Tuesday, June 22, 2010

IVF, and what to do with "excess" embryos.....

A few of the bloggers have broached the difficult subject of in vitro fertilization recently, and I am glad they did. It needs to be talked about. People today are oblivious to the fact that there might be any moral problem with it at all ("Hey, we want a baby, so we will do whatever it takes to get one" is the mentality), and yet it is a moral quagmire!

Imagine the wrenching dilemma of a faithful Catholic priest who is asked by a contrite couple what to do with their many frozen embryos left in limbo after IVF. Embryos which the wife is unable carry to term, and which the couple cannot afford to keep frozen. Here is an excerpt from an article by a priest in our diocese, Fr. Pete Rossa, who faced this very dilemma:
One Sunday morning I was approached by a married couple who wanted me to meet their beautiful twins. The couple was elated that after many attempts to conceive they finally had received twin gifts from God. Still, they were troubled. After a few minutes they revealed that their twins were conceived through multiple attempts at in vitro fertilization; they loved both children and beheld them with pride and joy.

Not until after their children were born did the couple discover that every human embryo is a child according to the Church. They now faced terrible new dilemmas; their first dilemma was that “selective reduction” was utilized so that their twins would survive-- an abortion had occurred. And, without knowing, they incurred excommunication. Their second dilemma was that the wife no longer could carry children to term; yet they had 15 embryos in a cryobank. They didn’t know what to do and asked me for advice. Their strong desire for children led them down an unexpected slippery slope. They felt trapped. They are not alone in their quandary: In 2002, more than 400,000 embryonic children were being stored in the cryobanks in the United States, according to a Rand Corporation study.

The couple I spoke with that Sunday also mentioned that they had suffered severe financial difficulties because of the extreme cost of the multiple in vitro procedures but wouldn’t relent on their need to pay the storage fees as they couldn’t abandon their embryonic children. They were experiencing severe financial difficulties due to the debt they incurred. They expressed concern that if they declared bankruptcy or were unable to pay the storage fees, they wouldn’t be able to live with themselves; they might have to cease paying the storage fees and lose what remaining control they had over the rest of the frozen human embryos.

Physical, economic, spiritual and moral torture is what they were experiencing.
To find out what Fr. Rossa ultimately told them, and to read a deep and detailed analysis of the role IVF in the present Culture of Death, read the whole article here. It is long, but it is so important. Nobody seems to know this or speak of it (outside the Catholic bubble), yet it's a situation that needs to come screaming into the light!

You know, it always astonishes me that even pro-life Christians, who know that life begins at conception, will go the IVF route and not seem to have any problems with producing dozens of embryos (their children!) and then disposing of them. Can someone help me with that? Is it just a mental block? I really want to understand it, because it troubles me greatly.


  1. Fantastic Post! Let this discussion begin NOW. Yes, it is only in the Catholic Bubble that anyone seems to remotely care. We just can not use/dispose of someone in order to create another. It seems so clear that this is immoral and yet, because people desire children so much (as they should) they overlook this.
    Part of the discussion needs to be: women simply need to have children earlier. Our materialistic culture has played a role in delaying family life which in turn has created this quagmire.

  2. Thanks for the link! I've had a situation lately where a new friend is trying to come to terms with IF and yet reconcile the true gift of her children! It's been a difficult journey for them, to say the least.

    I think Russell Moore put it best in ADopted for Life when he counseled a couple considering IVF, "Are you looking to preserve your genetic DNA or do you want children?" AMEN to that!! (I'm doing a book review of his book on Friday.)

  3. The reason people do IVF is because the desire for children outweighs everything else (as sad as that is!)

    And wow, how sad that the couple you mention now has to decide what to do with their babies!

    Have you heard of embryo adoption? I think that is the answer some Catholics may give about what to do with the frozen embryos. However, this option is very controversial and the church does not have a specific teaching on it (and in my opinion, I don't think they ever will due to how the embryos were created.)

    After I researched this option for myself, I really don't think it's the right thing to do. We believe embryos are life, so who is to say that "being born" is better?

    We have a friend in our "bubble" who is due very soon with twins via embryo adoption. (And a side note- of course I will love these children despite disagreeing with how they were brought into the world.) Anyway, as a result, many of us have had deep discussions about this very topic. There are many things you have to consider about this option- supporting IVF clinics to do it, the embryos dying during transfer/thawing...just to name a few.

    I also spoke with the spiritual director at PPIV and was given some great insight which further helped me realize this was not the way to go. Anyway, I know there are some grand philosophical reasons in favor of embryo adoption. However, I think our responsibility as Catholics is to teach people about how IVF is wrong before the embryos are even created in this way.

  4. Mark and I talked about that, too. Isn't it interesting how people proclaim to accept whatever God sends their way, but when it's IF they choose to cheat? I have a friend who can't have children due to the choice her husband made before marrying her (and faild to mention it to her until 3 days before the wedding) She researched IVF and said that everything from the way the sperm is obtained to the way the embrios are treated is an abomination to God. I personally can't vouch for myself. What if I couldn't have children? What if it was I who cried day after day pleading God for a child to love only to hear 'no'? I don't think I would be strong enough. So, I am not judging. I am simply longing for a world without sin

  5. I’m in a rush and will write more about this topic later, but Olya . . .
    look to the right sidebar. You’ll see a lot women who longed to be mothers for years. Most now are, but there are a few of us left still struggling (myself included). Almost all could fill Olympic-sized pools with the tears that have been shed over the years and the desperation for children is something you cannot explain, but most of these ladies made the choice that babies “at any cost” was not an option. You’re always stronger than you think you are (I never thought I would survive some of this) especially when you stay close to God.

