Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The embryo moral dilemma - an update

Update of information is at the end of this post......

There are an estimated 600,000 embryos in limbo in American laboratories and IVF centres.

They are unwanted, surplus to requirements, an embarrassment - but not to God.

The dilemma is, what to do with them?

They are individual lives so they cannot be destroyed, although I doubt if many IVF Directors are too worried about that.

Now, there is a move by some Christian groups to 'adopt' them, for women to place themselves in the role of a prospective mother and to be implanted with the embryos.

We know, do we not, that the end, in terms of abiding by Catholic doctrine, can never justify the means but, for the life of me I cannot see a logical solution other than 'adoption'.

The Daily Mail (ugh) reports that: 

"While conservative Christians and the Catholic Church have long opposed abortion, they diverge when it comes to embryo adoption.
This is because the Catholic Church is fundamentally opposed to IVF treatments, saying 'It needs to be recognised that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice that cannot be resolved,' said Vatican theologians in a 2008 bioethics treatise".

Perhaps a Canon Lawyer or a Theologian or both would like to comment?


Thanks to a friend for his message via FB and to several comments left on the last post.

There is some debate concerning 'allowing the embryos to die'.
Presumably, this would mean removing them from their frozen status.

Of course, one also assumes that the Sacrament of Baptism would be bestowed upon them.

So far so good but this solution seems akin to me of leaving an elderly ill person without food or water so that their death is accelerated.

Death by neglect might be the term used.

It would be good to see this issue raised in a more respectable public arena than this blog......something from the Vatican perhaps?


  1. I understand the Holy See does have people considering what can be done for the little human beings in the terrible situation in which they've been callously put.

  2. Sorry Sir but it's all more complicated than can be possibly imagined...because it all revolves round 'why surrogacy is wrong' and what is the nature and efficient/final causes of the womb and the absolute prohibition against committing evil [no matter for what 'well-intentioned' motive or however 'critical/tragic' the circumstances] BUT also our moral duty to recourse of that which prevents objective evil occurring or diminishes the resultant evil/moral disorder [but this requires us to totally redress the very hierarchy of moral order and recognise that quite a few things which are morally permissible when they conform to the 2nd[subjective/motive] and 3rd [conditional/circumstantial] fonts of morality are actually objectively morally disordered within the 1st font [objective] and are only 're-ordered' by a positive/negative double effect to promote 'right action' or to prevent grave evil]

    We have to abandon the notion that virtually anything is 'morally neutral' and the majority of our actions if performed to their own end would be either venial or mortally sinful UNLESS they're committed conforming to the 2nd & 3rd fonts of promoting 'right action towards a common good [remembering the individual is PART of that] OR is preventing direct objective evil occurring.

    BUT that which can promote the common good within this must only be morally disordered in the 1st font
    We are expressly forbidden from committing that which is INTRINSICALLY morally disordered [that which normatively would lead to mortal sin] in the 1st font to promote a common good in the 2nd & 3rd

    Intrinsically morally disordered acts are only permissible within the negative double effect - in the prevention of evil - e.g. we can kill in self-defence, actuate a just war, lie to the mad axeman, smack our child to prevent them putting their hand in the fire or running out into the street, submit to homosexual rape if the threat is to murder yourself, wife & family, risk the viability of an unborn child if both mother and child's deaths are inevitable without such action etc...

    If we don't get it right we end up calling that which is morally disordered [and only permissible within remits of the double effect] as being universally acceptable and morally neutral and utilisable at any time.
    [say for instance Natural Family Planning - which is permissible in critical emergency circumstances which fulfill the 2nd & 3rd fonts criteria - but outside those criteria is just as gravely sinful as using artificial contraception - and therefore can never be considered Good - only merely potential 'right recourse of action' [ for that which is good is always good and although may be limited by the 2nd and 3rd fonts [e.g. it's unwise/reckless to kneel and pray when you should be fleeing for your life or attempting to rescue a child from a burning building - but the prayer remains good-in-itself] it is always good and cannot be bad - actions like NFP or killing animals for food or war or killing in self defence - can only ever be determined as right actions - never good ones....


  3. So here's the problem:
    Natural law determines that creating an embryo outside the marital act and outside the womb is gravely sinful.
    Surrogacy which conspires with this [along with IVF etc] is also gravely sinful.

    Now WHY is this surrogacy gravely sinful?
    Is it because of the conspiracy against the marital act?

    Or is it additionally because the womb is solely for the gestation of one's own children after one's own marital act within marriage?

