Adoptive Couple Gives Birth to Son Who Was a Frozen Embryo for 19 Years

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 16, 2013   |   12:52PM   |   Washington, DC

Conception is the beginning of human life and the process by which a unique human being comes into existence. Most unborn children spend nine months growing and developing from that point until birth. For little Liam Burke, it was 19 years.

The Seattle Times profiles Burke’s story, which began two decades ago.

Baby Liam Burke is just learning to crawl. But he was conceived when Bill Clinton was president, the World Trade Center stood tall and home computers had the newfound ability to dial into something called the World Wide Web.

Suspended 19 years in deep freeze, Liam is the beloved new son of Kelly Burke — and one of the oldest embryos ever thawed and restored to life.

“He is the most awesome baby there is,” said Burke, 45. “He is a happy, healthy baby, a little bundle of joy, smart and interactive.”


What’s more intriguing, Liam is adopted. An Oregon couple who had twins two decades ago through the Reproductive Science Center in San Ramon, Calif., kept his embryo frozen for years, keeping open the option of expanding their family. Ultimately, they decided to donate the embryo to Burke for her pregnancy, an example of technology’s extension of life.

Like Liam, about 10,000 embryos a year are thawed and join families, thanks to advances in the field of cryopreservation. Others linger, sometimes for a decade or more, raising medical and ethical dilemmas.

Fertility specialists help infertile couples create embryos using in-vitro fertilization, which joins eggs and sperm in a petri dish. Doctors typically create as many as possible to maximize the chances for a successful result, but if the first attempt results in a baby, other embryos are left over.

In 1985, there were 285 frozen embryos in the nation. Now, 400,000 to 600,000 human embryos live as souls on ice, carefully held in liquid-nitrogen tanks.

Of these, about half will eventually be implanted into their mothers, according to ReproTech, a company that specializes in long-term storage of embryos for $400 a year in facilities in Nevada, Minnesota, Texas and Florida.

Most of the rest are discarded or donated to research.

While Liam’s story is an amazing one, fertility clinics are literally destroying perhaps hundreds of thousands of unique human beings like him. They are not just potential human beings — they just need 9 months, or 19 years, to grow.