Archive for the ‘Embryo Adoption’ Category

My article in today’s Headline Bistro

Thus far in our series on the thorny issue of embryo adoption, we have looked at some of the broader theological questions as well as considering whether it is true that Rome has closed the door to further discussion. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, have said the matter is still open for discussion, I am comfortable in advancing the argument in favor of embryo adoption.

See Part I here.
See Part II here.

In this installment of the series, we turn our attention to the great dignity of conjugal union between husband and wife, examining its nature, its purpose, and whether embryo adoption violates that union.

The marital embrace between husband and wife must remain open to the fruitfulness that results from unimpeded self-donation on the part of each spouse. This is the procreative dimension of marital sex, which can never be separated from the unitive dimension of sexual expression. This paradigm is no mere human construct, but rooted in our understanding of the Blessed Trinity that was beautifully described by Saint Augustine.

Within the Godhead, the Father gives Himself totally and freely to the Son, who reciprocates totally and freely to the Father, and out of the radical self-donation of love is generated the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the perfect expression of perfect love. That dynamic of the Trinity becomes the paradigm for Sacramental Marriage, which becomes an earthly icon, literally a window into the inner life of the Trinity. The radical self-donation of the spouses makes of them “one” flesh, producing the expression of that oneness, and calling to mind Jesus’ words in John 10:30: “The Father and I are one.”

It also calls to mind this beautiful prayer of Jesus to the Father in John 17:20-26, where He reveals the love between Himself and the Father, and how the unity of His disciples is ultimately bound up in the unity between Jesus and the Father:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

That unity on our part has as its cornerstone marital unity, which in its most organic sense has the conjugal embrace as the sign and symbol of the inner life of the Trinity.

Seen in that context, in vitro fertilization (IVF) shatters that paradigm, separating the unitive and procreative dimensions of human marital sex, and introducing an entire fertility clinic staff into the intimacy of life’s generation that was hitherto the sole province of husband and wife overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, wherein God created the soul. IVF does violence to God’s order for creation, not only in the strict biological sense, but in the spiritual/ontological sense as well. It is not surprising, then, that the adoption of frozen embryos should be seen as a participation in this grave evil.

But it isn’t. It is a restorative, redemptive act. The current opposition comes from the following passage in Dignitas Personae:

“The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family, where it is generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman. Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis the child to be born must be the fruit of marriage.”

This statement is a beautiful expression of the heart of the church. The problem is that it has nothing to do with embryo adoption, whatsoever.

As we established in Part II of this series, the Church takes the most cautious approach to the issue of when ensoulment occurs and gives the presumption to the very beginning of human development, stating that is grave evil to even risk murdering a human. The fact is that human procreation, including God’s part in it, is complete at the moment of fertilization.

That fact, including God’s part, does not change in the case of IVF. Though the mother and father commit grave sin in so doing, all of the Church documents quoted in Part II indicate that the soul is presumed present from the very beginning of a human’s life, and that life is to be protected and safeguarded.

Some counter that creation of a human being is not complete during IVF, and that procreation continues during pregnancy. If we are to suggest that procreation is an ongoing process throughout pregnancy, as is suggested by some in the Catholic bioethics community, then we are saying that there is not a complete human being from the moment of fertilization, and in so doing, we make the same argument as Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry! This is not only bad biology, but even worse theology.

Biologically speaking, the embryo in its single-celled, zygotic stage of development is a whole and complete human organism in form and function for that particular developmental stage. The same may be said for every subsequent stage of development spanning the rest of the individual’s life. One need not look like the adult human, nor have all of the functions of the adult human to be fully human.

Theologically speaking, the Church gives the presumption of ensoulment to have occurred from the very beginning. There is simply no protracted process of “becoming” more and more fully human. We Catholics simply don’t buy that incrementalist argument, which is used to justify abortion. If we adopt the concept of procreation as a protracted process that requires a full, natural pregnancy because we find IVF so offensive, we lead ourselves into biological and theological error, and consequently we lose our foundations in the abortion debate forever.

So, how does embryo adoption fit in to a sacramental marriage, respecting marital rights and obligations? We’ll tackle that in Part IV.


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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.

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