Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Embryo Adoption?

In a February 25th interview with Andrea Kirk Assaf of Zenit, Dr. Brian Scarnecchia addressed bioethical issues surrounding embryo adoption that are open for debate among Catholics as well as matters that have definitively been closed. Here were the main points of the interview.

-Over 400,000 tiny human embryos created through in vitro fertilization exist today.

-"Donum Vitae" was issued in 1987, the freezing of human embryos was condemned, in vitro fertilization was condemned, and surrogate motherhood was declared illicit and condemned.

-"Donum Vitae" principally addressed the coming to be of a human being through a conception that was not the fruit of a conjugal act of love between a husband and a wife, but occurred in vitro, that is, in a glass petri dish. This procedure was clearly condemned as was the freezing of "extra" or "spare" embryos.

-Thousands of frozen embryos have been created and the question was asked by many well intentioned persons -- can a woman, other than the mother, have a frozen embryo transplanted into her womb without becoming a surrogate mother?

-[Some bioethicists] say that woman would not become a surrogate mother, they argued, if she did not intend to give the child away after birth but intended to adopt him or her.

-[Other] bioethicists argued that if the transfer of a frozen embryo into a woman's womb was surrogacy per se, it would be intrinsically evil and it couldn't be done for any good motive, not even to save the life of the frozen embryo.

-That debate went on for 20 years, from 1987-2008. Then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued "Dignitas Personae."

-Paragraph 19 said that those who are genetic strangers to the embryo, who through heterologous embryo transfer, become pregnant with a child genetically not their own, have engaged in acts similar to heterologous in vitro fertilization and/or surrogacy, and it was not a licit act. So it is not licit to adopt an embryo to fill out your family size.

-Following the publication of Dignitas Personae [snowflake baby adoption] would no longer seem to be an option a Catholic can in good faith pursue.

-Some bioethicists who argued against heterologous embryo transfer said that it was tantamount to a technological adultery; that for a woman to become pregnant with another couple’s child violates the unitive good of marriage

-Brian Scarnecchia, president of the International Solidarity and Human Rights Institute and professor of law at Ave Maria Law School says...

-My talk was about [the situation] of a mother who repents of the sin of in vitro fertilization and wants to take back or rescue her own frozen embryos.

-In 2006, my response was that the genetic mother could rescue her own frozen embryos, and not become a surrogate and, so, Catholic members of the European Parliament could advocate for this outcome in good faith.

-Parental self-giving has three phases.
1. Natural conception: Every child has the right to be conceived beneath his or her mother’s heart flowing from an act of parental conjugal self-giving.

2. Gestational phase: Every child has a right to be nurtured in his or her mother’s womb.

3. Formative: Every child after birth has the right to be raised by his or her parents until maturity.

-In my book, "Bioethics, Law and Catholic Social Thought" (Scarecrow Press, 2010), I argue that when the genetic mother takes her frozen embryo back into her womb, through homologous embryo transfer, that act affirms the child’s right to gestational parenthood beneath his or her mother’s heart. On the other hand, should a genetic stranger do so, the child suffers a second violation of its rights through heterologous embryo transfer, which "Dignitas Personae" makes clear is analogous to heterologous in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.

-Other bioethicists argue to the contrary that if every conception must be a result of a conjugal act of husband and wife, as "Donum Vitae" states, then every pregnancy must also flow from an act of conjugal union between spouses. Therefore, if the genetic mother would become pregnant through acts of technicians, they argue that this homologous embryo transfer would be a second violation of the rights of the embryo and the mother would, ironically, become a surrogate to her own child. It seems to me that if, by way of analogy, an ectopic tubal pregnancy could be resolved by successfully transferring the embryonic child from its site of implantation in its mother’s fallopian tube to its mother’s uterus, few would object that the child suffered violation because its life was saved through a uterine pregnancy begun by third parties through an act of homologous embryo transfer.

Read the entire Zenit article here.
Dr. Scarnecchia will be on Kresta in the Afternoon later today from 5-6 p.m. Eastern Time.


  1. I was researching becoming a surrogate mother online and came across this blog. Very informative and insightful post!

  2. becoming a surrogate mother has been at the back of my mind for years now, and now that a close family member just found out she can't bare children I've decided to do it for her!! Your blog helped me learn a lot!