Artificial Limbo: The Moral Quandary of Frozen Embryos
Modern man has spurned the teachings of the Church, has spurned the natural moral law
Were we to go to such cryopreservation facilities where the frozen human embryos are preserved, we would be confronted with a veritable man-made limbo. Thousands upon thousands of human embryos--live human souls trapped in their tiny frozen "body"--whose natural development has been suspended. One count has these poor frozen souls numbered at almost 400,000 in the United States alone. We confront a moral quandary before these tiny frozen humans: we do not clearly know what we can do with them.
However, this was not St. Thomas's view when it came to a wrongdoer. St. Thomas believed that a wrongdoer was not necessarily assured that he would not find himself in a moral dilemma. While in most cases a wrongdoer could escape those moral dilemmas caused by his prior wrongful acts, it was possible that, in a certain case, like a careless painter he could paint himself into a moral corner by his own prior acts.
If the wrongdoer faced such a moral dilemma, however he acted he would be condemned to sin. He would confront a Hobson's choice where neither option was good. He would therefore find himself morally perplexed. If he wanted to do good, he could not act. But not acting would not resolve the problem.
Modern man has put himself in what may be an irresolvable dilemma, one which even perplexes the Church.
With his technical prowess through his hubris morally unchecked, modern man has sinned against human life and the moral law that governs the procreative process. Instead of a "great 'yes' to human life," he has expressed a great 'no' to human life. He has murdered hundreds millions perhaps even a billions of his kind through direct abortion and the "contraceptive" techniques that are in fact abortions.
Modern man rejects the notion: "The Lord puts to death and gives life." (1 Sam. 2:6). For him it is man who puts to death when and how he wills. His instruments of killing have gotten small indeed, so that they reach the tiniest humans, violating them or poisoning them or their natural environment. Our mother's wombs have become killing fields.
Additionally, in engaging in all sorts of artificial conception techniques, specifically, those associated with in vitro fertilization, man has also dabbled in the black technical arts of "illegitimate spawning" to borrow words from Seamus Heaney's poem "Limbo."
Again, modern man rejects the notion: "The Lord puts to death and gives life." (1 Sam. 2:6). For him it is also man who gives life.
It is these latter sins that may have put modern man in an irresolvable moral dilemma. He may have painted himself into a moral corner. And in so doing he may have manufactured an artificial limbo where he has condemned hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of his kind.
The ordinary in vitro fertilization techniques require the production of a number of human embryos; many more embryos are produced than will eventually be born. Some of these embryos are frozen in liquid nitrogen--placed in cryopreservation--for future use in the event those embryos that are used do not successful result in the birth of a child.
The Church addresses the moral problems associated with in vitro fertilization in the instruction Dignitatis personae. For a variety of reasons, these techniques are found wanting because they violate the union between procreation and the conjugal act. Moreover, they offend against the dignity of the embryo.
The Church teaches that the "human embryo has . . . the dignity proper to a person." DP, 6. As a consequence, such cryopreservation "is incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos." DP, 18. Moreover, it is foreseeable that many of these embryos do not survive the process of initial freezing or the process of thawing once frozen.
Some, however, do survive the thawing process. And these are used in the medical procedures which, if effective, lead to the birth of a child. Once the couple's desires have been satisfied, however, there are often a great number of these embryos that remain in suspended animation while they are in cryopreservation. Like the fishermen at Ballyshannon in Seamus Heany's poem "Limbo," our moral nets have captured an "illegitimate spawning," small ones "thrown back to the waters," frozen waters to be sure.
The Church observes: "The majority of embryos that are not used remain 'orphans.' Their parents do not ask for them and at times all trace of the parents is lost. That is why there are thousands upon thousands of frozen embryos in almost all countries ...
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