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Embryonic Research Poses Dilemma for Religious Conservative Couples

For a second time in a year, President Bush has vetoed a bill that would have sanctioned federally funded stem cell research using human embryos. His stance reflects conservatives' view that destroying life to create life is immoral. But VOA's Ted Landphair reports that when the longing for a healthy baby hits home, views can change.

Jeff and Le Jeanna Raymond are ecstatic parents. But creating their beautiful daughter, Pender, wasn't easy. Jeff was a minister in the conservative Southern Baptist Church in rural North Carolina.

Throughout ten years of marriage, the Raymonds had hoped and prayed for children. But there was a problem. Le Jeanna was a carrier of a genetic disorder called ‘Fragile X Syndrome.’ "There are four members of my family who are mentally retarded and physically limited because of this condition," she explained.

The couple did not want to bring a disabled child into the world.

But then Le Jeanna heard about research at the Shady Grove Fertility Center in Maryland. There, in a procedure called P-G-D, or Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, a woman's eggs are extracted and fertilized with her husband's sperm. Those resulting embryos with defective genes are discarded. A healthy embryo is implanted in the mother's womb, and pregnancy begins.

Even though religious conservatives generally believe that life begins at conception, and that destroying human life is a sin, the Raymonds signed up. And the result was . . . little Pender. "The joy and life experiences that we are now going through are immeasurable, and there's no [financial] figure you can put on the joy that we have."

Jeff Raymond says the decision to proceed with the controversial procedure gave him no moral qualms whatever. "For us, we feel like God was in the midst of the decision-making process. Anything in the world can be used for good or for evil. And technology is the same as anything else."

Le Jeanna adds, "We felt there was a difference between designing a baby with blue eyes and brown hair, or to be tall, or intelligent, was different than to be testing whether a baby was healthy or not."

Indeed, geneticist William Kearns makes it clear to all patients that the Shady Grove Fertility Clinic does not make "designer babies." "You come in, you say, 'You know, I want to have a child that's intelligent, athletic, has blond hair, blue eyes, and an I.Q. [intelligence quotient] of 130.' I would bet in my lifetime that will be possible. But that doesn't mean we should do it. We're helping many families achieve their dream. And I think that is good. I know it is good."

The entire experience cost the Raymonds’ close to $36,000.

Payments were made in installments says Le Jeanna. "We looked at it like a car payment. You would buy a car that costs that much. Why not invest in a possibility of a child?"

The Raymonds say their church was so supportive of their decision that when the embryo was successfully implanted, a congregant sent a note around that read: "We're pregnant!"