From a reader…
We recently had a Mormon physician die who became unhealthily fascinated with procreation.
He began an IVF “service”. With his passing, there are untold numbers of cryogenically frozen human embryos.
If Catholics, who had nothing to do with this inhumane procreation, wanted to save just one of these tiniest of persons, would it be licit for a married couple to ask for an implantation? How would this be any different than adoption? In fact, would it not be nobler, having to undergo the burdens of pregnancy, and trusting in God for the outcome?
Some think that maybe a million of these embryos languish in why I think of as cryogenic oppression. They are mostly seen as “stuff”, to be thawed and “used” or thrown out. Their fate can be the matter of couples fighting in a divorce. They are experimented on. As it takes money to maintain them, and as there is a demand by childless couples for children, they are a commodity, which is human trafficking. Christians organizations are trying to walk the ethical tightrope in “matchmaking”.
Theologian are divided.
The Holy See has a document on IVF, but it doesn’t pronounce on this. HERE The CDF instruction correctly identifies the IVF act by which the child results as wrong. It talks about “surrogate motherhood” in regard to women who have implanted an embryo of strangers, which she will give up at birth, and women who have implanted an embryo to which she contributed her ovum, and then gives up. It doesn’t deal with the issue of surrogacy with the intent to keep the child of strangers, which some call a “rescue” of a frozen embryo, languishing in cryogenic oppression.
What to do about all the frozen children?
What to do? There is no definitive teaching from the Church about adopting a strangers child locked in cryogenic oppression.
I have in mind the brave members of the Mercedarians who were founded to ransom slaves by raising money or substituting their own bodies in exchange. That was morally licit.
On the one hand, it is hard to separate the implantation of an embryo in this way from some kind of objectification and the risk of continuing a commodity environment. We have this problem in trying to “rescue” relics of saints that find their way onto the market.
So, what do we do if that is where we are stuck, just keep paying the bill to keep the children frozen? Let them die a nature death?
Ethicist Janet Smith thinks that it is, in fact, licit for women to have these stranger children implanted so as to rescue them from frozen limbo. It can be an act of charity.
For my part, and I am not a moralist or ethicist, it seems to me that adoption of a stranger’s child even at the stage of implantation in the womb is both ethical and moral and even meritorious. Consider that if you were to find a baby abandoned in the street, it would be good – nay rather an imperative – to warm, save, feed, protect the child and meritorious to raise that child if abandoned. That child would grow and develop. That embryo would grow and develop. You give of yourself to feed and raise the child at all stages. One is internal and the other external. “Greater love hath no man…”.
The good done in the rescue of the embryo from cryogenic oppression is considerable. If there is a risk that one is contributing to making embryos a commodity for experimentation and exchange for value, that is foreseen by the principle of the double-effect.
If we say that frozen embryos are frozen human beings, children, then it is hard for me to escape the conclusion that this kind of surrogacy – with the intention of raising the child as one’s own – would be moral and licit and even a great good. It would be another matter if the intention behind the adoption and implantation was to deal with infertility. Also, it would be another matter if the woman had the intention to give the child up to someone else.
So, it is hard for me to escape that. Then there’s this.
The 2008 Dignitatis humanae of the CDF – HERE. We have to tread very lightly around this. The CDF says:
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. [But not quite the same, either.]
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”.
“seems to be no morally licit solution…”.
Just tears and reflection on the fallen nature of mankind? That’s what we are left with?
This is a hard one and the Church hasn’t completely sorted it out yet. But 2008 Dignitatis humanae must be weighed.