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Monday, April 27, 2009

Frozen Embryo Adoption: Why not?

Have you wondered why the Catholic Church (which is completely 100% Pro-life) has put its foot down on frozen embryo adoptions

This isn't about creating more embryos with IVF, but about those already created - already conceived human beings frozen at the earliest stages of human development. What happens to them depends on how people view them. Are they human beings to be adopted or just a bunch of cells to be destroyed or used for scientific experiments?

As a Catholic, I accept all the teachings of my faith and trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding my Church in all it's teachings, thus doing God's Will and not mans will. While I accept all its teachings, I sometimes fail to understand them. This is my failing and not the Church's. It's OK to question things and admit not understanding something. I know that doesn't make anyone a "bad Catholic". I accept Church authority that it must know better than I do, but wish I could better understand it when it comes to one particular issue.

The one issue that has caused me confusion is frozen embryo adoptions. I totally understand and accept the Church's teaching on in vitro fertilization (IVF), that it isn't as God planned natural conception to be (to put it simply). I get that. My confusion comes with the fact that people (regardless of their faith) have already created these embryos - frozen conceived human beings - that have two options: 1) adoption which leads to life or 2) destruction which leads to their death.

I see Catholics and other pro-lifers marching with signs that say "Abortion Kills"- well so does letting these embryos be destroyed when they could be adopted and given life. So far, hundreds of thousands of frozen embryo human beings have been given Church tells me this is wrong, but I can't help but feel happy those babies were born and not destroyed. Am I wrong? How am I wrong to celebrate a life saved from destruction? I just don't understand, I really don't. I have my own wonderful children that I thank God for daily, and I am not looking to adopt any this isn't about me personally. It's about my struggle to understand the issue as a Pro-life Catholic woman who loves her Catholic faith.

I guess I am a person who looks at things in their most basic and simplest forms. This to me, is a case of life vs death. Two options, only one gives life. But the option in this case that allows for life, is the very option my Catholic faith forbids. This is something I have a hard time with.

Recently, I emailed Priests for Life to see if they could help me understand my Catholic faith's position on this issue. Here is my email to them and the response. (I have left out the person's name who emailed me).

My Comment: I understand the Church's position on Inv. Fertilization being wrong for Catholics, but I am having a hard time understanding it in light of embryo adoption. I see in the news that frozen embryos are available for adoption (thus giving them life and also making our courts view the embryos as adoptable human beings). My thought is that the life of the child outweighs the medical process as a moral issue. If frozen embryos are in need of adoption to give them life and save them from being destroyed why doesn't the Church allow this 'exception' (if you will) based on the life of the unborn child being the most important issue here. Seems like a life vs death issue. One option allows for life, the other is certain death to the conceived human being. Can you please explain this to me? Thank you and God bless all the work you do. -end-

The response from Priests for Life:
Thank you for writing to us at Priests for Life.

For more information on embryo adoption, please read the National Catholic Bioethics Center’s reflections on Dignitas Personae at

Please continue to keep in contact with us so that we may work together for an end to abortion. Be assured of our prayers.


---- -------
Priests for Life
Outreach Associate

First my thanks to Priest for Life for responding to me so quickly and for the work they do for the unborn every day. I appreciate the link and the information it provided, but I am still hoping a Catholic priest who happens to read this post will comment and tell me in plain simple terms why its better for these embryos to be destroyed rather than given life. I want to understand and I want to be at peace with this issue, but right now I am not.

I look forward to hearing any and all thoughts on this issue, whether they agree with me or not. Thanks and may God bless you all.

~Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner~


  1. Hello Julie,

    It makes no sense to me either. I have just begun to research frozen embryo adoption and was very surprised to see that this form of adoption is not accepted by the Church.

  2. Actually, the Catholic Church hasn't ruled either way on embryo adoption. I have done extensive research on this question, since I am an active Catholic who is looking into this option, and I have found priests, bishops, and professional bioethicists on both sides of the issue. While they all have definite concerns due to the connection to In vitro fertilization, there are many people within the Church who support the idea of Embryo Adoption. They can't officially support it, but they can't officially condemn it, either.

  3. I am an active catholic who has been researching and considering embryo adoption as my husband has bilateral absence of the vas defrens.

    The Catholic Church has not ruled against embryo adoption, just stated that there are problems with it and I am very glad that did bring the moral problems to the forefront! I know in my case, embryo adoption is something I looked at as a perfect situation, a way to parent a child from conception while also not partaking in the immoral activity of IVF.

    The proclamation made me consider all the problems involved with embryo adoption like the scandal that arises if I am not prepared to explain that I do not support IVF and that the child is not biologically ours through IVF and the emotional issues that are unique to adopted children, including those from embryo adoption. Which may be dealt with for children from traditional adoptions but swept under the rug in the case of embryo adoption.

    We are still considering embryo adoption but have decided to foster children, possibly adopting.

