Embryo Adoption, on the Rise, Is Still a Moral Question Mark

Will It Further Institutionalize in Vitro Fertilization?

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FULLERTON, California, APRIL 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- About 200,000 unwanted or "leftover" embryos from in vitro fertilization treatments are set to be destroyed or used for stem-cell research purposes in the United States.



However, Fullerton-based Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program, a division of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, is using $500,000 from a $1 million federal fund approved by the Bush administration to encourage childless couples to adopt these unwanted embryos which are stored in clinics throughout the country.

Pro-abortion activists believe that the spread of these types of adoption programs will make it harder to legally dispute the right to life of even the smallest embryos.

According to Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the idea of "adopting" embryos appeared to be laying the legal groundwork for considering embryos as human beings with full legal rights.

"If an embryo were a person with full legal rights, abortion could more easily be declared illegal," she said in an Associated Press report.

At present, embryos can be sold or donated and are considered a transfer of property. No state in America has granted legal recognition to the concept of embryo adoption; however, five states offer legal protections for the parents of adopted embryos.

While some Christian anti-abortion activists view this development as promising in the effort to save the lives of the unborn and build a culture of life, others are skeptical that it may lead to "designer" adoptions where potential parents select from "ideal" embryos.

Amid contrasting views by Catholic theologians, the Church has still not expressed an official opinion on embryo adoption. The problem is due to the inherently immoral nature of IVF procedures, which in turn have led to the creation of huge numbers of "leftover" embryos.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2377: "The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that 'entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.'"

Writing in the Denver Catholic Register, chastity advocate Mary Beth Bonacci explains the predicament.

"It seems to me that such an act (embryo adoption) would be moral, even morally admirable," she states. "It would be a rescue situation -- rescuing a human person from a non-life in suspended animation. It's a very pro-life thing to do.

"But here's what bothers me. I'm afraid that, if it's seen as the 'perfect solution' for infertility, it will be more likely to become the norm. If infertile couples start clamoring for fertilized eggs, it will help to further 'institutionalize' the practice of in-vitro fertilization."

Debate among Catholic theologians has centered around a 1987 instructional document, "Donum Vitae," issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"Just to create those embryos was a grave wrong," said John Neumayr, a professor at Thomas Aquinas College, in an interview with the Lay Catholic Mission newspaper of Los Angeles. "Once they exist, however, they do exist as human beings and persons; and making the best of the situation means not destroying them -- which would be murder."

Monsignor William Smith, a noted moral theologian, wrote a 1995 article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review in which he declared that "Donum Vitae" rendered embryo adoption illicit.

"I really don't think that's a licit procedure," he said in the Lay Catholic Mission. "'Donum' Vitae didn't answer that precise question. But my judgment is negative."

According to the Telegraph newspaper of London, demand for embryo adoptions is increasing. There are now 13 women pregnant with embryo "adoptions" and Snowflakes has a list of 155 couples willing to donate embryos, and 134 ready to adopt them.