  6. Great post! Part of the issue is that there aren't enough doctors doing the NAPRO type treatment of infertility and there isn't enough information on non-ART forms of infertility treatment know by the general public. Ditto what Ann replied to Olya.

  7. I love what Ann said too...I know for me and 7 years of IF that it's been my strength from God that has kept me realizing that my life is wonderful and purposeful without children. If and when a child does come into our lives it will be so amazing and wonderful for we'll know through our prayerful waiting...this is the child God planned for us!

    As what to do with the frozen embryo's no one wants? I have no idea. That is the sad part of all of this. These little people are waiting...in frozen time. Actually, it's sickening. Maybe these couples who do this need to give birth to their babies themselves and if they can't take care of them...put them up for adoption. Afterall, they chose to make these children with their dr's. For another woman to adopt and give birth to the embryo's would mean a lot of injections, etc...which I think is much harder than adopting a baby that is already born and in need of a home. Just my thoughts.

    I also am thinking about that couple in that article...they knew what they were doing was wrong by the church...they did it anyways...and now they want the church to help them fix the "problem" they created! WTHeck?

    I'm so thankful to our Good Lord that we never considered taking the route of I.vf. Amen.

  8. All of you wonderful ladies are obviously much stronger then I am. I admire you for that! May God bless you in your pursuit of children!

  9. Thanks for this post. As someone who has dealt with if and miscarriage, and now work with fertility care and napro, I am always looking for rationale for my clients and acquaintances. Unfortunately, we live in a fast food society and ivf is the fast food version that seems very tempting. Thanks again.

  10. Great post and great article. And like the article stated, not a lot is taught about IVF and why it is against Catholic teaching. And I only recently learned about Napro after 3 1/2 years of IF. Even my dad, a devout Catholic physician has never heard of Napro. I'm just getting my feet wet learning about Creighton and already I can't wait to shout about it from the rooftops!! Maybe this is one of God's purposes for those of us who face IF: to help others become informed...and of course you Leila, for keeping us informed! Thanks!

  11. I have seen at least one article, on MSN I think, about what to do with left over embryos. It is finally being talked about (a little) outside the bubble. When I was first learning about the Catholic faith, I did not find anything wrong with it. It was a means to an end. Now I know how flawed my thinking was.

    In trying to figure out what to do with left over embryos, I've heard about the embryo adoption. Some people just thaw them and discard like garbage, others keep them frozen, and others have them implanted when they know there's no way the embryo can implant.

    God bless these little babies.

  12. I’d like to introduce myself first – hi, bloggers, I’m another lurker coming from the shadows! I feel very passionately (though I’m not near as vocal as Sew) about infertility and treatments and had to break my “observer status” when embryo adoption was brought up.

    I am a convert who accidentally “stole” my husband from the seminary. Discussing theology, especially bioethics and moral theology, is a passion for both of us. Who can argue with the logic of the Church! A little back story, though we’ve never received a 100% positive diagnosis from doctors, it appears that my husband suffers from azoospermia (in his case, not just the absence of living sperm, but no sperm at all). Though we sing the praises of NaPro Technology, there’s nothing they can do for us at this point. This informal diagnosis coupled with the knowledge that my husband is active duty Army (meaning we’ll move at the whim and fancy of our government) drove us to specifically pursue embryo adoption.

    I originally tried addressing some issues brought up by some earlier commenters and in the linked article. I tend to be verbose on this topic and decided not to hijack Leila’s blog. Instead, I’ll be moderately brief here and then go hog-wild on my own livejournal. Feel free to hop over there if you’d like more healthy debate on embryo adoption (just know I might not get my monologue posted there until this evening).

    Father Rossa, in the linked article, states that “…scandal results from the necessary formal and material cooperation required for the birth of cryogenically frozen children.” I must ask, what does he mean by formal and material cooperation? In IVF, the evil act is the very manner in which each embryo is created. Also, the freezing of all “leftover embryos” is likewise immoral.

    However, embryo adoption cooperates with neither of these acts. An adoptive couple, depending on their path to EA, works with the industry, but they are in no way responsible for or even encouraging the creation of such embryos. And the very act of adopting the embryos and thawing them for transfer removes the embryos from their frozen stasis. Would one agree that landowners who bought slaves for the sole purpose of granting these slaves their freedom worked with the slave industry, but were guilty of no sin?

    It is interesting to note that the Snowflake Embryo Adoption program, run by Nightlight Christian Adoptions, openly states on its website that they hope to do themselves out of a job. They hope to place all remaining embryos and for there to no longer be a need for embryo adoption. Isn’t the latter our goal too? That there no longer be a need for embryo adoption because our culture has been so radically changed?

