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Why Adoption of Frozen Human Embryos Could Be Acceptable

9/1/2003 - 9:50 PM PST

(Page 2 of 5)

Adoption, of course, cannot be imposed on anyone, but neither should it be impeded. Nor does this act of adoptive love imply justification of the previous negative acts, nor the affirmation of a "normal" process; it is different from them and is done as an extreme means to save the principal good: life.

Just as the adoption of an "adult" does not justify the abandonment committed by the parents, nor disparagement of natural maternity, neither is this true in the case of the adoption of embryos.

Q: It seems that you propose prenatal adoption as a solution for frozen embryos, but this is neither a complete nor a practical solution to the problem. Given that no one can be obliged to adopt frozen embryos, some embryos would remain in that state, and one would continue not knowing what to do with them ...

A: This shows the dead end to which the cryopreservation of spare embryos leads. The principal problem lies here, and the definitive solution lies in not producing them in vitro and not cryopreserving them.

Having said this, and to answer your question, a distinction must be made between "what is practical" and "what is ethical." It is one thing for a solution not to be obligatory; it is quite another thing to claim it is not a moral good.

Obviously, a solution must be found for all embryos. However, given that the evil is already done for having frozen them, any solution entails negative risks. It is a question of seeing which of those possible solutions is the least evil. And it will have to be carried out as soon as possible. And when it is not possible -- but not before -- the next least evil solution will have to be found.

Moreover, to be unable to resolve the problem completely does not imply that what is possible cannot be done; it must be done at least to resolve part of the problem.

It is one thing to have "the only acceptable solution" and another to have "the least evil." If we start from the fact that the moral evil is already there given the freezing, no solution is "acceptable" as good, but only as the lesser evil.

Q: Even if it were the only theoretical solution, it cannot be a practical solution, as it is not regulated by a public structure such as that for the adoption of those born.

A: It is from this perspective that one must look at the draft law that the government wants to approve. The intention "to reduce the harm" and to give a "practical solution" to a grave problem is laudable.

Although overdue, the effort must be appreciated to resolve situations of juridical insecurity and problems of considerable ethical and sanitary scope caused by law 35/1988. One should applaud the fact that, finally, action is being taken in a way that, given the present national situation, might be the only concrete "practical" way of doing it.

But what is practical does not always coincide with what is ethical. The ethical ideal is respect for all our fellow men and no experimentation with them. Even if we do so by stages, we must move toward that goal.

In the present stage, no experimentation should be guaranteed, all the more so when today science does not offer valid alternatives to obtain the "therapeutic" results that are desired through experimentation with embryos.

Moreover, the fact that prenatal adoption is not regulated, or, what is more, that it clashes with existing legislation which does not recognize rights for the "nasciturus" [the preborn], does not mean that adoption is illegitimate, but perhaps that it should be properly regulated. And this might well mean changing more than one unjust law.

In other words, it will have to be translated from theory to practice. The civil law should adjust itself to the objective good of the person.

In this connection, the proposal on the part of the Spanish government, to modify the law of assisted reproduction, contemplates the possibility of adoption. It must be admitted that this is a step forward.

Q: Given that the life of the frozen embryo is an intangible good, it cannot be inflicted with death directly nor can it be used as a means for scientific experimentation. Is the only possibility for these embryos, then, to allow them to die, removing them from that disproportionate, extraordinary and temporal means that is cryopreservation?

A: To allow the life to follow its "normal" course and to die is certainly the "lesser of two evils" when compared to keeping it indefinitely in freezers or killing it directly. But it is not the lesser of two evils when compared to prenatal adoption.

To let the embryos die means not to do anything so that they can develop the life they already have; however, prenatal adoption implies giving them a real opportunity of human development. It is not the highest possible good, because in the situation in ...

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