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Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice Cube Children

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.

28 comments:

Jordanes said...

I agree, the Church has shut the door on "embryo adoption." But I'm not sure it is leaving an escape hatch that might be able to be opened later. It comes down to the principle of double effect. the CDF acknowledges the good intention of wanting to save these embryos' lives, but a morally good intention is not sufficient if the action itself is illicit. The CDF thus goes on to remind us that anything we do to try to save their lives will be morally illicit: thawing them will kill them, leaving them frozen is immoral and will eventually destroy them too, and implanting them in a woman's womb and bringing them to term is contrary to the natural law. On balance I'm inclined to think that embryo adoption is the least morally objectionable option, but even that is illicit. At this time we don't have the ability to, say, bring these human souls to full gestation without ever being implanted in a woman's body, but in the future maybe we'd be able to do that: but even though that approach avoids the moral problems of "surrogate motherhood," the baby still isn't being nourished and protected within her own mother's body as God intends. There's really no conceivable "solution" to this problem that isn't morally illicit. Probably all we can do is put a complete stop to the unnatural production of embryonic human beings and, I suppose, keep the ones we have frozen for a few decades -- after a while they'll no longer be viable and would probably die, but no further direct action to take their lives or to do something immoral or unnatural would have been taken.

It's a monstrously sick and perverted world we live in now.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Thawing them will kill them if we use current technology. If a future technology comes forward that turns this 80% death rate to essentially zero, the moral calculus involved in thawing them changes.

Leaving them frozen will eventually destroy them, but the timeline isn't clear. It could be literally dozens of decades before they die. I've seen a couple of studies that seem to indicate even a decade in cold storage doesn't change their survival rate. It's the freezing/thawing processes that currently pose the major dangers.

It isn't clear that implanting them in a woman's womb directly violates the natural law. Neither Donum Vitae nor Dignatate Personae say this.

Surrogate mothers are clearly forbidden, but adoptive mothers are not clearly forbidden. Donum Vitae made it pretty clear that the problem with surrogacy lies in the intent. But adoption doesn't have this problem, as Dignitate Personae points out when it encourages adoption and calls the intent behind embryo adoption "laudable."

So, can an embryonic child be adopted into a woman's womb?

Donum Vitae DOES specifically prohibit the use of artificial wombs, a point I address in my article on embryo adoption, but neither document absolutely forbids the use of an adoptive woman's womb. That point is never directly addressed.

You could take the wording to mean it IS, you could take the wording to mean it ISN'T. That's why I say the escape hatch is closed, but it is there. Then again, it may just be an optical illusion. We don't know - we'll have to wait and see.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I should add and again emphasize that nothing in my response above should lead anyone to believe embryo adoption is possibly permissible right now.

Embryo adoption is forbidden.
There's no question of THAT.

But the reason it is forbidden may or may not involve the implantation aspect - the document doesn't specifically say.

Jordanes said...

Thawing them will kill them if we use current technology. If a future technology comes forward that turns this 80% death rate to essentially zero, the moral calculus involved in thawing them changes.

Ah, that's a good point . . . but even if thawing becomes safe for them, there's still the problem of what to do with the unimplanted embryos. Perhaps the least objectionable thing would be to implant the embryos in their own mother's wombs, which while still an unnatural act and therefore illicit (since it isn't how God means conception to take place -- and we cannot do evil that good may come of it), would at least allow the babies to grow and develop within their mothers as God's intends. Barring that one could consider "embryo adoption" as among the least objectionable "solutions," but that too is illicit, since God means each unborn child to grow and develop within his own mother and not inside some other woman.

It isn't clear that implanting them in a woman's womb directly violates the natural law. Neither Donum Vitae nor Dignatate Personae say this.

A consistent application of the moral principles of DV and DP leads inexorably to that conclusion, though.

Surrogate mothers are clearly forbidden, but adoptive mothers are not clearly forbidden.

In the case of prenatal adoption of embryos, however, we have a form of surrogate motherhood, which is cleary forbidden.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

No, it is not the case that adoptive motherhood is necessarily a form of surrogate motherhood.