  13. Olya, these ladies are strong indeed. When I was single and told I might be infertile, I remember thinking, "Well, I will do anything to have a child, so I will do IVF if necessary!" Not so strong. I was a very weak Catholic back then, by the way, barely practicing. Even though I thought I was very devout. I think I knew even then, though, that there would be no "extra" embryos to dispose of, because I knew that was killing my own children.

    armywife, I am so pleased you came out of lurkdom! I totally see your point, and my understanding is that the Church does not yet have an official position on embryo adoption. I personally wish they would approve it, as it seems such a loving thing to do, and I know of children who are growing and thriving who would otherwise be in frozen limbo hell, or dead now.

    I use the term "moral quagmire" for a reason... IVF has brought us so many unexpected issues and difficulties, on so many levels. I have a friend who was a 36 year old single woman who wanted to save a child through embryo adoption (and wanted a child before she was too old) but did not want to do anything immoral. She asked our pastor (who eventually went to Rome and is now the diocesan moral theologian on bioethics). At the time, he seemed to be against her doing the adoption. As a single woman, the pregnancy could look scandalous to the outside world, frankly, and that is not something to sneeze at (it's not like she could have explained to everyone, including children, that she had adopted an embryo, etc.). Also, there is obviously a moral problem with surrogacy in general, and surrogacy for hire (and I know that is not what embryo adoption is, but it can get blurry). Also, the placing of another woman's (and man's) genetic child into an unrelated woman's womb is another issue that could be thorny to moral theologians.

    My personal preference would be to allow the adoptions to go ahead. I want those babies to have a chance to live their lives! Right now, the Church has not declared it one way or another, so that's my official stance. I do worry that if the wider culture starts to see embryo adoption as more and more "normal" (and not just as an extreme way to save a life) then it will make IVF more entrenched, since all objections to the killing of embryos will be gone... since they can be adopted anyway. I don't know if that makes sense, ack! It does in my mind, but maybe not in the written word.....

    I look forward to your post on your blog! Thank you for what you are doing, and God bless your babies! :)
    You are literally a lifesaver!

    And to Stacy, I am so glad you are out there, doing what you are doing!!!

  14. Hello
    I am a lurker.

    I have learned much in the past 3 years - about my Catholic faith and my lack of catechesis. I believe that we have not been taught what we should have and that we have at least 2 generations of Catholics who simply do not know.
    I will give you an example and ask that you not judge us too harshly. In 2004 when child #2 was 18 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had diagnosis on Monday, surgery on Tuesday and Friday met with the oncologist. chemotherapy started on Monday. In the whirlwind of all that took place in that week. We were encouraged by many (Catholics - that are active on their faith walk) to do sperm banking (SB) to give our son the chance to have children later in life. We had offers to pay for the SB and in our ignorance we had our son store his sperm before the first chemo.

    In Nov 2007 we were at a Christopher West conference and we had an ah-ha moment - an awakening !! Not only had we committed a sin -we forced our son to commit a sin. We talked with our son about this and agreed not to continue the payments for the SB. Now I realize that this is not the same as embryo's but there is that concern about what happened to his sperm when we stopped paying - it doesn't get sent back to him - could an unethical person use it in some way? So there is our dilemma. About a year ago I was talking to one of the people that encouraged us to "protect our son's future" by SB. I had to explain that the only way to use our son's sperm was IVF - she honestly did not understand until that moment what it meant to SB she did know that IVF is wrong. We are educated people (intelligent - I think) both this woman and I are nurses. My husband is a convert to the Catholic Faith and is an ordained Deacon in the Catholic church. we should surely have known these things but it took the Christopher West conference to open our eyes. I have spent the past 3 years doing
    everything I can to learn my faith in a way I should have years ago.
    I want to Thank You (and so many of the women I have been blog-lurking on) I have learned so much from you in a very short time. I have more to say but will stop now.

  15. Wow Leila,
    How great are you to bring this up? This is such an important topic, especially in our culture and clearly you (and these amazing women) are God's instrument of spreading the truth!
    Regarding embryo adoption:
    I know this topic is intensely debated right now, even amongst faithful catholic theologians and philosophers. They even disagree about what the church has taught on this subject (ref: Dignitas Personae).
    My personal hesitation regarding adoption of embryos has to do with the fact that it necessarily involves making a woman pregnant in a way other than through the conjugal act with her husband. Maybe I could explain further in a later post when I have more time.
    Thank you again for giving so much to our blog world.
    God bless you!

  16. Great post!!
    I swear...in the 2.5+ years that my husband and I have been TTC, we have been asked far too many times about IVF, some from non-Catholics and more astonishing, some Catholics also! I think that people become desperate and are willing to try anything.

    I have never ever thought of the whole embryo adoption issue before. It makes me so sad that with IVF comes this issue also! I'm really enjoying hearing the comments and looking forward to doing a bit of research on my own! If I find anything worthwhile I will definitely share!!

    Also, Bonnie the lurker ;)
    What an amazing testimony! Thanks for sharing!!

  17. Bonnie, I hope you stay out of lurkdom, because I love what you have to offer! Thank you for putting that out there, and I also hope and pray that your son is free of cancer today!

    It is so true that we need to be knocked upside the head sometimes to finally have that lightbulb go off. I guess it's called grace, right? Ha! I know that Christopher West has been the source of the aha moment for so many. God bless him!

