Editor’s Note: In this commentary Msgr Barreiro responds to the statements of Dr. Janet Smith quoted in the August 2nd LifeSiteNews report “Top Catholic ethicists duel over frozen embryo adoption”. Msgr. Barreiro presents his understanding of the correct Catholic moral teaching on this issue.

Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula, J.D., S.T.D., HLI Interim President

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, August 3, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - At a recent debate http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/top-catholic-ethicists-duel-over-frozen-embryo-adoption at Christendom College Prof. Dr. Janet Smith upheld the view that the adoption of embryos could be morally appropriate, in particular if it is undertaken outside the context of in-vitro fertilization. To be realistic, the cases where embryo adoption could be done outside this context are very limited, but that does not change the wrongful nature of embryo adoption itself.

Prof Smith stated that “If [embryo adoption] would come up outside of [the context of] the in-vitro situation, I think we would have an intuitively stronger sense of the possible goodness of this act.” However, it is not a question of intuition, but of logical analysis based on right reason and on the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

From a rational perspective it should be clear that embryo adoption is unnatural. It should be evident that God has given a womb to woman to receive and gestate her own children and not other embryos. There is a quantitative leap in the involvement of woman in the adoption of an already born child and adoption in the womb that leads to qualitative change in the involvement.

Firstly, we have an involvement that is physically external to her. In the second case we have an involvement that affects her internally in a marked way and as a consequence impedes her from gestating her own children. 

Secondly, in the same way that a regular adoption of an already born child can be done only by married couples, it should be logical to request that an embryo should be adopted by a married couple. But here we have a problem. A woman does not have a right to use her body outside marriage because that will offend the marriage covenant that she has with her husband.

It has been argued that the husband can consent to his wife adopting in her womb, but he does not have the right to authorize his wife to use her body in such a fashion because this permission would be a modification of the marriage covenant. It constitutes a modification of the covenant because it infringes the mutual and exclusive right of the spouses to become a mother and father only through each other.

The Catholic Church has always taught a man and a woman are free to enter into marriage, but they do not have the right to modify the conditions of marriage or the nature of the marriage covenant. 

If we read with attention the pertinent norms of the Instruction of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the Instruction Dignitas Personae of September 8th 2008 it is clear that this document totally excludes embryo adoption. The document states in p. 19:

“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.”

“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.”
So what this document is stating is that adoption in the womb presents similar problems to those that are found in artificial heterologous procreation and surrogate motherhood.

The above-mentioned norms were issued by the CDF with the purpose of putting an end to the long debate between theologians on the question the permissibility of embryo adoption. So this document should put an end to these discussions stating the embryo adoption should not be done. 

At the Vatican Press Conference of December 12th, 2008 when the Instruction Dignitas Personae was presented, Prof. Maria Luisa di Pietro underlines in her presentation, that embryo adoption is not acceptable, quoting the above-mentioned paragraph.

Finally it should considered that this instruction’s doctrinal value is clearly described by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, Secretary of the CDF at the presentation of this document, stating that it participates in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter and as a consequence it should be received by the faithful with the religious assent of their spirit.