IT’S been hailed as the latest landmark in assisted reproduction: the arrival of a healthy baby who was conceived almost a quarter of a century earlier. 26-year-old Tina Gibson, of Tennessee, has given birth to a girl using an embryo created by IVF in 1992 – when Gibson herself was just a year old.

In a television interview, the excitable new mother suggests she wasn’t made aware of the conception date until after the embryo had been successfully implanted in her womb, which is enough to make you ponder whether the situation was contrived to gain publicity for the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) based in Gibson’s home state.

If so, the gamble has certainly paid off, not just in terms of raising the institution’s profile but also in sneaking the language of “embryo adoption” into the mainstream media. “Frozen embryos are sometimes known as ‘snow babies’,” reported The Guardian, which really ought to know better. The motive behind attaching such emotive language to human cells is not difficult to guess.

An embryo is not a baby. And the language of “adoption” is not appropriate to describe a process by which viable embryos left over from IVF treatment are implanted into the uterus of a woman who wishes to become a mother. The NEDC admits the service it offers is “neither legally nor technically an adoption” but actually a contractual agreement.

While it might seem harmless for eccentric American Christians to overcome fertility obstacles using this process, using whatever cutesy language they like, the subtext is clear: life begins at conception and embryos have a right to life. That is, not just the embryos in the deep freeze at fertility clinics, but also those in the bodies of women who do not wish to continue with their pregnancies.

There’s another big issue here too, and it’s one the people running the NEDC seem pretty relaxed about. The Gibsons reportedly “adopted” five sibling embryos in total, including the one that produced baby Emma, so presumably the couple plan to expand their family in future. But not everyone following the same route to parenthood is in a position to potentially have such a large brood, which is one of the reasons why there are surplus embryos to begin with. Depending on the number of eggs harvested and embryos created during the initial IVF treatment, a clutch of full siblings could be born and raised in separate families, with no knowledge that their siblings exist.

This is nothing new, of course, as it is also a potential consequence of actual adoption. But while any responsible modern adoption agency will encourage parents to be open about the circumstances in which their families were created, the NEDC leaves it up to the donor and recipient families to decide how much information, if any, to share. The approach seems to be guided by a principle of doing whatever it takes to find welcoming wombs for the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of surplus embryos currently in freezers around the world. Never mind about the rights of the children produced to know who their biological relatives are.

The clinic advises that it’s unlikely the people produced through its donation system will inadvertently meet and enter into sexual relationships with each other, and it’s true the chances are slim, particularly if cross-country donations are made. But gamete and embryo donation certainly increase the chances of half-siblings who weren’t raised together meeting and sleeping with each other. And there’s an argument that laws should reflect this modern reality.

When Richard Morris’s petition on “Adult Consensual Incestuous Relationships and Marriage” came before the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee yesterday, it was swiftly dismissed on the basis there is no public demand for a change to the relevant law. Incest is a taboo topic that inspires revulsion, therefore any attempt to decriminalise it is likely to be met with public horror. But is that reason enough to dismiss all of Morris’s arguments out of hand? Accidental incest – by those who didn’t know they were related – is not a crime, but knowledge of a biological relationship does not always prevent sexual attraction between relatives who were raised apart. Many adoption agencies recognise “genetic sexual attraction”, the phenomenon referenced in the petition, as a genuine concern. And the apparent trump-card argument in favour of criminalisation – that children born from incest are likely to suffer birth defects – is weakened by the possibility of contraception use, or infertility, not to mention the fact that we don’t criminalise other types of risky reproduction.

Some years ago a Scottish brother and sister hit the headlines after they were prosecuted for having sex in a public place. The law had clearly failed to act as a deterrent and it seemed clear the siblings were in need of support rather than punishment. They posed for press photographers, presumably in exchange for cash, but when they arrived at court for sentencing they covered their faces.

As the judge handed them non-custodial sentences (including mental health and addictions counselling for the sister), he said publicity around the case meant the pair’s lives were in ruins.

That situation was a sad outlier, as the siblings involved were raised together, but as technology allows family relationships to become ever more complicated, such as in the strange case of the Gibsons, it’s worth pausing to consider what problems might be stored up for the future.