Vatican Rules Out Adoption of Frozen Embryos - at Least for Now

Fri Dec 12, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

By John-Henry Westen
  VATICAN CITY, December 12, 2008 ( - The Catholic Church has been very clear in its teachings touching most bioethical issues. Even though there is much objection by so-called liberal theologians, there has never been a legitimate debate touching the permissibility of abortion or contraception.  However, with regard to adoption of frozen embryos, there has been a lively debate even among very orthodox theologians, and today the Vatican settled that debate.
  Today, December 12, known in the Catholic Church as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the unborn, the long-awaited document Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person), was released.  The document addresses certain questions in light of recent developments in reproductive technology, adding to a similar document, Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life), which was released in 1987.
  The document restates forcefully the Church’s condemnation of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and all forms of artificial procreation which substitute for the marital act as the means of procreation.
  The document also acknowledges the deplorable situation which has been created by the illegitimate manipulation of man’s reproductive powers.  One particularly odious problem is the abundance of frozen embryos in storage in countries where IVF is practiced.  "There are," says the document, "thousands upon thousands of frozen embryos in almost all countries in which in vitro fertilization takes place."
  Although their creation was illegitimate, the document addresses the question of "what to do with them," since they are already in existence.
  The document rules out research on human embryos. "Proposals to use these embryos for research or for the treatment of disease are obviously unacceptable because they treat the embryos as mere ‘biological material’ and result in their destruction."  It adds: "The proposal to thaw such embryos without reactivating them and use them for research, as if they were normal cadavers, is also unacceptable."
  The debate which has had staunchly pro-life ethicists on either side since the mid 1990s is whether women can offer to adopt the frozen embryos in order to give them a chance at life.  While the document notes that such proposals are praiseworthy, it goes on to explain that it is nevertheless problematic.
"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’," says the document.  "This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems."
  The problems presented have to do with the illicit nature of surrogacy.

Thus the Vatican laments and abhors the fact that the current situation of the thousands of frozen embryos in the world represents "a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved." 
  It was for this reason, says the document, that Pope John Paul II already in 1996 asked the scientists of the world to bring a halt to production of human embryos since "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."

  While the Vatican did say that it could not now envision a morally legitimate way forward with frozen embryo adoption, it did leave a window of possibility open. Catholic News Service reports that Archbishop Rino Fisichella the Pontifical Academy for Life said on the matter that "the discussion is still open".  He added, however, that while the Vatican has not ruled out the possibility of embryo adoption completely, it is leaning toward a completely negative judgment because embryo adoption involves the future parents in an immoral process.
  See the full document Dignitas Personae online here:

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