This is how Donum Vitae defines it:
By "surrogate mother" the instruction means: a) The woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo implanted in her uterus and who is genetically a stranger to the embryo because it has been obtained through the union of the gametes of "donors." She carries the pregnancy with a pledge to surrender the baby once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy. b) The woman who carries in pregnancy an embryo to whose procreation she has contributed the donation of her own ovum, fertilized through insemination with the sperm of a man other than her husband. She carries the pregnancy with the pledge to surrender the child once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy.

Notice that both definitions take pains to include intention. If the child is carried WITHOUT the intention or the pledge to surrender the child to the commissioning party, then one of the necessary conditions for surrogacy fails to obtain.

It is, thus, no longer surrogacy.

So it is not the case that embryo adoption is theologically equivalent to surrogacy. It is true adoption - the decision to care for a genetic stranger.

Ann said...

I am not able to argue the fine points of frozen embroyo future possibilities, but I can comment on just this one statement: 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."

These people are never satisfied with any document. They always want a "more definitive" statement. This is the same distorted logic that they used 40 years ago with Humanae Vitae. I personally had a priest tell me that the document was not a definitive statement and people could use their own conscience to decide what was right for them. Just because "other theologians" have a differing view, all it means is that those are their opinions. Until it comes from the Vatican in a definitive statement, like this document or Humanae Vitae, then those views still remain just one man's opinion. The more things change the more they remain the same.

Jordanes said...

No, it is not the case that adoptive motherhood is necessarily a form of surrogate motherhood.

Using DV's unnecessarily strict and inaccurate definition of surrogate motherhood, yes, "embryo adoption" would not be surrogate motherhood -- but it is still a form of surrogacy: it's surrogacy plus adoption. Surrendering the child to the genetic parents is not an integral part of the definition of surrogate motherhood: it's just usually how it is practiced at this time. The fact that the surrogate mother adopts the stranger's child she bears rather than surrendering it to the genetic parents does not mitigate the moral illicitness of the act, because even apart from surrendering the child, it is a violation of natural law for a woman to carry in pregnancy an embryo implanted in her uterus and who is genetically a stranger to the embryo because it has been obtained through the union of the gametes of donors.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I don't believe it is unnecessarily strict. I believe it is the definition given us by the Church and unchanged in the latest document, DP.

It is not clear that it is a violation of natural law to implant a child in the uterus. Neither DV nor DP say this, and I don't believe the conclusion follows (although some Catholics do - the Church hasn't ruled on that yet).

You'll notice if you take the intention out of the second definition in DV, it simply describes a child begotten by adultery. Now, clearly the act of adultery is a sin, but would the act of carrying the child begotten by adultery be a sin? I'm not sure that is true. But it would have to be true in order to call embryo adoption a "sin against natural law."

We have to keep in mind that the act by which a child is begotten (sex inside or outside marriage, IVF, etc.) is not the same as the act by which a child is nurtured (pregnancy). They are certainly intimately related, but they must be distinguished. Once a child exists, that child has rights, and the wrongful act that brought the child into being cannot be confused with the act by which the child is nurtured.

Jordanes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordanes said...

It is not clear that it is a violation of natural law to implant a child in the uterus.

Unless the implantation is done naturally, ie. within the context of the conjugal act, it is a violation of the natural law. That is indisputable. The Church is clear that artificial insemination is unnatural and illicit, as is creating a human embryo in a petri dish -- and it's even worse when the embryo is implanted in a woman not genetically related to the unborn child. That the woman is doing so to save the embryo's life doesn't make the act any more licit, because we may not do evil that good may come of it. Whether or not one calls prenatal adoption of frozen embryos a form of surrogacy, the Church still maintains that the whole thing apart from the intent is morally illicit.

Neither DV nor DP say this, and I don't believe the conclusion follows (although some Catholics do - the Church hasn't ruled on that yet).

It's a principle that inexorably and unavoidably follows from what DV and DP say. Children have an inalienable right to be conceived, to naturally implant, and to gestate within the context of the conjugal union and marital union of their biological parents. Anything else is against the natural law. The Church is pretty clear on that, as is the natural law written on our hearts.

You'll notice if you take the intention out of the second definition in DV, it simply describes a child begotten by adultery.

Yes, and it's hard not to see how surrogate motherhood and prenatal adoption would be violations of the sixth commandment.

Now, clearly the act of adultery is a sin, but would the act of carrying the child begotten by adultery be a sin?

Of course not. But we're not talking about carrying a child, we're talking about the manner and location of the unborn child's implantation. That is illicit, even though the intent is to prevent a child's death -- the Church calls for children conceived in adultery to be carried to term and cared and provided for, but even so she can't wink at the sin of adultery, just as she can't say that prenatal adoption isn't morally illicit.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

artificial insemination is unnatural and illicit,

Sure, but that isn't relevant to this discussion.

it's even worse when the embryo is implanted in a woman not genetically related to the unborn child.

That's an interesting supposition, but it is unsupported by either document. DV doesn't mention it at all, DP praises the intention but says only that it "presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above."

It doesn't say the problems are identical or even similar. It says they are "not dissimilar." That's three steps away from what you are saying. Your allegation is unsupported by the documents.

But we're not talking about carrying a child, we're talking about the manner and location of the unborn child's implantation.

And DP specifically differentiates between surrogate motherhood and embryo adoption, insisting that the problems the two pose are not, in fact, identical or even similar in every respect.

When DV rejects surrogate motherhood, it specifically says that such action is rejected "for the same reasons which lead one to reject heterologous artificial fertilization" (A-3).

THE SAME REASONS. Now look at what DP says.

DP takes pains to differentiate embryo adoption from the above problems, it mentions adoption separately, lauding at least one aspect of it, and then going on to say that it is rejected for "various problems not dissimilar."

It doesn't say the problems are the same. In fact, it doesn't name exactly what the problems are.

You may find this a distinction without a difference, but the Church tends to be very careful in Her wording. I think, in this case, we do well to pay attention to the difference.

If the Church wanted to lump the two together, She would have, as She did with surrogate motherhood and heterologous artificial fertilization.

She didn't do that.
Thus, we shouldn't do that either.
Surrogate motherhood is most definitely NOT the same thing as embryo adoption. Both are rejected, but for different reasons.

Theresa D. said...

Although creating an extracorporeal embryo is sinful, how can it be that there is no moral way to act once an embryo has been created and frozen? That is incoherent: it must always be possible, no matter what a moral pickle you have gotten yourself into, to repent and sin no more. Given that an embryo has been created, the Church seems to say that there is NO way to behave with respect to said embryo (including inaction) that isn't sinful. Sorry, that makes no sense. Also, I don't understand WHY adoptive implantation is immoral. What if an embryo was fertilized the natural way and mom was about to die? And we had technology such that we could remove the embryo and put it into an artificial womb and gestate it? Is that immoral? But isn't that exactly what we do with babies born prematurely-- stick them in incubators designed to replicate, insofar as technologically possible, the conditions of the womb? Admittedly, incubators are a crappy womb substitute but that's a weakness of the technology. If we could get it closer to the womb, we would. So why is "artificial" gestation to save the life of a baby okay with a baby born at 24+ weeks, but not an embryo? If I was about to die and had newly conceived and there was technology that would enable my baby to develop and live, I would not be opposed to using it. Once you can use artificial technology to replicate the conditions of the womb, I don't understand why you can't use another willing woman so long as she isn't being treated as the means to an end. CREATING a baby outside the conjugal act is sinful, but I don't see why GESTATING it would be when done to save the baby's life- this seems no differnt from using formula or having a wet nurse when mom isn't available to nurse. Deliberately creating a baby to be gestated by someone else is profoundly weird and probably sinful but I don't understand why in principle it is wrong when it is being doen to remedy the problem of an existent embryo without its mother's womb to gestate it.

Theresa D. said...

