Monday, August 9, 2010

The Catholic Church on Adopting Frozen Embryos

Q - What is the church's teaching on "adopting" a frozen embryo?

Suppose the embryos are never used, destroyed, or used for Stem-cell research. Will the Catholic Church allow these babies to be implanted inside of an adopting mother/couple?

A -
Thanks for the question. This is a very difficult situation, but one with some moral guidelines about the situation surrounding the situation, if not a final answer.
  1. Human life is the most basic of human rights. Without this right, no other rights have meaning.
  2. Human life must be respected and the dignity of each individual upheld from conception until natural death.
  3. Experimentation, which causes harm to a human person and is not consented to, at any stage of life, is wrong. Thus, all forms of experimentation to babies in the womb is immoral, because it is exploitation of innocent human life for utilitarian purposes. Fetal stem cell research kills the baby necessarily and there are no parents to give consent (hypothetically a parent of a baby could give consent to research if it was for therapeutic purposes and caused the baby no harm).
  4. All forms of in-vitro fertilization remove the act of creating life from the marital union and are immoral. This is because every child has the right to be born within a marriage and in-vitro is a violation of this right. By it's very nature, IVF ruptures the relationship of a child and parents.
  5. To freeze an embryo is also a violation of their rights because it will either harm them or lead to their death. There are no "spare" human persons.
With these guidelines in place we can see that there are many problems inherent in this situation. So, what are we to do?

The most common options that were put forward included (we will explore the moral validity of each):
  1. Have someone "adopt" the embryos by allowing willing parties have the embryos implanted within a woman's womb and brought to maturity.
  2. Use them in research.
  3. Allow them to die.
The Vatican took on these questions in 2008 when they issued the document Dignitas Personae. Here is what it says (bold emphasis added).
With regard to the large number of frozen embryos already in existence the question becomes: what to do with them?  Some of those who pose this question do not grasp its ethical nature, motivated as they are by laws in some countries that require cryopreservation centers to empty their storage tanks periodically. Others, however, are aware that a grave injustice has been perpetrated and wonder how best to respond to the duty of resolving it.

Proposals to use these embryos for research or for the treatment of disease are obviously unacceptable because they treat the embryos as mere “biological material” and result in their destruction. The proposal to thaw such embryos without reactivating them and use them for research, as if they were normal cadavers, is also unacceptable.[37]

The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;[38] this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of “prenatal adoption”. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.

All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons”.
I know that many couples that struggle with infertility would be more than willing to adopt one of these embryos, but we must remember that a morally good end (having children) cannot come by immoral means.

The question then becomes - is adopting a frozen embryo coming by ways of immoral means?
The US Bishops wrote the following in response to questions raised after Dignitas Personae was released:
Proposals for “adoption” of abandoned or unwanted frozen embryos are also found to pose problems, because the Church opposes use of the gametes or bodies of others who are outside the marital covenant for reproduction. The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them. The document also goes into far more detail than past documents in raising moral concerns about use of “germ-line” genetic engineering in human beings, for treatments and especially for supposed “enhancement” or tailoring of human characteristics.
In other words, the question about adoption has not been put to rest.

The father of modern embryology - Dr. Jerome LeJeune (what a great last name!) - called freezing embryos putting them in a "concentration can". So, we need to resolve the fate of these babies at some point. May God grant the Church wisdom in discerning what His will is for these babies.

Pray for these children!

Some further reading:
*Rescuing frozen embryos
*William May on embryo adoption debate
*Catholics United for the Faith on embryo adoption

No comments: