On the Moral Objectionability of Human Embryo Adoption
The disposition of abandoned frozen embryos remains a topic of intense discussion as pressure to sanction human embryonic destruction for stem cell research continues to build. Debates about “embryo adoption” have intensified as part of this discussion. A number of children have been born this way, and their presence serves to vividly remind us that each frozen embryo is not an anonymous grouping of cells, but a child with his or her own specific traits. These children also remind us how “unwanted” or “abandoned” embryos can be given other possible trajectories besides being discarded or destroyed for research. My aim in this paper, nonetheless, is to offer several interconnected reasons I believe embryo adoption is illicit and unlikely ever to be sanctioned by the Catholic Church. I also intend to briefly consider the related question of the fate of the many cryopreserved embryos currently in storage.
The core question under consideration revolves around the final step typically undertaken during the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process, and whether that step of transferring an embryo into a woman’s uterus is morally licit. Some such as Tollefsen and Brown and Eberl in this volume, would argue that embryo transfer as part of the in vitro fertilization process is wrong, but not when it is carried out as a form of “rescue” or “adoption.” I believe such a view is internally inconsistent and will attempt to argue in this paper that embryo transfer of any kind involves the participants in a fundamentally disordered kind of action. The process of deriving moral conclusions can be complicated by the fact that grave and systematic violations of the moral law may have already preceded and conditioned the situation. We find ourselves today in the strikingly unnatural situation of routinely handling human embryos in a sterile laboratory setting, far removed from a woman’s womb. As a consequence, we have seen tremendous depersonalizing and objectifying forces skew the discussion about early embryonic life. It has become nearly routine to see scanning electron micrographs of early human embryos sitting on the point of a sewing pin, or being poked with micromanipulators.
KeywordsEmbryo Transfer Human Embryo Artificial Insemination Freeze Embryo Moral Objectionability
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