Friday, August 19, 2011

Basic Defense of Embryo Adoption, Part II

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

Objection Four: Embryos, as “treatment for infertility” are not ethically acceptable. The direct quote from DP is “ 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…”

Refutation: (Here I deviate slightly from providing specific rebuttals to asking pointed questions.) By “treatment for infertile couples”, does the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) mean offered as standard practice by reproductive endocrinologists or fertility clinics? If so, then yes, EA under these auspices would be morally reprehensible as it denies the individual worth of each embryo, treating one as a commodity instead of a precious life. Many defenseless lives would be bartered for the sole goal of experiencing pregnancy. The needs of the parents would supersede the dignity of the embryonic life. The end goal would be experiencing pregnancy, not becoming a parent and thereby saving a life. 

Contrast that to embryonic adoption in a different context. A couple accepts their infertility and ceases the barrage of testing and treatments. They begin wading through paperwork with adoption agencies and complete a home study. Matches are made between genetic parents and adoptive parents. The only involvement a fertility clinic plays is the transfer itself. The end goal is saving the life of the child and achieving parenthood.

By the use of the word “treatment”, the CDF seems to imply that some sort of cure is being sought. And, for most people, cures are obtained at a medical facility, not an adoption agency. As a couple dealing with male infertility, neither some sort of embryo “treatment” nor pregnancy could cure my husband. Why such an odd phrase by the CDF? Furthermore, embryo adoption is not even specifically referred to in this paragraph - how exactly does EA fit into all this?

In America there is a marked difference between embryo adoption and embryo donation. Perhaps the CDF was referring to embryo donation when using the term “treatment for infertility”? With donation, the couple (or individual) goes to the local fertility clinic and essentially buys a leftover embryo. It’s cheaper, faster, and incredibly impersonal. The embryo is considered in its legal sense, as property, rather than in its true sense, a human being.

Objection Five : Another quote from DP: “This practice [treatment for infertility] would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological, and legal nature.”

Refutation: Through our adoption process with Nightlight, we have been required to complete a rigorous home study and education on rearing adopted children and ART children specifically. We will be privy to three generations of the genetic family’s medical history once a definite match is made. Our contract is considered to be legally binding. We are planning on maintaining written contact with the genetic family (mediated through the agency) precisely so we will be able to administer to the psychological needs of our adopted children. Both family members and close family friends have first hand experience with adoption and/or rearing of special needs children, if we would need such expertise. All in all, we feel that we are doing everything possible in preparation for offering life to some of the least of God’s children.

Objection Six: There is only one paragraph in Dignitas Personae that clearly deals with some form of prenatal adoption. The fourth paragraph from section 19 states: “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 [in paragraph on “treatment for infertility”].

Refutation: Embryos cryopreserved in England have a very limited life span as most (if not all) cryo-banks have a strict three year freezing time limit. When the last cryo-bank “cleansing” came up, many many individuals, couples, and even nuns offered their wombs so that these orphaned embryos would not suffer such indignity at the bidding of the government. However, these well intentioned individuals were offering their wombs just for the sake of gestating the endangered embryos. After birth, the women planned on offering the newborns for adoption. 

This scenario is fully an act of “embryo rescue” and is a far cry different from embryo adoption. Furthermore, these actions constitute surrogacy. The “adoptive” mother raises the embryo only for the duration of the pregnancy. In the end, the embryo has been spared death, but is left abandoned once again. “Prenatal adoption” that is solely rescue and devoid of concern for the post-birth life of the child is not granting the child the dignity he/she is due.

As mentioned previously, by pursuing embryo adoption through Nightlight’s Snowflake program, we are signing legally binding documents to care for our adopted embryos for the full duration of their life, be that a few moments or several decades. Furthermore, embryos in America are not in imminent danger of destruction though our current President could change that… The contrast is pronounced.

Objection Seven (last one!): Pope John Paul II’s quote “there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the … frozen embryos…”

Refutation: For starters, reading JPII’s quote in its original context is extremely enlightening. His whole speech is concerned with the natural rights of the embryo, beginning with the most basic, the right to life. Similarly, he rightfully claims that it is the duty of each government to preserve such a right. I feel it’s necessary to look at not just JPII’s quote in Dignitas Personae, but also the surrounding lines in his original speech: 
“I therefore 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 also call on all jurists to work so that States and international institutions will legally recognize the natural rights of the very origin of human life and will likewise defend the inalienable rights which these thousands of “frozen” embryos have intrinsically acquired from the moment of fertilization.

John Paul could not be more clear that the right to life is one of these aforementioned inalienable rights. How is EA not awarding these neglected embryos some chance at a normal, just life?

DP precedes John Paul’s quote with the statement that the “thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”  I agree. No amount of human atonement can make up for the injustices these embryos have already received due to the illicit nature of their creation. There is no way to undo the injustice of being conceived in a lab, man and wife forsaken for a doctor and syringe. While the injustice and illicitness of their creation cannot be resolved, one can, perhaps, begin to restore the God-given inalienable right to life via embryo adoption. It is only out of the cryo-bank, and in the womb, that these embryos will finally get the chance to live as God intended. When such an option exists, one that will provide these embryos not only a chance at life but a family, how can one refuse?


  1. Everything you are saying makes perfect sense to me. I am glad there are couples seeking to love and protect these little ones. I would have pursued embryo adoption myself but I do not feel my womb is a safe enough place; I have a disorder which has a risk of recurrent very early miscarriage, and some evidence that this has happened to me as well. I do have two biological children (and would love more), and we are in the process of an international adoption of a little girl with special needs. I'm glad there's a blog like yours, even though I am not a Catholic. God bless your family!

  2. Andrea, I'm not sure how to email you. Would you shoot me a message? I'd love to corespond with you. kjlayna at gmail dot com :-)