According to official sources, Britain now counts 117,619 frozen human embryos in storage. As of 2003, U.S. sources counted over 400,000 human embryos then in frozen storage. By now, the count is sure to be much higher. What does this say about our understanding of human nature and human dignity?

Writing in The Independent [London], Cole Moreton reports that a much-publicized controversy over the future of six frozen embryos in Britain is awakening many persons there to “the chilly world of the almost-people.”

The eight-celled embryo that would become Lois [Lois Walker, now almost 6 years of age] spent those 30 months in a plastic tube, stored in a metal flask in a fertility clinic. Was she alive? Did she have any human rights? What should have happened to her if her parents had split up, and one of them had stopped wanting a baby?

Such questions have been raised again by the bitter legal battle between an infertile woman who wants to thaw her frozen embryos for “one last chance” of pregnancy and her former boyfriend, who has refused consent. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Natallie Evans cannot use the embryos she made with her ex-partner Howard Johnston unless he agrees. She wants a second hearing, but time is running out: under UK law the embryos must be destroyed in October, when it will be five years since they were made.

Now, consider carefully this paragraph from her article:

Science and the law both work on the basis that an embryo at this very early stage is a sub-human scrap of genetic material and only becomes a person later in its development. The majority of people going through IVF probably agree (it does make what they are doing far less morally complicated). But those who have been through IVF or made it happen know that even the clearest of minds can be ambushed by emotion and find themselves personalising embryos.

“Some people ask to take home the ones that have not been used,” says Andy Glew, senior embryologist at the Essex Fertility Centre, in Buckhurst Hill. “We make sure that life has been terminated before we let them out of the building, but then we do give couples the embryos in a water-based solution so that they can bury them in the garden, or whatever they need to do.”

In all honesty, this is one of the scariest articles I have read in some time. Those who personalize the embryo [which, after all, is where all persons begin] are merely “ambushed by emotion.”

Note that the reference to the burial of the embryos in the garden follows language that clearly stipulates that the embryos are released only when “life has been terminated.” Human life, that is.