A New Twist In Adoptions: Embryos

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Infertility didn't stop a California couple, Sharon and Larry, from creating a family. They adopted both of their children, but as CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports, daughter Mikalya came by way of special delivery: embryo adoption.

"I just thought, 'Oh wow, that's too good to be true,'" said Sharon, who asked to have her last name withheld. "As an adoptive mom being able to carry my child, that's just the ultimate dream, to be able to be pregnant."

Sandra's dream was realized through Snowflakes, the nation's first and only embryo adoption agency.

J.D. Eiman helps run the nationwide program which pairs infertile couples with frozen embryos left over from the infertility treatments of others. Snowflakes demands references, home interviews and criminal background checks of prospective parents — steps usually reserved for the adoption of children.

"Our first adopting mom who gave birth was in California," Eiman said.

Eiman said the process is treated as an adoption, "because the same safeguards and protections are in place that we would have for any other child, and if it isn't a bouncing baby, it will be a bouncing baby in nine months."

Embryo donation has been quietly taking place on a small scale for years, usually under the direction of doctors and clinics rather than adoption agencies, and it has become a lightning rod issue in the abortion debate.

Abortion rights advocates like Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, see danger in giving an embryo the same status as a living child.

"It's part of this larger trend we see of attempting to endow the embryo with personhood status for the purposes of denying women their right to reproductive freedom and choice," Michelman said.

But Eiman says embryo adoption shouldn't be about a political debate.

"It's really not," Eiman said. "We started the program to address the needs of these children who needed homes."

But there is no denying Snowflakes would like to see legal status given to embryos. Already five states have laws governing embryo donation, and in one state, Louisiana, it's illegal to dispose of unwanted embryos.

So far Snowflakes' embryo adoption program has produced 13 babies. Its goal is to find homes for the estimated 200,000 frozen embryos nationwide – homes like Sharon and Larry's where there is no debating how lucky they feel to have Mikalya.

It's how she was brought into their home that will continue to stir controversy.