A Fury Over Test-Tube Birth in Virginia Imperils a Couple's Last Chance to Conceive a Child
Then disaster struck. On a vacation in France, Grimes discovered she had a tubal pregnancy—and lost the baby and her other fallopian tube. Bearing a child seemed out of the question—and Linda's mood darkened. "I don't know how to describe the tragedy I felt," she says. "I'm a young woman. I always wanted a baby. I never assumed it would be a problem."
The problem would have been insurmountable—but for Linda Grimes' determination. She had read of the two test-tube babies born last year—and a series of inquiries led her to Howard and Georgeanna Jones, a husband-and-wife doctor team who were starting a clinic to duplicate the English procedure in Norfolk, Va. Formerly professors at Johns Hopkins, both had worked with Dr. Robert Edwards, one of the two British physicians who pioneered the test-tube technique.
Still, the Grimeses' chances were slim. More than 2,000 people had applied to the Joneses' program, and the doctors had yet to acquire the necessary state permit. The Joneses tried to discourage Linda, but to no avail. "I was so insistent," she remembers, "that they finally said, 'Okay, okay, come on down.' " After interviews, Linda and Brian were among 20 couples accepted. It seemed that they might finally have their baby—until early September, when a firestorm of protests from opponents of artificial fertilization put the entire project into jeopardy.
The controversy began when the Drs. Jones tried to obtain a permit to open an infertility laboratory at Norfolk General Hospital. At a public hearing, critics raised a right-to-life argument. "After conception in the glass dish, human life is judged acceptable or unacceptable by the artificial criteria of a medical scientist," claimed Charles Dean Jr., president of the Tidewater Chapter of the Virginia Society for Human Life. "Those tiny human beings judged to be less than perfect will not be given a chance to live. We believe it is beyond the province of medical science to preempt the will of Almighty God."
Linda Grimes strongly disagrees. "It is simply a medical aid for us to have a child," she protests. "I don't care if it's a boy or a girl, with green eyes, black eyes, anything. All we want to do is get help with this one step that my body can't perform anymore." In the process called "in vitro" fertilization, the mother's egg is removed from her ovary, combined with the father's sperm in a glass dish and reimplanted in the mother's womb after it begins to develop as an embryo. Linda, a Protestant, and Brian, a Catholic, report that their clergy have encouraged them to undergo the procedure—and Linda had planned to go to Norfolk last week for tests preliminary to fertilization. "I had rearranged my life for it," she says. "I was ready for it. Now we don't know what will happen."
The next step is up to the Virginia health commissioner, who will decide by January 8 whether to issue the enabling permit. Meanwhile the Grimeses' anxieties mount. Linda is 33 and at 35 will be too old for the program. In that case, they will adopt a child, but Brian asks angrily why they should be prevented from conceiving their own. "What greater legacy is there than a child, and what greater accomplishment could there ever be than being a parent?" he says. "Who has the right to take that opportunity away from us?"