too high a price to pay to allow the lame to walk and the blind to see. That is what Edwards, Kerry and Ron Reagan have all suggested in the last several months. If it really is that clear-cut, why not donate and then crow about it?

Filed under: US Politics, Abortion, 2004 Campaign | |Send TrackBack |

Outside The Beltway linked with Beltway Traffic Jam


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    1. I am no fan of the Edwards’ but I think the speculation about invitro fertilization with donor eggs is a little over the top. Although fertility declines with age, a premenopausal woman can still produce her own eggs, especially with fertility medications to enhance ovulation.

      Comment by M.E McGinn — Monday, November 1, 2023 @ 2:09 pm

    2. Beltway Traffic Jam
      The daily linkfest:
      Spoons reflects on rain forecasts, divine intervention, and the election.
      Megan McArdle examines the election betting markets and pronounces Kerry a good value.
      Kevin Aylward has a self-serve election linkfest.
      Will Baude exami…

      Trackback by Outside The Beltway — Monday, November 1, 2023 @ 4:43 pm

    3. Hmmm. Seems I know a miracle child. She was conceived when her mother was 50. And I assure you there were no ‘donor eggs’ involved. She was, shall we say, ‘a surprise’ — her closest sibling was already an adult.
      Read also the comment above. Someone is trying a smear here.

      Comment by Kathy K — Monday, November 1, 2023 @ 9:06 pm

    4. All quite possible–although Slate is an odd place to find a smear attempt on Edwards.

      Comment by Steven Taylor — Monday, November 1, 2023 @ 9:21 pm

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