Thursday, May 26, 2011

Catholic Church and Embryo Adoption

The Catholic Church is fully committed to protecting life from fertilization until natural death.  Unfortunately, technology has not always advanced in ways that fully respect the dignity of each life.  Though the Church moves slowly at times (for example, though the first IVF baby was born in 1978, the Church did not officially address IVF until 1987 in Donum Vitae), she has tried to advise her followers in a manner that is clear and compassionate.

Embryo adoption is currently stuck in a quagmire.  Donum Vitae, released in 1987, condemned the act of IVF (though reminding all that children born of IVF were no less worthy of love than children conceived naturally).  Dignitas Personae, released in 2008, condemned freezing excess embryos.  DP also briefly treated the topic of embryo adoption.  Enter the moral quagmire – embryo adoption would not exist without IVF, something previously defined as illicit.  Currently, the Church finds embryo adoption morally problematic but has refrained from a definitive stance.

 There are three possible conclusions one can reasonably reach in response to the Church’s cursory treatment of embryo adoption.  Option one, personally decide that EA is an immoral choice.  Option two, personally decide that EA is a moral choice.  Option three, personally refrain from any decision until the Church speaks more definitively on the topic.

Most faithful Catholics are choosing either options one or three.  However, simply because option two is the minority opinion makes it no less a viable option.  Probabilism is a moral system that believes one can follow a probable course of action regarding undefined moral events even if such action is only supported by a minority of respected theologians.1  As it stands within the Church today, embryo adoption does have well-respected  theologians as some of its chief proponents. 2

I would propose that Catholics can in good conscience participate in embryo adoption.  However, I do not think that any and all forms of embryo adoption/donation/rescue are compatible with the Church’s respect for human life.  I will go into much more detail in future blog entries, but in short, each and every embryonic life must be treated with dignity and respect. 

1.         Catholic Encyclopedia on the Theory of Probabilism
2.        Dr. William May, Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Gerard Nadal, and Ronald Conte to name a few.  Prominent theologians both for and against embryo adoption will be analyzed in upcoming entries


  1. This is really fascinating, and I don't think I know nearly enough about it to decide if I personally would consider it moral or immoral. I didn't realize your twins were from an embryo adoption, so now I have to ask--did you choose to adopt twins? Or does embryo adoption involve implanting more than one embryo and hoping at least one makes it to term? I am full of questions now. Can't wait to read more. I hope you're much better at keeping up with a blog than I have been.

  2. Julia, I would argue that it's impossible to simplify classify embryo adoption as either moral or immoral - I understand the Church's hesitation. Obviously certain actions could make the whole process immoral, like the use of a surrogate or selective reduction. Hopefully over time I can fully explain my reasoning.

    To answer your other questions, I have three entries that I'm working on now, one of which is a detailed biography.

    Thanks for commenting!