It is not uncommon for me to receive copies of new books fresh off the presses in the hopes that CBC will promote them through our book review section or promote them as resources to our audience. I was happy to receive a copy of Human Embryo Adoption: Biotechnology, Marriage and the Right to Life, but I have to confess, I knew what I’d find within the pages before I even opened the book.
Human Embryo Adoption is a collection of essays written by some of the leading Catholic voices in theology, ethics, and science. And at the heart of these essays is an attempt to reconcile Catholic teachings with the moral quandary of what should and ought to be done with the frozen surplus human embryos which have an ‘absurd fate’.
Full disclosure before I continue. I am not a Roman Catholic, so I am no expert on Catholic teachings or Catholic theology. However, I have always appreciated Catholic scholars for their theological and intellectual rigor and their right sense of urgency to address important moral and ethical concerns. Robert George of Princeton states up front in the foreword of the book, that because the issue of human embryo adoption is so urgent, Catholic scholars place special importance on trying to resolve the dilemma of what we are to do with the cryopreserved embryo who is most definitely the least of our brothers and sisters. Catholic teaching agrees that the dignity of the embryo has twice been violated, first by the ex vivo creation of the embryo, and second by the cryopreservation of that embryo. So, from this starting point, Human Embryo Adoption attempts to redress the disposition question for the embryo—that is, what is to become of the frozen embryo . And, at this point, for me, there were no surprises because Catholic teaching to date is silent on the issue of the embryos disposition; therefore, as an open question in this book, the debate is lively and varied. To their credit, these faithful Catholics seem to be alone in their earnest wrestling with such an important moral dilemma, and I imagine their heavy intellectual lifting will only further benefit the common good.
Human Embryo Adoption provides essays which cover the gamut of:
- Can, should, and ought married couples adopt surplus embryos?
- Can a single woman adopt a surplus embryo?
- Can an embryo, rescued from the freezer, be implanted and allowed to be born and then given up for adoption? What is morally permissible?
The scholarly papers provide a spectrum of reflection and instruction which all aim to point to the truth. Each in its own way attempting to make right a situation we are forced to address and in this case, to reconcile the theological teachings with the appropriate way forward.
For example, William E. May, Ph.D . – winner of last year’s Paul Ramsey Award—
argues in his essay that it is morally permissible for a woman, whether married or single, to ‘adopt by choice the proposal to have an abandoned and frozen unborn child, a human embryo immorally generated by IVF . . .’
Arguing from the other side, Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D ., notes the difficulty ‘of a morally licit path to resolution’ and outlines ‘certain arguments that identify the intrinsic evil of embryo adoption as the instrumentalization and misuse of goods proper to procreation and marriage.’
Throughout this book, the essays go back and forth discussing the moral obligation to rescue or not rescue the abandoned embryo, presenting a Catholic discussion on becoming a mother vs. becoming pregnant, conjugal love and embryo adoption and providing responses to the objections of embryo adoption.
Apart from agreeing that creating life ex vivo and freezing it is not morally permissible, Human Embryo Adoption suggests that the road leading back to the Church of Rome is windy and bumpy for now. Moving forward, we at the CBC will continue to promote IVF practices which do not create surplus embryos, and continue to back policies that hinder the creation of surplus embryos (like the German law ) – all for the hope that the embryo adoption debate will soon fade, along with the number of human embryos destined to an ‘absurd fate.’
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