Also, as for implantation being done "naturally" this also makes no sense. Imagine a woman who had a tubal pregnancy- what if the doctor could remove the embryo and stick it in her uterus and it would implant? THis has actually been done successfully at least once. How on earth is this procedure immoral? You mean it is licit to remove the entire tube and condemn the baby to certain death, but is illicit to take the same developing embryo that got "stuck" in a tube and transplant it into the mother's womb? This I do not understand.

Where in Donum Vitae does it say that artificial wombs are not allowed? It's not in there, jsut as you won't find that artificial baby milk is not allowed. Procreation-- that is, the CREATING of a new human person-- cannot be separated from the conjugal act. Once that human person is created, therapeutic interventions designed to help that person live and thrive are not immoral so long as they do not treat persons as a means to an end or involve materially cooperating with an illicit act (such as immoral creation of an embryo- which is why surrogacy is wrong because it is doen in a context that contemplates illicit procreation).

Jordanes said...

"artificial insemination is unnatural and illicit,"

Sure, but that isn't relevant to this discussion.


Yes, it is relevant. We're talking about illicit departures from the natural order of human procreation such as we have with artificual insemination and artificial fertilisation. A woman carrying another woman's child is an unnatural and thus illicit departure from the order of procreation as established by God. That right there is the deal breaker on embryo adoption -- it's a perversion of the natural order and a kind of artificial fertilisation. The principles laids out in Donum Vitae make very clear that it is always illicit for a woman to carry another woman's child -- that's why the Church has explicitly stated that embryo adoption is morally illicit.

"it's even worse when the embryo is implanted in a woman not genetically related to the unborn child."

That's an interesting supposition, but it is unsupported by either document.


DV says, "Every human being is always to be accepted as a gift and blessing of God. However, from the moral point of view a truly responsible procreation vis-à-vis the unborn child must be the fruit of marriage. For human procreation has specific characteristics by virtue of the personal dignity of the parents and of the children: the procreation of a new person, whereby the man and the woman collaborate with the power of the Creator, must be the fruit and the sign of the mutual self-giving of the spouses, of their love and of their fidelity."

That rules out IVF, since that greatly mitigates the mutual self-giving of the spouses.

"The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other."

With surrogate motherhood -- and in embryo adoption we have a woman serving as a surrogate who then adopts the child rather than surrendering it -- we have the monstrosity of the mother of the child not bearing or giving birth to the child, and a woman who is not the child's mother bearing and giving birth to the child. So we have a woman becoming a mother through a second woman who is not married to the first woman's husband. So embryo adoption flies in the face of that moral principle too.

"The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development."

But with embryo adoption, the child is conceived through his parent's marriage, albeit illicitly, and then carried in the womb through another marriage -- with embryo adoption the secure and recognised relationship to the child's own parents has been broken.

"The parents find in their child a confirmation and completion of their reciprocal self-giving: the child is the living image of their love, the permanent sign of their conjugal union, the living and indissoluble concrete expression of their paternity and maternity."

With embryo adoption, there has been no reciprocal self-giving in conjugal union, and the child born of the woman who is not his biological parent is thus not the sign of that union that God intends children to be.

"Respect for the unity of marriage and for conjugal fidelity demands that the child be conceived in marriage; the bond existing between husband and wife accords the spouses, in an objective and inalienable manner, the exclusive right to become father and mother solely through each other."

Embryo adoption is obviously contrary to those principles.

Speakin of heterologous artificial fertilization, DV says that it "violates the rights of the child; it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personal identity. Furthermore, it offends the common vocation of the spouses who are called to fatherhood and motherhood: it objectively deprives conjugal fruitfulness of its unity and integrity; it brings about and manifests a rupture between genetic parenthood, gestational parenthood and responsibility for upbringing. Such damage to the personal relationships within the family has repercussions on civil society: what threatens the unity and stability of the family is a source of dissension, disorder and injustice in the whole of social life."

Almost everything that DV says of heterologous artificial fertilization can be raised against embryo adoption. And thus we find that DP reachs the same conclusion about embryo adoption that DV had reached about heterologous artificial fertilization: ". . . subjectively good intentions do not render heterologous artificial fertilization conformable to the objective and inalienable properties of marriage or respectful of the rights of the child and of the spouses."