  4. Hello,
    I've been following this issue closely, my wife and I adopted several frozen embryo's. We don't condone how they were created. But they are most definetly children. Our "adopted" son is 1 years old now, and he has a pair of siblings on the way.

    I sincerely strive to live by the Catholic faith. If my understanding is counter to the teaching of the bishops, I humbly concede.

    The reflection my wife and I went through when praying about embryo adoption was the image of the Holy Family. Christ was raised by a "father" who was not his own biologically, he was not the product of "normal" human relations. Nor was the decision to adopt an embryo solely my wife's - it was a unified "yes." I can understand the plight of Joseph when people ask, "who do you think the child looks like?" For Jesus's sake, Joseph probably smiled and said, "I don't know who do you think he looks like?" I ponder Joseph's role. I think he played the visible role as husband and legitimate biological father while silently suffering and protecting the child's identity from a less than understanding society.

    My wife's preganancy wasn't a "surrogacy" - carrying the child for someone else. Our child is not deprived of a mother/father (e.g. single woman adopting embryo's). FWIW, I think embryo's should only be placed with married couples.

    I understand and respect the bishops contributions to date. The "adoption" - even though we worked through an agency - was technically a "property transfer." It is dehumanizing. Scheduling the embryo transfer date - again, it dehumanizes the process - and yes, to some extent, I feel left out of the process when only my wife had to sign forms, and I wasn't in the room while the transfer occured. By no means is it a natural process.

    I asked the clinic - what happens to the embryo's that don't survive the thaw - I didn't get an answer. I have to believe that no "burial" is forthcoming. This too is dehumanizing.

    I pray the church remains open on this topic. I believe it best to error on the side of life that the children may one day have life and have it more abundantly. At the same time, embryo adoption carries unique burdens and sufferings. My wife and I carry our child's origins very close to our hearts and haven't shared it beyond our parents and our son's godparents. This is our child's story and it belongs to him to share when he's older. My wife and I are called to live as Mary and Joseph raising and protecting a child from a probing, sensational world. If the Lord calls you to this path, so be it. I agree with the bishops it is problematic and is probably best left disouraged (but not forbidden.)

  5. DIGNITAS PERSONAE states in Section 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.

    DIGNITAS PERSONAE also says, “ it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”

    The issue is a moral minefield. Freezing is wrong, thawing is wrong, embryo adoption is wrong for similar reasons that ivf is wrong.

    The Church has commented on the creation of incubators to 'grow' the embryo's

  6. DIGNITAS PERSONAE states in Section 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.

    DIGNITAS PERSONAE also says, “ it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”

    The issue is a moral minefield. Freezing is wrong, thawing is wrong, embryo adoption is wrong for similar reasons that ivf is wrong.

    The Church has commented on the creation of incubators to 'grow' the embryo's

  7. The end never justifies the means. As someone who has been interested in the Personhood Amendment to the Colorado State Constituion I was horrified to hear a woman proudly announce to the rally on the state capital steps on January 22, 2010 that she had adopted a "snowflake" and held up a beautiful little girl who was now about 5 years old. I got into quite a discussion with woman who had talked me into working for Personhood USA on the morality of this. I am vehemently opposed, she thinks it is wonderful. I now understand why the Archbishop of Denver has not come out wholeheartedly for Personhood. Tragically, the fate of frozen embryos is that they essentially have been selectively aborted and "rescuing" them from this fate is akin to using extraordinary means to save their lives, I feel. Like embryos that start to grow in the fallopian tube, they bear a similar fate. They are not growing in a place that would naturally bring them to life, but must be implanted using immoral means to save them. We are not obliged to do this, and we must remember that their purpose is known only to God, and they will be looking down on us from the highest heaven for all eternity. Cooperating with an immoral medical practice is just allowing it to thrive and while I would not want to be the person to tell an infertile woman that what she is planning to do when she buys, because after all this is not a free service to boot, a "snowflake" as these frozen embryos are called, she is perpetuating a very immoral business and until the medical profession and bio-science come up with something morally acceptable for her infertility (she needs to contact Dr. Thomas Hilgers at Creighton!) she is in danger of losing her soul if she does this. Few people know, as well, that children conceived in this way are much more susceptible to life-threatening infections, something that is not told to people who use in vitro fertilization.

  8. Theresa,

    I post this message with all due respect to your situation (as my husband and I too struggle with infertility.) We were both born and raised in the Catholic church. My struggle with your comment is that if you do in fact agree that the act in which those embryos came to be is immoral, then your desire to benefit from the end result seems a tad selfish.

    The couple who's embryos you may adopt went through an undoubted struggle both physically and emotionally for those embryos to come into existence. If you believe that process to be sinful and plan to raise your child in the Catholic church you may end up with more emotional issues than you can imagine with questions from your potential future child.

    While I understand your reasoning that, yes, they already exist. You have to accept the fact that they would not have existed without IVF.

