WILMINGTON, Del. (The Dialog) - Theologians and ethicists are split over the morality of embryo adoptions through which embryos left over from in vitro fertilization are implanted into the uterus of a woman other than the biological mother.
The Catholic Church has yet to issue any authoritative teaching on embryo adoptions, said Peter J. Cataldo, an ethical consultant to the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center.
At issue is what may morally be done to the excess embryos created through in vitro fertilization and frozen for possible later use. Over the years, many have been discarded while some have been adopted. Delaware’s General Assembly has been considering a bill that would allow their use for embryonic stem-cell research. The church opposes any such research since harvesting the stem cells would destroy the embryos.
The church teaches that in vitro fertilization is not morally acceptable because the egg and sperm are joined outside of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife. The 1987 document “On Respect for Human Life” (“Donum Vitae”) from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, noted that through in vitro fertilization, “(T)he generation of the human person is objectively deprived of its proper perfection: namely, that of being the result and fruit of a conjugal act.”
Those who believe embryo adoption to be illicit follow a similar argument.
“Pregnancy is indiscernibly related to marriage” and “must be the fruit of husband and wife,” said Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, staff ethicist for the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Since an embryo adoption involves implanting a woman with the fruit of another couple, he said, “my own opinion is that it is not moral to do this.”
But, the priest, said, in the absence of any authoritative teaching, Catholics may in good faith consider and undergo embryo adoptions. They should become familiar with views of theologians and ethicists on both sides of the issue, talk about those positions, “bring the matter to prayer and then make a decision whether to go forward,” he said.
Tim and Dawn Smith of Holy Cross Parish in Dover, Del., have one child they adopted as an embryo before they became Catholic. Since then, they unsuccessfully tried again to carry another former frozen embryo to birth and soon will try a third time. Since they were aware of different views within the church toward embryo adoption, they prayed for guidance on the moral implications, Tim Smith said.
"It would seem, in the absence of no clear teaching about it, that we should err on the side of giving them (frozen embryos) a chance," he said.
Cataldo, who supports embryo adoption given specific circumstances, cited two points to back his position. “Even though the church teaches that in vitro fertilization is morally unacceptable, the child who is engendered is fully human and possesses full human dignity, which must be respected. The frozen embryo is indeed a human embryo with human rights, the most basic of which is the right to life.”
In an embryo adoption, “it’s not an issue of impregnation,” Cataldo said. “The actions that brought about the engendering of this child have already taken place.”
Even then, Cataldo said, “the primary reason (for adoption) should be to save the life of a child. Typically parents who would adopt a frozen embryo are spouses who are infertile.”
Asked what should happen to frozen embryos should the church decide their adoption is illicit, Father Pacholczyk said: “Today we put preemies into very sophisticated incubators. It’s conceivable that one could do that for an embryo as well.”
This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Dialog (www.cdow.org), the official newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.