DV then goes on to say thats urrogate motherhood "offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families."

Embryo adoption is subject to those very same objections.

DV doesn't mention it at all, DP praises the intention but says only that it "presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above." It doesn't say the problems are identical or even similar. It says they are "not dissimilar." That's three steps away from what you are saying. Your allegation is unsupported by the documents.

I have made no allegation, I have merely applied the principles of DV and noted that the Church says it is illicit to implant a woman's child in the womb of another woman, even for good intentions. Anyway, problems that are "not dissimilar" are problems that are similar -- so I haven't said anything that DV and DP haven't already said.

And DP specifically differentiates between surrogate motherhood and embryo adoption

That's only because usually surrogate motherhood involves the woman who carries the child surrendering the child, whereas embryo adoption is a form of surrogacy in which the woman is carries another woman's child to save the child's life and thus intends to keep and care for the child. The two kind of surrogacy are thus morally distinct, even though similar and subject to similar moral objections.

insisting that the problems the two pose are not, in fact, identical or even similar in every respect.

Yep, I've noted that too.

When DV rejects surrogate motherhood, it specifically says that such action is rejected "for the same reasons which lead one to reject heterologous artificial fertilization".

And most of those reasons also apply to embryo adoption.

DP takes pains to differentiate embryo adoption from the above problems

No, it distinguishes them, but it takes no "pains" to differentiate embryos adoption from all of the aforementioned problems.

You may find this a distinction without a difference, but the Church tends to be very careful in Her wording. I think, in this case, we do well to pay attention to the difference.

I do pay attention -- and note that the principles enunciated in DV prepared the way for the Church to clearly rule out embryo adoption as morally illicit.

If the Church wanted to lump the two together, She would have, as She did with surrogate motherhood and heterologous artificial fertilization.

She didn't just lump them together, but distinguished and discussed them individually.

Surrogate motherhood is most definitely NOT the same thing as embryo adoption. Both are rejected, but for different reasons.

As surrogate motherhood is usually practiced, no, it's not embryo adoption. But that doesn't obviate what I said about the moral objections to implanting one
woman's child into another woman's body.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I addressed the problems of artificial wombs in the paper I wrote two years ago:

"Techniques of fertilization in vitro can open the way to other forms of biological and genetic manipulation of human embryos, such as attempts or plans for fertilization between human and animal gametes and the gestation of human embryos in the uterus of animals, or the hypothesis or project of constructing artificial uteruses for the human embryo. These procedures are contrary to the human dignity proper to the embryo, and at the same time they are contrary to the right of every person to be conceived and to be born within marriage and from marriage. (DV #6, emphasis in the original)"

The instruction forbids carrying a human embryo in an animal uterus. It likewise forbids both the hypothesis and the construction of artificial wombs; that is, research in how to create artificial wombs for the embryo area seems to be strictly forbidden. It does not, however, forbid the carrying of a human embryo in a human womb via embryo adoption nor does it prohibit the placement of an embryo into an artificial womb already constructed. Further, it specifically describes the relationship between the embryo and the artificial womb. This is a useful distinction, since technological advances in the treatment of severely premature fetal children, if taken in aggregate, could easily be considered a kind of artificial womb.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other."

If we take that right too literally, then we are saying what Muslims say: adoption is not possible. But adoption IS possible, thus we have to realize that this is a statement made in a larger, more nuanced context.

Embryo adoption is NOT a form of surrogacy. It does not involve the intention that is part of the definition of surrogacy. I don't know how else to say it - your understanding of surrogacy is not in accord with the definition given in DV.

Both DV and DP specifically say that surrogate motherhood is rejected "FOR THE SAME REASONS" as heterologous artificial insemination. Neither DV nor DP say that embryo adoption is rejected FOR THE SAME REASONS.

Thus, your assertion is rejected. You may find they are the same, but the Church does not agree. They are both rejected, but that doesn't mean they are being rejected for the same reasons.

