"Frozen Embryos: Children on Hold"
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Anon wrote the following: “The subject of IVF was brought up among a group friends, and a moral question on bioethics emerged. What does the Church say we should do with all the frozen embryos already in existence?”
Here is an article written in 2001 by Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. As the Archbishop points out, the Church had not made an authoritative statement about the issue of frozen embryos as of ’01; as far as I know, that is still the case. If any bloggers have seen such a statement, please let me know. To view the Archbishop’s letter in full, please click on today’s title.
FROZEN EMBRYOS: Children on Hold
During the already cited congressional hearings concerning stem-cell research, John Borden stood before the panel with both his sons in his arms and asked, “Which one of my children would you kill?” John and his wife, Lucinda, unable to have children of their own adopted frozen embryos that were “left over” from in vitro fertilization. Their striking testimony demonstrated that embryos are human beings in an early stage of development and therefore should not be sacrificed for embryonic stem-cell research.
The action of this couple and many others raises the question, “What should be done with the frozen embryos?” Dr. Edward Furton of the National Catholic Bioethics Center published a fine article recently: “On the Disposition of Frozen Embryos.” The Church has not taken an official stand on what should be done. It is clear that in vitro fertilization is not an ethical practice. Nevertheless, the children born of this process are human beings, with the full rights and dignity of all members of the human family, and the frozen embryos produced are human and need to be respected as such.
The most acceptable solution for the disposition of these embryos is that they be implanted in their mother’s womb and brought to term. This is the best option in a highly ambiguous situation since the embryos should not have been created in the first place.
If the parents of the embryos are unable or unwilling to implant the embryo in the mother’s womb, what can be done with the frozen embryos? Moralists are beginning to debate this question. Theologians of the status of Dr. William May and Dr. Germain Grisey and Dr. John Furton, editor of Ethics & Medics of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, are of the opinion that it is preferable to place the frozen embryos up for adoption rather than to let them perish in a frozen gulag. Other moralists hesitate to countenance this approach because of the problem of surrogate motherhood. Nevertheless, we agonize over the predicament of these embryos. It is similar to the Church’s pastoral response to children born out of wedlock. While the Church cannot approve the circumstance of their birth since the children have already come into being, the Church must be concerned about their spiritual and material welfare.
No one wants to encourage in vitro fertilization in any way; yet, there is a desire to rescue these innocent human beings that are in the words of Donum Vitae: “exposed to an absurd fate, with no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival that can be licitly pursued” (D.V. I.5). We are hopeful that in the near future the Holy See will offer some authoritative pronouncements on this very complicated issue…
The Church’s teaching on in vitro fertilization is very clear and quite consistent with the Church’s teachings on marriage, on the dignity of the human person, and on the life ethic. A lack of knowledge about the ethical implications of this procedure has resulted in many couples having recourse to in vitro fertilization and has given further impetus to public support for embryonic stem-cell research.
St. Paul once commented that people will not respond to an uncertain trumpet blast. I assure you there is nothing uncertain about the Church’s teaching on in vitro fertilization. We have only to turn up the volume of the trumpet.