    I really appreciate everyone's comments here. You guys are the best, and I learn and grow so much from you.

  18. It just goes to show that motherhood is so important. I've said it a lot the past few days, where are these people's mother? Did she teach them anything? (Obvisouly, I know we are all beings with free will, I get it.)

    I haven't spent much time thinking about embryo adoption but it still brings forth life that does not involve the martial act, so it's obvious that if you can't do IVF then you sure a hell can't do embryo adoption.

    These parents are quickly understanding that they have other baby's frozen, but they are still life. Goes back to women are the protectors and nuturers of new life.

    A freezer for a child is much different and much more cruel then a womb. I'm seeing a stark difference between good and evil here.

    It doesn't take much, it just takes a few moments of time out to start to see under the viel....

    Women, people, need to start taking responsibility for their actions.

    I'm not sure where I read this story and I'm not sure if I have it all right...But the "jist" of it is this...It might be on Catholic Answers.

    A little girl who was conceived during IVF woke up in the middle of the night as a young girl I'm assuming 5-6 years old with a nightmare. Ran into her mothers room and said Mommy I had a bad dream that my brothers and sisters were stuck in a freezer. How haunting is that....

    Olyna-You have a mother's heart, I assure you it is in your instinct to want to give your children the best life before they were even born and protect them at all costs. Putting them in a freezer is not a mother's heart, but a selfish means to an end that never has an ending. I know you believe that God is the worker of miracles and if He can raise em from the dead honey He can make the barren, fertile. It's all His plan for our lives, not our own plan. :)

    Bonnie-Rock it girl! That's a story of redemption! I can't imagine the fear that shook your world! ;) We are all proof He makes all things new....And now you have a great story to tell that witness's against protecting life on all levels! ;)

  19. And I'm wondering the internal consequences of when these children get older. Will they feel like they were a possession and how will that make them rebel or act? Maybe some of them will feel that way, maybe not all of them.

    But I'm reading that IVF babies have lower fertility then naturally conceived babies. And if that is the fact then we have already made it okay for them to pursue IVF as well since they were a product of it...

    The sins of the mother....

  20. I agree with everything everyone has said about IVF, but I thought I'd contribute my $.02 on EA that often gets lumped into the category of "just like IVF" because it goes around the conjugal act to achieve a baby. However, this is a topic I have wrestled with for a long time and a topic about which I have read extensively. There is a really great book that is unfortunately very expensive to purchase, but if you are able to go to a university library you can get since it is technically an ethics textbook. It is called "The Ethics of Embryo Adoption and the Catholic Tradition: Moral Arguments, Economic Reality, Social Analysis (Philosophy and Medicine / Catholic Studies ... Medicine / Catholic Studies in Bioethics)". This book is 50/50 for and against articles by Catholic theologians.
    Also I wanted to address the argument against EA because it achieves pregnancy outside of the marital act. However, these little embryos are already conceived and there is no way at this point for them to survive without a mother's womb to grow in. So yes it allows a pregnancy to be achieved without the conjugal act and obviously it is unnatural, just as it is unnatural for a baby conceived naturally and grown in a womb to be separated from his biological mother in traditional adoption, but if his/her biological mother is unfit to parent or unwilling to parent it is the most loving thing to let that child be adopted. As I see it in EA, these little babies deserve all the dignity and respect that a fully-grown person deserves and for them not to be given a chance to thrive and grow because they were created immorally and because their biological mother is willing to cheat them of the opportunity to grow in her womb, I think is very wrong. I understand that there are other moral issues and "gray" areas in the transfer process for EA. However, if all of that were fixed, a cogent argument can be made that EA respects the dignity of the embryo more so than letting them die in a freezer and that the act of EA if done for the right reasons by the adoptive parents is an act of great sacrificial love.

    Also, while it is important to see how these little ones turn out in the long run, I don't think that should fit into the debate on whether or not they should be given a chance at life through EA (though I think Sew was referring just to IVF, but just thought I'd clarify). I'm afraid if we consider how there is a potential for the kids to turn out badly, organizations like Planned Parenthood would love to chime in with how badly traditionally adopted children could potentially turn out. I have a feeling that kids growing up in a house through IVF, the parents are of a different mindset than those growing up having been adopted through EA.

    Ok there you have it, my $.02. :)

  21. http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/cdfdigpersbio.htm

    Dignitas Personae-Embryo Adoption

    The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;38 this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

    It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of "prenatal adoption". This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.

    All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore John Paul II made an "appeal to the conscience of the world's scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of 'frozen' embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons".39

  22. I appreciate everyone's comments SO much! Adrienne, do you know if that book was published before or after
    Dignitas Personae?

  23. Adreienne I'm not trying to be a smart A$$ by just posting that and running....I really need to get off this computer. ;) hahahaha

    Yes, I get where I was talking out my butt about the consequences these children might feel when they grow up etc...It's like saying if a child is abused it was better off dead. I get that's a bold face lie. ;) So just ignore me on that!! ;) hahaha

  24. Dignitas Personae was publically released on December 12, 2008. I was in the middle of writing a formal "defense of embryo adoption" when the document came out.