Why is embryo adoption rejected? We don't actually know because neither document actually says. DV doesn't say, DP says the reasons are "not dissimilar", in neither case is that really enough to determine exactly what the reasons are, or which reasons are driving this declaration.

We can guess about the reason(s), but those are guesses.

Jordanes said...

Although creating an extracorporeal embryo is sinful, how can it be that there is no moral way to act once an embryo has been created and frozen? That is incoherent: it must always be possible, no matter what a moral pickle you have gotten yourself into, to repent and sin no more.

It's always possible to repent and sin no more . . . but that doesn't necessarily mean that the problems created by one's sins can be solved in this life without committing further sin.

Given that an embryo has been created, the Church seems to say that there is NO way to behave with respect to said embryo (including inaction) that isn't sinful. Sorry, that makes no sense.

Why doesn't it make sense? At this time the only options we're aware of -- and they might be the only options we'll ever have -- are keeping them frozen indefinitely (a sin), thawing them and letting them die (a sin), implanting them in their mother's womb (a sin, as it is part of the IVF process), or implanting them in the wombs of women who aren't their mother (a sin, since it separates procreation and gestation from the marital union of the child's parents). These last two options are the least objectionable, but in different ways and for different reasons they are all morally illicit.

Also, I don't understand WHY adoptive implantation is immoral. What if an embryo was fertilized the natural way and mom was about to die? And we had technology such that we could remove the embryo and put it into an artificial womb and gestate it? Is that immoral?

An interesting scenario. My guess is that there would be nothing objectionable to such a procedure, since it seems a lot like Cesarean section to save the life of the child and/or mother. But I doubt we'd hear back from the Church on that question unless and until it is a practical reality.

Anyway I think it's pretty clear that artificial wombs as a complete substitute for natural gestation is illicit.

Once you can use artificial technology to replicate the conditions of the womb, I don't understand why you can't use another willing woman so long as she isn't being treated as the means to an end.

But it's not the natural order of human procreation, which is that each child is conceived in the conjugal union of his parents and carried and delivered by his own mother, rather than a woman who is not his mother. Women should not be giving birth to anyone but their own biological children.

Also, as for implantation being done "naturally" this also makes no sense. Imagine a woman who had a tubal pregnancy- what if the doctor could remove the embryo and stick it in her uterus and it would implant? THis has actually been done successfully at least once. How on earth is this procedure immoral?

It's not. That's perfectly licit, even morally obligatory if the procedure can be done without harm to the child or mother. Such a procedure enables the natural implantation of a woman's unborn child, since the tubal implantation was an unnatural implantation -- a natural evil, not a moral evil. The procedure to fix that problem is just working with the natural law, not against it.

You mean it is licit to remove the entire tube and condemn the baby to certain death, but is illicit to take the same developing embryo that got "stuck" in a tube and transplant it into the mother's womb? This I do not understand.

I don't know who says that would be illicit -- neither DV nor DP, nor any other church document I'm aware of, say anything that could support that position.

Theresa D. said...

Why doesn't it make sense? At this time the only options we're aware of -- and they might be the only options we'll ever have -- are keeping them frozen indefinitely (a sin), thawing them and letting them die (a sin), implanting them in their mother's womb (a sin, as it is part of the IVF process), or implanting them in the wombs of women who aren't their mother (a sin, since it separates procreation and gestation from the marital union of the child's parents). These last two options are the least objectionable, but in different ways and for different reasons they are all morally illicit.

This makes no sense because to say that it is impossible, right now, to behave toward an in vitro embryo without sinning (since even inaction in the form of keeping it frozen is sinful) is a nonsense. It must always be possible to NOT sin. The evil already accomplished cannot be undone, but to say that it is not possible to act morally vis a vis an embryo makes no sense. And, who is the relevant actor? The doctor? The progenitors? I guess I am just saying that there MUST be a way for someone who created a frozen embryo, repents, and is absolved, to move forward from this point on without sinning. And you are saying that this is not the case. Which confuses me.

Jordanes said...

If we take that right too literally, then we are saying what Muslims say: adoption is not possible. But adoption IS possible, thus we have to realize that this is a statement made in a larger, more nuanced context.