    To use a very poor example (but the only one that comes to mind) One wouldn't be a vegetarian simply by disagreeing with animals being killed for food. If that person felt strongly but still ate the meat because, well, the damage was done and there the steaks are in the grocery store...well that person can no longer call themselves a vegetarian.

    I do wish you all the best in your similar struggle. May you be a mommy soon!

  9. The meat example for the vegetarian makes no sense. Adopting the embryos saves them from dying whereas eating the beef has no benefit to the cow and increases the demand for butchering cows. Allowing the embryos to have a family and develop would not be increasing the demand in this situation since they are not being bought or sold or raised for this purpose. They are being abandoned. In situations where adopting the embryos would increase the demand, then there would be a much stronger arguement for it being wrong, much like adopting a child who is stolen or surrogacy.

    We don't feel called to embryo adoption at this time. We plan to adopt from foster care. Adopting from foster care is similar to adopting embryos and your arguement against embryo adoption would also apply to adoption from foster care.

    We don't support the creation of the situation where these children in foster care are unable to be cared for by their parents, generally the result of sinful actions on the part of the parents. But since that is the situation and they are children in need of and deserving of a home and we are happy to give that to them, we look forward to adopting them. This is the same situation as embryo adoption. There are people who are being abandoned and they need care.

  10. It's a hugely dangerous thing to allow some children to be rescued, while "disallowing" the rescue of embryonic children.

    To put it another way, the embryo is a child (my wife and I have 3 that were adopted as embryos).

    Is it immoral for a parent to adopt an already born, abandoned infant and breast feed him/her to ensure survival? No.

    Is it wrong for a doctor or nurse assitant to help the infant "latch-on" to the mothers breast? No.

    In parallel, I see no compelling reason for an already existing, abandoned embryonic child to be refused assistance in "latching on" to the mothers uterine wall.

    In this case, the doctor is analogous to the person helping the baby "latch-on" when it cannot do it by itself.

  11. I've read Dignitas Personae - it's not the black and white "no" that it's made out to be.

    Common objection #1:
    Section 19
    - We adopted our embryonic children with the same intent as a couple adopting a "born" child. Just as it would be wrong to adopt a "born" child with a utilitarian "treatment" mindset, so also it is wrong to adopt a frozen child as a "treatment."

    - non-utilitarian embryo adoption is different than the reasoning behind "artificial heterologous procreation illicit"
    look at the reasons why the church forbids this in Donum Vitae:

    A) Respect for the unity of marriage and for conjugal fidelity demands that the child be conceived in marriage;

    - this says nothing about children already conceived - therefore not "embryo adoption relevant"

    B) the bond existing between husband and wife accords the uses, in an objective and inalienable manner, the exclusive right to become father and mother solely through each other.

    - My wife and I become parents through mutual consent. The Catholic Church does not condemn traditional adoption.

    C) Recourse to the gametes of a third person, in order to have sperm or ovum available, constitutes a violation of the reciprocal commitment of the spouses and a grave lack in regard to that essential property of marriage which is its unity.

    - what's spoken of us a 3rd "parent" in creating a child - notice the emphasis is on the singular sperm donor or ovum donor.

    The 3rd person in embryo adoption is a distinct human person, not a melding of wife/other man or man/other woman.

    D) Heterologous artificial fertilization violates the rights of the child; it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personal identity. Furthermore, it offends the common vocation of the spouses who are called to fatherhood and motherhood: it objectively deprives conjugal fruitfulness of its unity and integrity; it brings about and manifests a rupture between genetic parenthood, gestational parenthood and responsibility for upbringing. Such damage to the personal relationships within the family has repercussions on civil society: what threatens the unity and stability of the family is a source of dissension, disorder and injustice in the whole of social life.

    - This is what creation of frozen embryos does (and why it must stop).

    E) as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;

    Carrying someone else's child is surrogacy. Adopting an existing child and nourishing it with a womb is comparable to adopting a live infant and nourishing it with a mother's breast. The main difference is the size of the baby adopted (one cell vs. 1 billion cells), and how the baby is helped to "latch on"

    F) this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

    - Agreed, but so does traditional adoption, and the issues of "open adoption" aren't an express prohibition

    G) “ it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”

    - embryo adoption is not intended to be a resolution of injustice. Just as a child who was abandoned/abused as a child cannot sue or prosecute dead/missing biological parents, neither can adopting this abused/abandoned child rectify the deprivation of biological parents nor mitigate the risk the unborn child was put in by freezing.

    For what it's worth, it is a moral minefield, and embryo adoption can EASILY lead to viewing children as objects. However, possibility for abuse does not mean the adoption is illicit. I pray that embryo creation stops. Till then, my wife and I are prayerfully open to adopting more children and giving them a loving home. "Whatever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me."

    Our least brethren are naked, freezing, and without nourishment.

  12. There are so many Pharisees in this world. So much self-righteous judgment. Where is the humility that Jesus taught?


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Thank you and God bless...

Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

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