    Rather than rewrite what I've already posted on my livejournal, I'd like to just point you in that direction. If you look at my June 22, 2010 entry titled "Embryo Adoption Reruns" and click on "defense of EA, part II" you'll be taken directly to my response to the objections raised in Dignitas Personae (and quoted by Sew).

    However, if you're so inclined, you can read "part I" too - this discusses common objections like surrogacy, scandal, and so forth.

    There are a few topics that have been brought up by commenters and in Fr. Rossa's article that I haven't already addressed. I have a rough draft written and perhaps today I'll actually get it posted!

  25. The way I understand it is that the Church doesn't yet have a resolution the issue of EA. I am torn on it too but lean more closely for allowing EA than against it. If a child is conceived say due to a one-night stand or even rape, we would not hesitate to say that while the act that resulted in the child's conception was wrong, the child now needs and deserves to live and be raised in a loving home. And even though sex outside marriage may appear to have the same "form" as the marital act I would not say that supporting a single mother in need or child conceived in such a way etc would somehow confuse or degrade the dignity of the marital act or marriage itself. This is where I get stuck in the thinking... b/c while EA does resemble surrogacy and has a lot of the "baggage" of IVF, I am not sure that "saving" a baby through EA would necessarily be the same as "supporting" surrogacy or the IVF industry.

    It also gets confusing as a pro-lifer to basically be insisting that all children have a right to be born (if they can be) and then say we're not sure if some embryos should be born. Just hurts my head, even though I know there are legitimate reasons to question EA.

    Just thinking out loud here, not really decided or even "smart enough" to make a final decision yet.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Leila! I have friends who went through IVF (Protestant Christians). When I asked why, I received a very complex answer about the science of fertilization that I couldn't even begin to repeat. The only saving grace in the situation was that they refused to do elective abortion or throw out their frozen embryos.

    And here's where EA gets tricky for me personally.. their "solution" to not throwing their embryos out was to allow someone to adopt them. THAT I think is wrong... creating embryos with that *intent.*

  26. Leila, to answer your question-no. There is no one who can help you understand the logic behind being "pro-life" and pro IVF because a rationalization for it does not exsist. You are too faithful and reasonable to ever accept any explanation that someone might throw you.

    Great convo folks! :)

  27. Regardless of what some Catholic theologians say the Church's position on EA is, the portion of Dignitias Personae Sew quoted that directly relates to EA doesn't seem to offer any wiggle room at all, even in light of the many well made defenses against it. Moreover, the Vatican website makes crystal clear the authority of Dignitas Personae and how it is to be received by Catholics:

    "The document is an Instruction of a doctrinal nature, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and expressly approved by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The Instruction therefore falls within the category of documents that “participate in the ordinary Magisterium of the successor of Peter” (Instruction Donum veritatis, n.18), and is to be received by Catholics “with the religious assent of their spirit” (Dignitas personae, n. 37)."

    Link: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20081212_sintesi-dignitas-personae_en.html

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. Dear TXNArmyWife:

    I write to you with a heavy heart. I have read your refutations to the objections listed in DP on your blog/livejournal.

    Unfortunately, your analysis is illogical and incorrect and as a result your conclusion to pursue embryo adoption and publicly defend it is actually scandalous.

    How could you claim (as you do in your post) that you are neither an "infertile couple seeing treatment for infertility" OR a "couple seeking to adopt an embryo?" You and your husband, according to what you have written, fall into BOTH categories -- both of which are explicitly forbidden from EA. (you are working with an adoption agency AND your husband has azoospermia ... am I missing something?)

    You have not dealt with the fundamental problem with embryo adoption. Please explain how you are any different than a surrogate mother. It is morally irrelevant whether you went through an adoption agency and their rigorous home study process, or merely walked into a clinic and swiped your credit car. These are peripheral issues that do NOT touch upon the fundamental problem with embryo adoption. (which deserves its OWN post).

    The Church (via the CDF) has spoken definitively on this and did not leave the door open even a tiny bit. Please re-read the document with more of an open mind.

    And by the way, I wish I was wrong on this, I really do. I'd be the FIRST girl in line as an infertile Catholic who, like yourself, Napro has been unable to help thus far.

    I have SO much more to say on this (as my husband and I have prayed extensively and researched this as well ...) but don't have the time.

    Thanks for the discussion and I pray that my comments have not offended but been a source of challenge and enlightenment.

  30. I think that our starting point for this whole discussion should be right at the beginning. How should we view our fertility and the powers of our womb in light of our beautiful Catholic faith?

    "Implicit in the proposal of those who argue in favor of embryo adoption is the idea that a woman has the right to offer her own body, her womb, to gestate an embryo. Yet a woman does not really have this putative right to turn over her procreative powers to an extrinsic embryo in this way since those powers do not belong to her alone, or even to her and her husband alone, but to their marital union, the essential properties of which are outside the determination of the participants. Looked at from a theological perspective, married life in its procreative potential involves three -- husband, wife, and God -- and the structure that God has written into our bodies of the man and the woman and into their shared communion must objectively inform the analysis of the question of embryo adoption. So there is a special kind of self-giving implied in a woman's fertility and in her nurturing capacity through pregnancy. Embryo adoption, I would argue, violates the language of a woman's body, because the very mode of self giving written into her body becomes subverted as she dissociates pregnancy from marital self donation. Her embodied feminine receptivity is reoriented and disturbed at a fundamental level in embryo adoption." -- Tadeusz Pacholczyk (Priest and Dr.)