Yes. I've noted that this is one of the general principles enunciated in DV. General principles are, of course, general.

Embryo adoption is NOT a form of surrogacy. It does not involve the intention that is part of the definition of surrogacy. I don't know how else to say it - your understanding of surrogacy is not in accord with the definition given in DV.

As I've already said, DV's definition of surrogate motherhood is too strict and is in fact erroneous. But this is all entirely tangential to the point at hand -- whether or not embryo adoption is classified as a form of surrogacy, it is morally objectionable for many (most?) of the same reasons that surrogacy is objectionable.

Both DV and DP specifically say that surrogate motherhood is rejected "FOR THE SAME REASONS" as heterologous artificial insemination. Neither DV nor DP say that embryo adoption is rejected FOR THE SAME REASONS.

Yes, that's what I said.

Thus, your assertion is rejected.

Which assertion? That it is unnatural to implant a child who was conceived in a petri dish in a woman's womb, even if the woman is the child's biological mother? In our back and forth I'm starting to lose track of where we are in the dialogue.

You may find they are the same,

I obviously don't, as my previous comments show.

They are both rejected, but that doesn't mean they are being rejected for the same reasons.

Yep.

Why is embryo adoption rejected? We don't actually know because neither document actually says. DV doesn't say, DP says the reasons are "not dissimilar", in neither case is that really enough to determine exactly what the reasons are, or which reasons are driving this declaration.

It is, however, enough to note that many of the reasons are the same in both cases, and it is enough for us to observe what the moral principles delineated in DV and DP are, and to reach conclusions about what some of those reasons are.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I agree with you, Theresa.
That's why it can't be the case that the sin in embryo adoption involves the implantation. At that point, the woman is donating her organ for the use of another - organ donation is licit.

Thus, the problem with embryo adoption has to be somewhere else.

Jordanes said...

This makes no sense because to say that it is impossible, right now, to behave toward an in vitro embryo without sinning (since even inaction in the form of keeping it frozen is sinful) is a nonsense. It must always be possible to NOT sin.

Yes, it is always possible not to sin -- but it is impossible for sinful acts to not be sinful.

The evil already accomplished cannot be undone, but to say that it is not possible to act morally vis a vis an embryo makes no sense.

How then can the evil already accomplished be undone without committing a sin, since we may not do evil that good may come of it?

And, who is the relevant actor? The doctor? The progenitors?

It's different depending on which option we're talking about.

I guess I am just saying that there MUST be a way for someone who created a frozen embryo, repents, and is absolved, to move forward from this point on without sinning. And you are saying that this is not the case. Which confuses me.

I'm just reiterating what DP said, which is that anything we do (by which I would guess they mean anything we do at this time of human history) to try to solve this problem will be morally illicit in one way or another. My own read on this is that, of all the objectionable options, the "best" are to just complete the illicit IVF process and bring the child to term, or barring that to resort to an adoptive "surrogate" to carry the child and raise him. The sin has already been committed, and we can't advise people to "complete" the sin for the sake of saving these children's lives, but if anyone were to resort to such measures the Church will be merciful to anyone who is contrite, especially in consideration of the good intention. The Church can't justify something that is sinful, but she can absolve the penitent.

Theresa D. said...

I addressed the problems of artificial wombs in the paper I wrote two years ago:

"Techniques of fertilization in vitro can open the way to other forms of biological and genetic manipulation of human embryos, such as attempts or plans for fertilization between human and animal gametes and the gestation of human embryos in the uterus of animals, or the hypothesis or project of constructing artificial uteruses for the human embryo. These procedures are contrary to the human dignity proper to the embryo, and at the same time they are contrary to the right of every person to be conceived and to be born within marriage and from marriage. (DV #6, emphasis in the original)"


Okay, so doing research to create an artificial womb for the purpose of gestating babies is wrong when done so to deprive a baby of his mother's womb. But does this mean that Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) incubators are immoral- they are designed to replicate the womb as much as possible for babies born early- for very premature babies, they are still being "gestated" in a sense, in an incubator. What if we could use such incubators to save fetuses born much earlier than are now able to be saved- like at 15 weeks? Would that be immoral? What if we could "transplant" a 20 week-old fetus whose mother was on the verge of death to such an incubator to save its life? Is that wrong? What if it was a 10-week-old fetus? What about a 5-day old embryo?

