My Article in today’s Headline Bistro.
In Part I of this series I laid out the broad scientific and theological issues inherent in the debate over embryo adoption, which is the legal adoption of leftover embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF), implanted in the adoptive mother’s womb, brought to term, and then raised by that adoptive couple as their own.
It is an issue that has riven the Catholic bioethical community. Whether or not the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s instruction, Dignitas Personae (DP), has ended the debate depends on whom one asks. Pushing out into the deep from Part I of this series, I posit that much of the division around this issue arises from language in DP that is muddled regarding the science and human rights, and spilling over into the very essence of conjugal union.
Recently, Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro-Carabula, the outgoing interim President of Human Life International cited a debate between Professor Janet Smith (pro-embryo adoption), and Father Tad Pacholczyk (against embryo adoption). In his article, Msgr. Barreiro declares that the matter is closed, citing the language of the Church’s document, which states:
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; 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 (19).
Msgr. Barreiro editorializes:
So what this document is stating is that adoption in the womb presents similar problems to those that are found in artificial heterologous procreation and surrogate motherhood. The above-mentioned norms were issued by the CDF with the purpose of putting an end to the long debate between theologians on the question the permissibility of embryo adoption. So this document should put an end to these discussions stating the embryo adoption should not be done.
Msgr. then goes on to state:
Finally it should considered that this instruction’s doctrinal value is clearly described by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, Secretary of the CDF at the presentation of this document, stating that it participates in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter and as a consequence it should be received by the faithful with the religious assent of their spirit.
Respectfully, Msgr. Barreiro has oversimplified the matter and overlooked a few contrary voices among the bishops here in the U.S. and in Rome. DP was not a document crafted to address embryo adoption, but to deal with the broader issues surrounding reproductive technologies such as IVF. In that light, Archbishop Ferrer’s declaration of the document as binding on the faithful is binding on those matters in the document that are considered settled.
Embryo adoption is not one of those settled issues. Consider the words of Dr. Stephen Napier at the National Catholic Bioethics Center:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them.” Also, the current president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, has said that the issue of embryo adoption was still an open question. If the USCCB and the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life got the interpretation wrong, the Vatican would have corrected them publicly. But there has not been any correction; consequently, the question on embryo adoption remains open.
So where is the language in DP that might leave the door ajar for the Congregation to revisit the issue, adding clarification? Consider:
…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” (19).
There seems to be no morally licit solution. Yet, at the same time, John Paul II recognized that these embryos remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons.
These are human beings, declared by the Congregation in its 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion to be presumed to possess a soul from the moment of fertilization and in need of safeguarding:
• “The tradition of the Church has always held that human life must be protected and favored from the beginning, just as at the various stages of its development” (6).
• “Most recently, the Second Vatican Council, presided over by Paul VI, has most severely condemned abortion: ‘Life must be safeguarded with extreme care from conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes’” (7).
• “From a moral point of view this is certain: even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder. ‘The one who will be a man is already one’” (13).
• “This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed, (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul” (Footnote #19).
As no human person has the “right” to be submerged in liquid nitrogen and kept there until succumbing to freezer burn, there must be a moral solution that respects the rights of these babies to continue their development unmolested and nurtured, especially in light of God’s having created for them a soul.
There is, and it resides in the very aspect of conjugal union being appealed to as the impediment to embryo adoption. We’ll examine that argument in Part III.