    Put another way (in plain English and these are my summations) ... according to God's plan as revealed through the Theology of the Body, our fertility is a gift which is intrinsically linked to the complete and total gift of self in the marital embrace. It is this self donation that is at the heart of the marital act. One spouse says to the other, "I give myself to you. All of me." It is up to God whether or not to create life in this act, but He has - in His sovereignty - woven the two elements together in a way that our bodies actually and physically speak.

    What does the wife give to her husband when an embryo is implanted in her womb? In fact, not only does she not give herself to him, he does not need him to be anywhere around whatsoever.

    And what does the husband give of himself to the wife in embryo adoption? Again, nothing is needed of him. He is excluded.

    In fact, embryo adoption, I would argue, first and foremost violates the marital union because it does not allow for a gift of self from one spouse to the other. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons it is wrong but that is the primary and fundamental reason.

    It should be noted that Fr. Tad's point of view is consistent with the Theology of the Body and provides a clear explanation for the clear language and authoritative prohibition in DP but is not binding authority like the DP is.

    I hope this is helpful. Sorry for the long comment.

  31. I think it can be misleading to call it adoption because one naturally assumes if its an adoption, it must be okay.

    To be precise, the correct term to use in this discussion is actually "heterologous embryo transfer" and not "embryo adoption" but it has, for some reason, come to be known more widely as "embryo adoption." (and is referred to as such in DP). It should also be noted, as an aside, that there are NO laws in the US that consider these embryo transfers as adoptions whatsoever. In embryo transfer, contracts are drafted between the gestational mother and genetic mother whereby the embryo is referred to as property.

    One final thought and this is really what it boils down to: Similar to the way in which I have just hijacked Leila's blog, with embryo transfer, one is hijacking the procreative powers of gestation meant by God to be reserved for the one flesh union of marriage.

  32. First, to respond to GIMH and LH, the US Catholic Bishops clearly declare that no official ruling has been passed regarding embryo adoption. Their Q/A on Dignitas Personae states: “Proposals for the “adoption” of abandoned or unwanted frozen embryos are also found to pose problems, because the Church opposes the use of gametes or bodies of others who are outside the marital covenant for reproduction. The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them.” http://www.usccb.org/comm/Dignitaspersonae/Q_and_A.pdf

    Second, in all matters of bioethics it is absolutely necessary to engage in semantics – precise wording is of utmost importance. It is entirely relevant how the embryos are acquired, whether via embryo adoption or embryo donation. Dignitas Personae, written in 2008, does not distinguish between embryo adoption and embryo donation. However, Life Giving Love in an Age of Technology, written in 2009 by the US Council of Bishops, does distinguish between the two.

    Life Giving Love first asks “How does the use of donors and surrogates in trying to have a child raise a moral problem?” And then it answers: “Some approaches to infertility clearly violate the integrity of the marital relationship. These introduce third parties to fulfill essential aspects of parenthood, by using eggs or sperm or even embryos from “donors” (who are often paid, and therefore more accurately described as vendors), or even by making use of another woman’s womb to carry the couple’s child. The latter practice is sometimes known as surrogate motherhood, though this woman acts the way any mother would throughout pregnancy and then must relinquish the child to the couple who hired her.” (p. 5 of the document)

    And yet on p. 11, the document asks “What about embryo adoption?” The response, while underscoring the serious moral concerns, does not declare EA illicit, as it clearly does with embryo donation and surrogacy. “ ‘Embryo adoption’ refers to having an abandoned embryo transferred to the uterus of a woman willing to gestate this child to save his or her life. Many have asked whether this might be a legitimate way for conscientious couples to respond, in a potentially life-affirming way, to the terrible problem of thousands of abandoned embryos at IVF clinics in the United States. However, serious moral concerns have been raised about embryo adoption, particularly as it requires the wife in the adopting couple to receive into her womb an embryonic child who was not conceived through her bodily union with her husband. The Church’s teaching authority has acknowledged the moral concerns associated with this practice. The terrible plight of abandoned frozen embryos underscores the need for our society to end practices such as IVF that regularly produce so many “spare” or unwanted human beings.” http://www.usccb.org/lifegivinglovedocument.pdf And, since semantics are so important in bioethics, let me once again reiterate that “problematic” does not equal “immoral” and “moral concerns” does not translate to “illicit act”.

  33. LH asserts that any procreation outside the marital act is illicit.

    How does one define “procreate”? Donum Vitae states that all procreation outside of marriage is illicit. However, at the time of writing (1987-1988), separating conception from gestation was largely hypothetical. And yet here we are today. I agree completely with DV – procreation outside the marital embrace is illicit. However, I would go one step further and distinguish between conception and gestation. If possible, I would clarify the quote from DV to state that all fertilizations outside the womb are illicit. Most embryos up for adoption at Nightlight have been frozen for three to seven years. We are physically distant from the act of conception/fertilization. How can one claim that we are active participants in such an act?

    Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, states in “On the Moral Objectionability of Human Embryo Adoption” that “embryo adoption indeed opens her womb to an embryo produced by strangers, and I would posit that such an action illicitly invokes her procreative powers apart from a marital act with her husband.” Aren’t procreative powers used in creating a new life? In EA, however, that new life has already been created. It is indeed a shame that we are of such a day and age that a distinction between conception and gestation is necessary. Nonetheless, we cannot deny the advances in reproductive technologies which have made such a distinction necessary. My womb alone is not procreative. If so, many, many sterile women would be deemed capable of procreative acts merely because they have a womb that is hospitable to embryonic life. And yet we know that is not true. A hospitable womb will never of its own accord generate a human life.

    John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, similarly stated in the December 28, 2008 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, “When a couple marry, they place at the disposal of one another the capacity each has for engendering new life. This exchange is mutual, personal and exclusive. Achieving “pregnancy” through any other means violates the integrity of this marital union.” While these sentences are the hingepoint for his argument against EA, I would use them as an occasion to once again show the distinction between EA and other ART. For starters, we are not “engendering” a new life, we are providing a home for a previously created embryo. Conception outside the womb clearly violates the marital union – adoption or gestation do not. Furthermore, nothing that we’re doing is promoting such a creation. We did not contract with a couple actively pursuing IVF. None of our money will go to reimburse the genetic parents. The fertility clinic will only be paid for the transfer. How can one assert that adoptive parents are at fault for the conception?

  34. One more quick link. The National Catholic Bioethic Center posted a short debate between two of its ethicists on embryo adoption following the release of Dignitas Personae. Both pro/con EA are addressed briefly. It's an interesting read:


    More tomorrow! Sleep well, blogging world!

  35. The UCSSB says this:

    "Proposals for “adoption” of abandoned or unwanted frozen embryos are also found to pose problems, because the Church opposes use of the gametes or bodies of others who are outside the
    marital covenant for reproduction. The document raises cautions or problems about these
    new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them."

    The highest doctrinal agency of the Church says this:

    "The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood; this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature."

    I would submit that the USCCB's interpretation is completely at odds with the clear teaching of Dignitas Personae. It shouldn't be quickly overlooked that the USCCB simply does not have the teaching authority of the Vatican.

    For the USCCB Q&A document to be an accurate interpretation of DP, one must either disregard the statement in DP that the use of embryos by infertile couples is "not ethically acceptable" and that is a "situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved" -- a teaching that is to be received by Catholics with the "religious assent of their spirit" OR honestly believe that the Vatican's instruction that it is "not ethically acceptable" does not constitute a "definitive judgment" against it.

    DP's reliance on JPII's quote that "there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of 'frozen' embryos," while not a warm and fuzzy answer, could not be more clear on this issue.

    Ultimately, the Church says what it says. After Vatican II, lots of folks got advice from their parish priests that birth control was still okay despite what the Church teaches on the matter. Likewise, we've got to be able to rely on what the Church, and not the USCCB, teaches here.

  36. For embryo transfer to be licit, it must be true that gestation plays no morally significant role whatsoever in the process of procreation.

    While it is certainly true that embryos have, in a sense, already been "created," the mixing of sperm and egg in a lab is a necessary but not sufficient act of procreation. (If it were sufficient, we wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place.) The entire reason we are having this discussion is precisely because the embryo needs a womb. Pregnancy is this process. Now, because of IVF- pregnancy has been severed from the marital act. That was the first evil. This is agreed upon.

    As we know from the Theology of The Body, a wife cannot become "mother" outside of her husband. Here JP2 is referring to biological or gestational mother.

    If it were as simple to divorce the moral dimensions of conception from gestation (they are intrinsically linked to one another and to the marital act), why on earth would the CDF speak so strongly - so definitively - against the practice of embryo "adoption", stating there is NO moral way to save these embryos? Wouldn't it be true that the Church is so firm in her pro-life convictions she would certainly have taken advantage of this opportunity to shout from the rooftops the way to save these embryos if there was any way at all to do so? And yet, sadly, she does not. She proclaims there is no moral way to save them. Thus making IVF all the more tragic for its innocent victims.

    I agree the Bishop's statement could have and should have been MUCH stronger against the practice but they DO recognize it as bad. As to the question of "how bad" something of such moral gravity really is, wouldn't one follow the highest authority that has spoken with the most clarity on the question? Am I wrong to assume the CDF would be the appropriate body to defer to in this case? Anyone want to weigh in here?

    Not only did the CDF implicitly conclude in its analysis that gestation is a morally significant aspect of procreation (otherwise embryo donations or transfers would be allowed no question), but it stands to reason and resonates as true from a woman's perspective.

    On a very human level, when my husband and I were considering this as a possible option, at the end of the day, it meant my becoming pregnant outside his involvement whatsoever. On the most basic level, this struck me as very awkward and made me feel like a surrogate. If pregnancy is irrelevant morally, why did our consciences waver so intensely?

    When the document came out a year later, I was so amazed that the CDF likened it to exactly that.

    And although I was already a convert, in that moment I fell in love with our Church all over again bc she proclaimed the truth from afar what I had already known deep in my heart.

  37. Thank you, GIMH for your clarifying that the CDF would be the highest authority on the matter.

    That is the critical point and ultimately you are right, the Church says what it says, no matter what Bishops may come out and say after the fact.

    This is another reason why I love being Catholic. We don't have to wonder about things very much.

