Wednesday, February 4, 2009


There is a group or program called "Snowflakes" that promotes adoption of frozen embryos (usually left over and abandoned after being created for the purpose of in vitro fertilization). Many pro-life people supporte the idea of embryo adoptions. Embryos are human persons deserving of dignity and therefore a chance to live. But it's not that simple.

Recently, the Vatican came out with a statement (Dignitatis Personae) addressing this and other modern medical/ethical questions. Here is the pertinent excerpt for embryo adoption:

"The proposal that [frozen] 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; 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”.

When you read closely, it's not really a closed case, is it? Some people much smarter than me seem to believe it may be possible. The question seems to be: Is it a fertility treatment? Or, is it only done out of love of the abandoned child?

My question is this: How could an infertile couple (like us) claim that we were only doing it out of love? But, would it be fair to exclude infertile couples? (I don't know even know if it would work in our case, just making a point.) The Snowflakes website indicates that their purpose is two-fold: life for the babies, and treating infertility. That seems to be a disqualifier from the Catholic perspective.

Looking back in the document, what are those "reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood"?:

With regard to the treatment of infertility, new medical techniques must respect three fundamental goods:

  • a) the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death
  • b) the unity of marriage, which means reciprocal respect for the right within marriage to become a father or mother only together with the other spouse
  • c) the specifically human values of sexuality which require “that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses”.

It seems to be that points b and c apply to us.

Again, what is the motivation? Should these embryos be punished for the sins of their parents? The damage has already been done, shouldn't they be saved? Our boys were not brought about as "the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses". Their birth parents were unmarried. Obviously the Church supports adoption of children in need of families. Such hopeless phrases, "cannot be resolved", and "no morally licit solution"? Isn't that the Church's job??? To resolve moral questions? Surely there will be more on this.

I have struggled with the idea that we as an infertile couple are not as fully united as regular couples who become pregnant and have babies. There's so much talk in the Catholic world about marital love being both unitive and procreative. That's the basic argument against artificial contraception. It's also the basic argument against homosexual activity. A sad and frustrated infertile couple can't help but feel inferior, maybe even cursed.

Point B above makes it more clear. Your womb, whether it works or not, is not for anyone else to use. She shouldn't use a sperm donor if our infertility was male factor. I should not use a donor egg and surrogate mother to become a father without my wife involved. We can only become parents together.

The fact that our children are adopted does not make us any less united in our love as husband and wife. Our sacramental marriage gave us the graces to raise children together, and as far as I know that applies equally to adopted children. But Snowflakes is more than adoption - it's surrogate motherhood, and as such it violates our marriage covenant.

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