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Why Adoption of Frozen Human Embryos Could Be Acceptable

9/1/2003 - 9:50 PM PST

(Page 5 of 5)

separate the biological bond to give preference to the affective -- as in this case the affective bond is the source of the biological -- one cannot see why the opposite is not also valid: the pro-abortion thesis that one can dispense with the biological bond where the affective is lacking ...

A: It is not a question of "previously" subordinating or separating, but of offering the best possible solution to an already existing separation.

Human existence is not a mathematical equation. The fact that in prenatal adoption -- as also happens in the adoption of those already born -- the affective bond does not "separate" -- because in fact such "separation" is prior to the affective bond -- but that it succeeds in making up for the original biological bond in no way must imply that when that bond is lacking, the biological bond must also be broken.

The biological bond generates inescapable responsibility. So does the affective bond. Moreover, there seems to be no proportion of equality between a case where the affective bond, which "is source" of the biological bond -- it would be more precise to say that it "supplies" -- contributes to the good of a personal human life and the other case in which, by eliminating both bonds, personal life is also eliminated.

There is no reciprocity, because it is not the same thing to do a good act as to do a bad act. The first means to increase the ontological weight of reality -- this is why the affective bond can, if made available, make up for the biological bond. The second is to deprive reality of a due good and, therefore, to impoverish it.

Q: If life, instead, is considered as a fundamental value -- because it is the condition of the same hierarchy of other human goods and a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to reach the specific end of man -- then the value of life can be commensurable in the line of principle. For example, one can give one's life for another, or one can give preference to fidelity to truth over the preservation of life. In this case, it is necessary to do all that is morally possible to save a person's life. Could prenatal adoption be considered within what is not morally possible, since the means to save that life are disproportionate, extraordinary and illegitimate?

A: Everything in regard to the question of frozen embryos is, from the beginning, in the realm of the disproportionate, the extraordinary and the illegitimate.

However, having understood this and seeking the least evil solution, it seems that, in the state in which they are in, there are means which are proportionate to save them in that state and, therefore, they must also be considered as "ordinary and legitimate," as they are the ones that can and must be applied.

In other words, the terms "disproportionate and extraordinary" are, in a certain sense, relative: For an embryo conceived and gestated in its biological mother's womb, it would be disproportionate and extraordinary to gestate it in another womb.

But for a frozen embryo that can be implanted in a womb which will allow its development, this can be proportionate and ordinary -- especially if there is someone who can "provide" that womb and "give order" to the poor embryo.

Moreover, it does not seem morally illegitimate to save a life that can be saved and it does seem illegitimate -- because of negligence -- not to save it when the conditions were there to do so.

Q: Does prenatal adoption transform the concept of maternity and filiation, inasmuch as it seems to legitimize the separation between the biological, affective and relational components of procreation?

A: Prenatal adoption does not legitimize the separation of the biological, affective and relational components of procreation. On the contrary: It assumes them and tries to make up for them when they are not there. This is because the embryonic child is received with self-giving love and openness in a community of life and love -- the family, which it does not upset but reaffirms.

The embryo has already been generated without the necessary bond of the biological, affective and relational components. It is an attempt to remedy that situation.

Q: Frozen embryos have not yet implanted in the womb and it is impossible to act in an ordinary way for them to do so, respecting the biological and anthropological relation between mother and child. Does this circumstance place them in a position that is analogous to that of embryos and fetuses that are miscarried?

A: The biological and anthropological relation between mother and child has already been tragically broken. Prenatal adoption tries to make that relation, to the degree possible, with another.

Moreover, the good implied in the biological and anthropological relation between mother and child is secondary in relation to the good of personal human life that the frozen embryo already has.

The only "ordinary" means that these embryos have in order to be able to attach [to a womb] is technical implantation. This implantation does not generate a new life -- and, therefore, this act does not commit an outrage against a dignity previously violated. It simply limits itself to help its development; it is, authentically, a mere therapy.

Moreover, there is an essential difference between the situation of these embryos and that of those miscarried: In the second case, there is no exercise of human freedom; in the first, there is. Those in the second case have not been able to implant; those in the first have been impeded from doing so. In the second case, human freedom can do nothing to avoid their death, in the first case it can -- and not to do so is negligence.

Q: According to natural moral law and Catholic morality, the only possibility for a woman to become pregnant is through the conjugal act. Prenatal adoption of cryopreserved embryos makes possible a pregnancy outside the context of the conjugal act. Would it be immoral?

A: In a normal situation, the beginning of pregnancy is the beginning of the life of a human being. In a normal situation, the pregnancy that follows the conjugal relation is the only licit way for the life of a human being to begin.

But in the case of cryopreserved embryos we are faced with an abnormal situation. The prenatal adoption of cryopreserved embryos does not imply the abolition of this principle; it is placed, rather, on another plane.

Human life has already begun in an illicit way. [In this case,] pregnancy is not dissociated from the conjugal act by the act of adoption; rather, it is already dissociated by the act of illicit artificial fertilization. The objection is valid if applied to artificial insemination, but it is not valid if applied to prenatal adoption as an extreme solution to the cryopreservation already effected.

The act of adoption is not done to dissociate pregnancy from the conjugal act, but to save an already conceived life, in which that dissociation has already taken place.

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Human Embryos, Reproduction, Bioethics

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