Yesterday, Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula, Interim President of Human Life International had an article published on Life Site News in which he attempted to defend his position that embryo adoption is inconsistent with correct Catholic teaching. The question of embryo adoption arises following the procedure known as in vitro fertilization.
What is in vitro fertilization (IVF)?
In vitro fertilization is a very expensive process undertaken by couples who are having trouble conceiving. The usual procedure is that some of the man’s sperm and the woman’s eggs will be taken and given to a laboratory. Multiple attempts will be made to effect an artificial conception, outside of the womb – in something the equivalent of petri dish. The result will be a number of zygotes that will be allowed to develop into embryos. Tests will be undertaken on the newly-created embryos to determine the health & future characteristics of a particular embryo, should it be chosen for implantation in the mother’s womb. The choice of which embryo to choose is often presented to the couple. It may take many many “IVF treatments” – these are required because often the implanted embryo will be rejected by the woman’s body, and she must come in and have another implantation in the hopes that this one would succeed. Remaining embryos remain frozen at the laboratory.
It is my position that IVF could only be moral if only one embryo was created and implanted. The fact is that this is not how IVF is done, and therefore it cannot be moral.
What is embryo adoption?
Embryo adoption is where a woman seeks to “adopt” an unused embryo that was left over from another couple’s IVF treatments. The desire to adopt an existing frozen embryo comes from the realization that the alternative is the destruction of the embryo, through either research or discarding. Either way, proponents & opponents of embryo adoption recognize that at stake is the life of a tiny but valuable human-being.
Msgr. Barreiro begins his article by presenting the recent statements of a Catholic professor and doctor with whom he disagrees,
“At a recent debate at Christendom College Prof. Dr. Janet Smith upheld the view that the adoption of embryos could be morally appropriate, in particular if it is undertaken outside the context of in-vitro fertilization. To be realistic, the cases where embryo adoption could be done outside this context are very limited, but that does not change the wrongful nature of embryo adoption itself.
Prof Smith stated that “If [embryo adoption] would come up outside of [the context of] the in-vitro situation, I think we would have an intuitively stronger sense of the possible goodness of this act.” However, it is not a question of intuition, but of logical analysis based on right reason and on the magisterium of the Catholic Church.
I hold Dr. Smith’s views that embryo adoption can be moral. The alternative must be considered. The alternative is the destruction of the embryo, through either passive or active means. Unused IVF embryos can be destroyed passively by allowing them to thaw out. They can be destroyed actively by being donated to laboratories so that they may research on the small humans, thereby killing them. Msgr. Barreiro’s position is almost certainly that passive destruction is permissible, whereas active destruction is not.
From a rational perspective it should be clear that embryo adoption is unnatural. It should be evident that God has given a womb to woman to receive and gestate her own children and not other embryos. There is a quantitative leap in the involvement of woman in the adoption of an already born child and adoption in the womb that leads to qualitative change in the involvement.
Firstly, we have an involvement that is physically external to her. In the second case we have an involvement that affects her internally in a marked way and as a consequence impedes her from gestating her own children.
It is clear that embryo adoption is unnatural. However next the author makes a leap in logic. Yes, it is evident that God has given women wombs that they may receive and gestate their own children. However it is not evident that God has given women wombs with a restriction on them receiving and gestating the children of others.
Barreiro then states the first of his two reasons for stating that the adoption of an embryo is qualitatively different from the adoption of a child that has been born. His first reason is that the adoption of an embryo takes place inside the woman, whereas the adoption of a child that has been born takes place outside the woman. This appeal to “environment” (i.e. in or out of the womb) is the same one that advocates of abortion make; and we refute it strongly. In and of itself, the location of the adopted child is therefore irrelevant. He goes on to back up his reasoning, stating that if a woman is gestating an adopted embryo, she is thereby physically unable to gestate her own embryo. However Catholic teaching permits natural family planning (NFP) for the purpose of spacing out children, so long as the intention is just. Who’s to say that a couple may not decide to allocate a spacing between two of their own children of say, four years, while they commit to adopting a frozen embryo?
Secondly, in the same way that a regular adoption of an already born child can be done only by married couples, it should be logical to request that an embryo should be adopted by a married couple. But here we have a problem. A woman does not have a right to use her body outside marriage because that will offend the marriage covenant that she has with her husband.
It has been argued that the husband can consent to his wife adopting in her womb, but he does not have the right to authorize his wife to use her body in such a fashion because this permission would be a modification of the marriage covenant. It constitutes a modification of the covenant because it infringes the mutual and exclusive right of the spouses to become a mother and father only through each other.
The Catholic Church has always taught a man and a woman are free to enter into marriage, but they do not have the right to modify the conditions of marriage or the nature of the marriage covenant.
Next Barreiro appeals to the Catholic teaching that embryo adoption is immoral because a husband does not have the right to authorize his wife to use her body for this purpose. He states that a couple voluntarily consenting to adopting an embryo would be violating their marriage covenant. The marriage covenant he refers to states that the two spouses have a mutual and exclusive right to become a mother and father only through each other. How then is the adoption of a child that has been born acceptable? Is the difference here that the woman’s body is used in one instance but not in the other?
I strongly disagree. In the instance of the adoption of a child that has been born, the new mother may use her body in countless ways to nurture and grow her new child. She may do this through breast-feeding, and the other physical exertions that come with raising a child.
Click here if you wish to read the last couple of paragraphs of the article which include a quote from the Instruction of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the Instruction Dignitas Personae of September 8th 2008. However nothing of substance is stated in this section that was not already covered in the first half of the article, reproduced above.
The position I have heard espoused by good Catholic friends is that ultimately, embryo adoption is wrong because the embryos should never have been created in the first place. They are right that the embryos should not have ever been created. What about an embryo conceived in rape? Should we seek to destroy the embryo inside the mother through abortion? This rape-conceived human-being was forcefully, and possibly unnaturally conceived, therefore surely the marriage covenant has been modified if the couple consent to carrying the child to term.
If Catholics are going to be consistent, they must either reject all forms of adoption (born and unborn), or they must accept all forms of adoption.
This post is not seeking to attack the Catholic Church or Catholics – it is instead critiquing a teaching of the Church – something I do within my own Church structure/doctrine.