Vatican on Embryo Adoptions

Vials of frozen embryos.
Vials of frozen embryos. (photo: CNS)

The new Vatican bioethics document, Dignatis Personae, provides guidance on the controversial issue of adopting frozen human embryos.

Rome’s judgement: Such adoptions are not a moral solution to the quandary posed by the existence of frozen embryos.

One of the many morally problematic consequences of IVF treatments is that the treatments result in the creation of large numbers of so-called “surplus embryos” that are frozen rather than implanted in their mothers’ wombs.

Dignitas Personae states that in creating these embryos, “a grave injustice has been perpetrated.” The document stresses that discarding these embryos or using them for research are both morally unacceptable courses of action.

But Dignitas Personae instructs that allowing “pre-natal adoptions” of such embryos — an approach favored by some pro-life groups — is also morally problematic. That’s because such adoptions cause those who participate in them to be associated with the immoral action of conceiving embryos outside of the marital act, and with practices like surrogate motherhood which are also immoral.

“This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above,” Dignitas Personae states. “All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.

“Therefore John Paul II made an appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that 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” (no.19).

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy of Life, said at a Dec. 12 press conference that the new Vatican document was not ruling out embryo adoption completely, Catholic News Service reported. But Archbishop Fisichella said the Vatican is moving towards that position because such adoptions involve prospective parents in an immoral process.

“It is worse than a dead end, which has only one way out; this has none,” Bishop Elio Sgreccia, former president of the academy, said at the same press conference.

Added Bishop Sgreccia, “The basic advice, explicitly stated in the document, is that embryos must not be frozen. It is one of those actions that has no remedy. Once it is done, correcting it implies committing another error.”

— Tom McFeely