Romney Says It's OK to ‘Destroy’ Human Embryos Created Through In Vitro Fertilization

Patrick Burke | May 15, 2012 | 8:03pm EDT
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( – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who recently had twin grandsons conceived through in vitro fertilization, has said it is okay for couples to "destroy' human embryos conceived through in vitro fertilization if they do not want to implant those human beings in a womb.

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On May 4, Romney’s son Tagg announced by Twitter the birth of the twin boys, David Mitt and William Ryder, who were gestated by an unnamed surrogate mother. Tagg’s wife is Jennifer Romney and they have four other children, one of whom was also gestated by the same surrogate mother, according to The New York Times.

In general, with IVF, several eggs from the woman are placed together with the man’s sperm in an environmentally controlled chamber where hopefully at least one, and sometimes more, of the eggs are fertilized, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The embryonic human being or beings are then placed into a woman’s womb where they grow and are delivered approximately nine months later.

As the NIH states, “More than one embryo may be placed into the womb at the same time, which can lead to twins, triplets, or more. The exact number of embryos transferred is a complex issue that depends on many factors, especially the woman’s age. Unused embryos may be frozen and implanted or donated at a later date."

In a Fox News Sunday interview on May 22, 2005, host Chris Wallace asked then-Gov. Mitt Romney about his views on IVF and the practice of killing surplus human embryos so their stem cells can be used in research. Part of the interview went as follows:

Wallace: “But if I may ask you, governor, specifically, you don’t see, as I understand it, you don't see the use of these leftover embryos in fertility clinics as destroying life?”

Romney: “That's right. I believe that when a couple gets together and decides that they want to bring a child into the Earth, and they go to a fertility clinic to do so, and if they're going to be through that process a leftover embryo or two, that they should be able to decide whether to preserve that embryo for future use or to destroy it; to have it put up for adoption or potentially to be used for research and experimentation, hopefully leading to the cure of disease. And so for me, that's where the line is drawn. Those surplus embryos from fertility clinics can be used for research."

Wallace later asked Romney: "Isn't your support for using these left-over embryos from fertility clinics, isn't that going to hurt you with some conservatives?"

Romney responded that he thought it was a "positive thing" for parents to donate an embryo to scientific research.

"You know, I think fundamentally people look at this issue on a very personal basis," Romney said. "My family's been touched by a very serious disease ... I think at the same time we look at ethical issues, and say, 'Where is the line to be drawn?'

"For me and my family, it's very clear," said Romney. "If you're creating new life, simply to destroy it, you've gone across a bright red ethical boundary, and we shouldn't go there. If, on the other hand, embryos are going to be destroyed following a fertilization process, that's something which shouldn't be done without the parent of that particular embryo being able to be brought into the decision. And if they want to give that embryo to science for the potential cure of disease, that that's a positive thing.

"And I can't imagine politics or ambition for anyone would stand in the way with doing what they think is right for the family of humankind on an issue like this," said Romney.

In a Dec. 16, 2007 interview with on NBC's "Meet The Press" with Tim Russert, Russert also asked Romney about his views on using human embryos created through IVF in stem cell research. Russert pinned Romney down on the question of whether he believed life began at conception and that human embryos were therefore living human beings.

Russert: “Do you believe life begins at conception?”

Romney: “I do.  I believe, I believe from a, from a, a political perspective that life begins at conception.  I, I don't, I don't pretend to know, if you will, from a theological standpoint when life begins.  But...”

Russert later explored this question with Romney in the context of destroying embryos for stem cell research.

"These are embryos, these are, in your mind--words--human beings because they are, as life begins at conception, and these are surplus embryos from in vitro clinics that are used for research," said Russert.  "They are destroyed. Do you still support that?"

Romney said: "I, I have the same position. Let me describe it, because there are two parts to it. One is what I think should be legal in our society, and the other is, where should we devote federal funds.  With regards to what should be legal in our society, as you, as you know, embryonic and stem cell research generally is a very broad term, and so we have, of course, the adult sources of embryonic cells, we have so-called surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization, and then we have new development of, of stem cells through cloning or through embryo farming.  And from a legal standpoint, I would outlaw cloning to create new stem cells and I would outlaw embryo farming. 

"I would allow, on a private basis, the use of surplus embryos, so-called surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization, and likewise the existing lines," Romney said. "So from a legal--and I faced that in Massachusetts. I, in the bill there, I said I would continue to allow the use of surplus embryos from IVF."

Russert later followed up, "But to be clear, the embryos that are so-called surplus in vitro clinics are destroyed."

"Yes," said Romney.

"For research, and you support that," said Russert.

"The term support is perhaps not the exact word I'd choose," said Romney.

"You wouldn't outlaw it," said Russert.

"I would, I would not outlaw it," said Romney. "I would allow, I would allow private laboratories and private institutions--as we currently do, and as the president does as well--to use these so-called surplus or embryos to be discarded.

"Let me note as well, Tim, in that regard," Romney said, "that, that I think before we, we move too far down that road that we establish a provision for parents to have authority over their own embryos and to have adoption procedures so that they might be able to provide these embryos, as some call them, snowflake babies to allow them to be adopted by others and to be implanted and become human beings.  That's the, that's the course I'd prefer. But I would not outlaw the use of these, of these surplus embryos if the parents so directed.  And, at the same time, for federal dollars I would focus it on the, the alternative methods."

The Romney campaign did not respond to questions from about Romney's position on destroying human embyros created through IVF.

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