Friday, August 19, 2011

Basic Defense of Embryo Adoption, Part I

I originally wrote this in January 2009, right as we were entering into the matching phase with the Snowflake Program.  Part One addresses major objections pre-dating Dignitas Personae.

Objection One: EA is a form of surrogacy. 

RefutationDonum Vitae (DV) defines surrogate mother as “the woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo implanted in her uterus and who is genetically a stranger to the embryo because it has been obtained through the union of the gametes of “donors”. She carries the pregnancy with a pledge to surrender the baby once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy.” While we’ve heard the first line quoted over and over, the second line is often forgotten. By going through Nightlight’s embryo adoption program, we pledge not to use a surrogate. Any and all embryos we adopt will be raised as our own children. While the embryo is not flesh of my flesh, the child is being accepted into my womb to be raised as our child for the duration of his or her life. How could one view embryo adoption, as we are pursuing it, as a form of surrogacy?

Objection Two: Any procreation outside the marital act is illicit.

Refutation: How does one define “procreate”? DV states that all procreation outside of marriage is illicit. However, at the time of writing (1987-1988), separating conception from gestation was largely hypothetical. And yet here we are today. I agree completely with DVprocreation (emphasis my own) outside the marital embrace is illicit. However, I would go one step further and distinguish between conception and gestation. If possible, I would clarify the quote from DV to state that all fertilizations outside the womb are illicit. Most embryos up for adoption at Nightlight have been frozen for three to seven years. We are physically distant from the act of conception/fertilization. How can one claim that we are active participants in such an act? 

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, states in “On the Moral Objectionability of Human Embryo Adoption” that “embryo adoption indeed opens her womb to an embryo produced by strangers, and I would posit that such an action illicitly invokes her procreative powers apart from a marital act with her husband.” Aren’t procreative powers used in creating a new life? In EA, however, that new life has already been created. It is indeed a shame that we are of such a day and age that a distinction between conception and gestation is necessary. Nonetheless, we cannot deny the advances in reproductive technologies which have made such a distinction necessary. My womb alone is not procreative. If so, many, many sterile women would be deemed capable of procreative acts merely because they have a womb that is hospitable to embryonic life. And yet we know that is not true. A hospitable womb will never of its own accord generate a human life. 

John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, similarly stated in the December 22, 2008 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, “When a couple marry, they place at the disposal of one another the capacity each has for engendering new life. This exchange is mutual, personal and exclusive. Achieving “pregnancy” through any other means violates the integrity of this marital union.” While these sentences are the hingepoint for his argument against EA, I would use them as an occasion to once again show the distinction between EA and other ART. For starters, we are not “engendering” a new life, we are providing a home for a previously created embryo. Conception outside the womb clearly violates the marital union – adoption or gestation do not. Furthermore, nothing that we’re doing is promoting such a creation. We did not contract with a couple actively pursuing IVF. None of our money will go to reimburse the genetic parents. The fertility clinic will only be paid for the transfer. How can one assert that adoptive parents are at fault for the conception?

Objection Three: EA is scandalous. Or, EA will create a demand for IVF.

Refutation: At a surface glance, the connections between EA and IVF are undeniable. The question remains – how much are the potential adoptive parents to blame for the origins of the embryos? Well, for starters, even if fertility clinics ceased to produce a single extra embryo, we still would have hundreds of thousands of unwanted embryos in cryo-banks throughout the nation. While it’s possible a couple may enter into IVF solely because they know they can hand off their left-over embryos when they’re all done, this scenario is rather unlikely. Additionally, Nightlight states clearly that they hope to do themselves out of a job (their embryo program). They are not out to make money off of EA. While we pay adoption fees to Nightlight’s embryo adoption program, not a single dollar goes to the genetic parents. They are not recompensed for their expenses. Similarly, the local fertility clinic will only be paid for the transfer itself, not for any back storage fees or for “purchasing an embryo”. I have a difficult time seeing how our EA actions will create a demand.

Many people have addressed the scandal issue of EA, that we are supporting IVF by our proximity. I must ask, does proximity alone yield support? Adopting a child conceived of rape does not indicate support of that rape. How does adopting an embryo conceived through IVF then support that illicit act? The article “Ethical Considerations in Defense of Embryo Adoption” presents another interesting comment on EA and scandal:
“As a final reflection, it is enlightening to consider the similarities between
embryo adoption and the practice of buying slaves out of slavery. The initial offense committed toward the captive life can make it difficult to imagine an act of rescue as entirely separate from the injustice of slavery – or, in the present case, IVF and cryopreservation. Nevertheless, the inestimable good of the life that is saved legitimizes any unsavory proximity to these institutions, so long as formal cooperation and active scandal is avoided.”

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