  38. By the way, how can one get the USCCB to amend its position in the Q&A online which is (as GIMH pointed out) clearly at odds with what was stated in DP?

  39. Leila,
    When I wrote my earlier response I was trying to answer your last 2 questions.
    Can someone help me with that? Is it just a mental block? I really want to understand it, because it troubles me greatly.

    I want to add to my first response.
    Along with my earlier comment of poor catechesis and lack of understanding which you identified in the couple you wrote of -
    (Not until after their children were born did the couple discover that every human embryo is a child according to the Church.)

    I would also add that there is a lack of trust -in God. And we have have an overwhelming desire to control our lives. I think society in general is different then the group that blogs here - these IF women march to the tune of a different drummer.
    This is an area where my faith has been strengthened by the IF women I have been blog-lurking on.

    I again have to say thank you IF bloggers for sharing your faith. For teaching me and helping me to grow.

    Good Night

  40. Wow, this exchange has been amazing. I am grateful to all of you. I am especially grateful that the dialogue has been respectful all the way around.

    I have been educated, and I believe that the CDF is the highest authority on this issue. If the ordinary magisterium has been invoked, then the teaching is infallibly taught. I don't see a way around it. So, I have learned something today, and I appreciate it.

    I think it's an absolute tragedy that IVF was introduced (unleashed) on the world, and that we even have to ponder these issues. It's painful all the way around.

    God bless you all for your passion in wanting to know the truth and follow it. That's what makes me love my faith so much.... truth is truth, and it doesn't come from me.

  41. Since the release of Dignitas Personae in 2008 the USCCB, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (both the center as a whole and Fr. Tad, the Center’s Director of Education who was quoted earlier by me and by LH), and the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life have stated that embryo adoption remains an open issue to be treated very cautiously.

    The USCCB viewpoint has already been quoted and cited in previous responses.

    NCBC viewpoint: http://www.ncbcenter.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1010

    Fr. Tad’s viewpoint: “There is ongoing debate among reputable Catholic theologians about this matter, and technically it remains an open question. A recent Vatican document called Dignitas Personae expressed serious moral reservations about the approach, without, however, explicitly condemning it as immoral.” http://www.ncbcenter.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=478

    I have not been able to find the original source of President Archbishop Rino Fisichella’s statement, but have seen his quote in a multitude of sources. The first link above actually contains a paraphrase of his statement.

    Given the prominence of each of these organizations/individuals, wouldn’t one think the Vatican or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would have corrected an offensive or erroneous position by now? Yet in the time since DP’s release, these teaching bodies have not amended their stances.

    I can only take their silence to mean that embryo adoption does indeed remain an open topic.

    This lively debate on Leila’s post reflects just how impassioned many of us are one way or another about embryo adoption. And, until the Church definitively declares otherwise, our polarity of beliefs is permissible.

  42. Wow. I am so sorry I missed this whole thing. So many things I wanted to say were already said so eloquently by GIMH and LH. Thank you girls for being there in my absence!

    I still have so much to say about this, but will just make this one point that has yet been debated- someone (forgive me, I forget who) brought up how children who result from incest or rape are conceived outside of a marital act, along with children conceived by single unwed mothers, but that they are no less entitled to the right to be born. It is an excellent point, however behind the vast debate of EA which has taken place here is the fact that there is CHOICE to be made first and foremost. The couple receiving the embryo transfer must first make the choice to do so. They do not, like the previous examples, find themselves pregnant due to a PRIOR sinful choice, but rather, must decide whether the choice they will make to receive this embryo into her womb will be a sinful choice or not.

    I think it is honorable, even laudable, that so many faithful couples out there would do anything in their power to help give these embryos a chance at life. For me (and for the CDF, which I wholeheartedly agree DOES make a definitive stance on this, as does Fr Tad who I had the awesome privilege of hearing speak at least year's AAFCP meeting), it is about making the moral choice which stands by the assertion that each human being has the intrinsic RIGHT to be conceived within the marital act of love. The cases of rape, incest, and nonmarital relations resulting in pregnancy take away that right just as IVF does, but WHOSE choice is it? Certainly not the woman being raped, she did not CHOOSE for her child to be conceived that way. As for the other two examples, they are circumstancial so the parents very well could have CHOSEN to strip that right from their children in those cases. With IVF I think we (here) can all agree the couple creating the embryos to begin with has made the choice. Does then EA make that wrong a right? Or does it then become the CHOICE of the EA-couple to find the answer in their hearts?

    Another thing to point out is that usually when so much is being debated, and the answer is not so simple, (I find, anyway), it is not a morally licit thing. If the "yes" is not resounding, it's probably a no. God is love and truth, and if we think about the simple truths we know to be "good" there is never any debate about them. Maybe that's a silly point, but it helps me sort out a lot.

    Sorry if I woke the sleeping dogs :)

  43. I haven't had the time to read the full article, but I did scan the article and saw that he left the decision in the hands of the parents. Do you have any good discussions about embryo adoption? I'm pretty sure that the church does not yet have a teaching on this, but I am curious to know what priests think.

  44. Hi Joseph's Mommy! If you read through the comments, there are lots of references to the Church's teachings on embryo adoption. These ladies know a lot!! Basically, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has come out against EA.


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