Giving birth to a baby conceived via rape/adultery/fornication is also "contrary to the right of every person to be conceived and born within marriage and from marriage." And it would be morally wrong for people to PLAN or DESIGN to somehow do so, just as it would be wrong to plan on using artificial wombs. But giving birth to a baby conceived outside of marriage, while "contrary" to the respect such a baby deserves, is not in itself morally wrong (in fact, not giving birth would be wrong). It is morally unfortunate, and we'd all prefer it never happened. Designing artificial wombs to help gestate babies who will otherwise die does not seem to be morally wrong- we already do it all the time and I have never heard any Catholic argue against incubators.

The "right" you have to be conceived within and born within a marriage does not mean that when that right is violated, there is not a moral way to rectify or deal with the evil already done. To say that it is an affront to the dignity of a baby conceived out of wedlock to have it born out of wedlock is true-- but if dad won't marry mom that doesn't mean that it is not okay for the baby to be born outside of marriage. Sometimes the best we can do is not the full, beautiful plan God had in mind for humanity- but that doesn't make second-best sinful, so long as it wasn't contemplated or the deliberate outcome.

Jordanes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordanes said...

That's why it can't be the case that the sin in embryo adoption involves the implantation. At that point, the woman is donating her organ for the use of another - organ donation is licit.

Nope, embryo adoption is not a form of organ donation, just as embryo adoption is not surrogate motherhood as it is usually practiced -- similar, or comparable, but not the same. The uterus is not being removed from one woman and placed in another -- the best you can say is that it's a loan, not a donation, and even that's not really what it is.

A licit surgery to repair a defective implantation cannot establish the liceity of the intentional implantation of an embryo in a woman who isn't the embryo's mother. In the first case one is helping a child to complete natural gestation, in the other case one is causing an unnatural gestation.

Jordanes said...

Designing artificial wombs to help gestate babies who will otherwise die does not seem to be morally wrong- we already do it all the time and I have never heard any Catholic argue against incubators.

I think you're right, Theresa.

Theresa D. said...

How then can the evil already accomplished be undone without committing a sin, since we may not do evil that good may come of it?


This is confused thinking. There is a difference from entering into a morally evil act to have good come of it-- this cannot be justified. However, it must always be possible to STOP sinning. Evil cannot be "undone." Even if every product of fornication is adopted by loving infertile Catholic couples and becomes a great holy saint of God- the fornication wasn't "worth it" and it would have been "better" had the original sin never occurred. But still, great good can "come out of" evil, not int eh sense of "flowing" from it in a causal sense, but because we, with God's grace, can STOP sinning, behave morally, and in this way "redeem" the sin. So, we can say with fervor, Oh happy fault, that earned for us so great a Savior! Still, it would have been better had Eve never picked that apple.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"Living organ donation involves the donation of one of a paired organ (such as kidneys) or a portion of an organ (such as a lobe of the liver or lung). The donor's organ system is still able to function after the donation. Living donors are often related to the patient, but that is not always the case."
Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota

Nothing in the definition says the organ has to be removed from the donor in order for it to be organ donation.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"Designing artificial wombs to help gestate babies who will otherwise die does not seem to be morally wrong- we already do it all the time and I have never heard any Catholic argue against incubators.

I think you're right, Theresa."


Unfortunately, the Church says you are both wrong in DV #6. Designing artificial wombs IS a sin. Yet the use of incubators - which are arguably a form of artificial womb - is NOT a sin - at least, the Church has never called it such (just as she has not said the act of implantation is the problem with embryo adoption).

An interesting set of problems, nicht wahr? :)

We have to go by what is said, not what we think is implied. That, Jordanes, is why your position against embryo adoption is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic teaching.