In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that back in the summer of fall of 2006, I got an article published in National Bioethical Quarterly (or whatever the heck the name is), the journal of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. In it, I argued in favor of embryo adoption.
What is embryo adoption?
In vitro fertilization techniques tend to produce a lot more embryos than can be used. The "extra" children are placed in nitrogen freezers, often-times abandoned or forgotten. The question is, can those children be adopted by Christian couples, placed in the womb and rescued from the freezer?
The Vatican has just issued a new document, Dignatas Personae, answers that question, along with many others.
The document bans the practice of embryo adoption.
I was really hoping for a different ruling, but there it is.
I was wrong.
Now, that having been said, the document DOES distinguish between using embryos to "treat infertility" and the adoption of embryos (DP #19).
The first, using the abandoned children to treat infertility, is clearly banned outright, because it uses "the same reasons" that cause heterologous procreation and surrogate motherhood to be banned.
The adoption of embryos is not treated nearly as harshly. First, the document takes time to praise the intentions - something infertility treatment doesn't get. In fact, none of the other banned technologies in the document get that kind of praise. So the intentions are recognized as different and praiseworthy, which is rather an important distinction.
Then the document takes pains to point out that the problems involved in embryo adoption are not "the same reasons" but instead are "problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above." The fact that the document took the trouble to distinguish one from the other indicates nuance on Rome's part. It holds out room for further nuance at some later date - a bit of wiggle room not afforded any of the other banned technologies listed in the document.
However, even though this nuance is present, it is equally clear that embryo adoption is currently banned by this document, if for no other reason than this: the little bit of wiggle room provided is severely proscribed by the closing blanket phrase, "[this] represent[s] a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved."
That's kind of plain language. :/
So I would very much disagree with the reaction of Father Thomas Williams LC that in "no way can it be read as a definitive negative judgment."
That is just stupid.
Fr. Williams goes on to say, "if a couple came to him seeking advice about embryo adoption, "I would say that while the document expresses strong reservations, there are also a number of very faithful, orthodox moral theologians who don't have a problem with it. Lacking a more definitive statement, it could be acceptable."
Again, that is willful stupidity.
I have to say it is stupid, because the alternative is to call Father Williams a liar.
Clearly, the document has given a negative judgment on embryo adoption.
Clearly, no one may counsel someone to use embryo adoption, pending further clarification from Rome, which won't be coming for at least a couple of decades.
Embryo adoption may not have the same absolute prohibition language associated with it that the other practices do, but the blanket conclusion is pretty darned clear.
True, Rome appears to have left herself some wiggle room in re embryo adoption, possibly on the outside chance a new technology is found that will permit these children to be rescued, but She also pretty clearly doesn't see anything likely to work sitting on the near horizon, as the blanket conclusion indicates.
I would LOVE to be able to say that embryo adoption is acceptable, since I have publicly already argued that way.
But there's no way I can point at this document and say that.
It just isn't there.
Rome left an escape hatch - in that sense, yeah, it's not definitive - but that escape hatch is currently and firmly closed.
How can I say this?
Because a very similar thing happened with the use of form criticism and historical-critical method to interpret the Scriptures.
Back in the 1893', Leo XIII issued Providentissimus Deus, an encyclical that categorically banned the use of methods of "higher criticism" because these depended solely on textual analysis of medieval copies of the ancient copies, which was essentially crap (cf. #17).
By the time of Divino Afflante Spiritus, the encyclical on Scripture given in 1943, that categorical ban went away because (a) textual analysis had gotten a lot better, no longer depending solely on the texts and (b) there were actually some really ancient texts, i.e., the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi finds, etc. which provided something ancient enough to justify using textual analyses.
In short, the Church's teaching didn't change, the underlying technology, the discoveries and the substrate of human knowledge changed.
It is STILL forbidden to use historical critical method if that means using late 1800's techniques on medieval copies. And it will always be forbidden to use embryo adoption if we are using early 21st century knowledge and approach.
It is possible that a similar kind of development may one day be possible with the children trapped in the nitrogen freezers. Perhaps, for instance, some whiz-bang technology can one day be developed which reduces the death rates on thawing to near zero, for instance. If that were to happen, Rome might (or might not) take a different view of the matter.
But for right now, it ain't licit, and there ain't no way to slice that ice in order to pretend that it is.