    Here resides the problem
    The 'solely' factor.
    Is the 'solely' part of the teaching? Is it absolutely, intrinsically irrevocably connected with natural law teaching?

    If it is then any emergency recourse to rescue a child from death mid-pregnancy [in some hypothetical sci-fi futurist scenario] by transplanting them to the womb of a willing volunteer [who'd say for instance just miscarried and had an available developed womb] would be absolutely forbidden... would be the transplanting of those created in IVF and destined to be legally defrosted and destroyed to a willing volunteer surrogate.

    If a baby's mother dies in childbirth can another mother of a newborn help nurse them? Of course they can - they're saving a life...
    Can a third party provide an organ transplant for a dying newborn? Assuredly yes...saving a life again.

    But what about supplying a womb?
    Surrogacy is absolutely condemned in present vatican directives as a grave evil because of its very nature of conspiracy in creating embryos outside the marital act.

    But what about emergency critical surrogacy for those embryos who were created by the grave evil committed by dissociate third parties?

    Can they be rescued?
    In order to prevent the evil committed against them being aggravated by their murder?

    It all depends on that 'solely' factor...
    Many moral theologians argue - with sound coherent thinking on natural law principles - that the 'solely' for the gestation of one's own children conceived during the marital act is the ONLY moral position to hold...

    and that according to the first font - objectively surrogacy on any grounds is a violation of of this 'solely' absolute principle and is therefore objectively evil
    ..and thus impermissible on any grounds.

    No matter what the circumstances or intentions - one cannot commit evil so that good may result - therefore these created embryos must be immediately defrosted, baptised and allowed to die with immediate christian burial.

    What if this 'solely' is merely normative and not absolute?
    What if the solely is a predicate which may be removed by the critical demands of the 2nd & 3rd fonts?

    What if the surrogacy [by those non-conspiratorial with the conception outside the marital act] rather than being objectively evil was instead a lesser 'intrinsically morally disordered' and only normatively gravely sinful in most circumstances?

    That would mean that in critical circumstances - in order to prevent the grave evil of the murder of a frozen embryo - then there would be a permissible negative double effect recourse to that which was in most normal circumstances if performed to its own end - gravely sinful...


  4. So is it evil to gestate another woman's child?
    Or is it merely intrinsically morally disordered?

    If it's intrinsically morally disordered then the frozen IVF embryos may be rescued - in a direct prevention of evil [murder].
    But if it's evil we are forbidden from doing it....

    But what is the cardinal issue - the critical crux of the matter - it depends upon the interpretation of the natural law in regard to the efficient and final causes of the womb itself... the moral theologian correct in determining that the womb is only, absolutely and unconditionally solely for one's own concepti?

    or is it the case of just normatively being the case - with potential circumstances where the prevention of a grave, direct, imminent evil permits recourse to exempt and negate this normative principle?

    That's the problem: Is the womb 'solely' for one's own?
    or is it normatively for one's own without intrinsic moral disorder occurring?

    ...and is the intrinsic moral disorder of surrogacy permissible in the prevention of the grave evil being committed?

    Renowned moral theologians/ethicists [Fr Chad Ripperger/Luke Gormally etc] argue that surrogacy is always forbidden...

    I don't - because I believe that the 'solely' is an unnecessary additional exigent predicate 'stuck on' to the teaching to make it absolutely exclusive - and is not part of the natural law efficient or final causes of the womb.

    Who's right?
    Well of course I'm going to say I am.
    But we have no magisterial directive to any effect - except a condemnation of surrogacy on certain grounds - and the grounds DO NOT APPLY - to the hypothetical situation of providing emergency surrogacy to those already created by a grave evil and about to have that grave evil compounded with their imminent murder....

    Of course Rome should speak - but the vast array of moral dilemmas and critical ethical questions is mounting up and has been significantly accruing over the years - Rhonheimer's 'prophylactic intention' re condoms and hiv , the Dominicans' defence of ANT & OAR - producing brainless embrys for experimentation , the big question over Evangelium Vitae 73.3 & restrictive abortion legislation, and now what to do with frozen embryos about to be destroyed?

    ...and to be honest - Ratzinger is not at the CDF any more - and I wouldn't trust ++Muller-light crunch corner to be either competent or capable fo providing answers...

    but this is the major problem in moral theology - and the internecine war goin on within it...

    We needed a Pope to redress this - possibly create a new pontifical intiative for moral theology - but with this present Pope - it aint going to happen...

  5. Wow, that was a long reply OTSOTA! I think I followed it, and would definitely stick with Fr Ripperger & Gormally's conclusion rather than yours, but I'm no moral theologian, just a mere woman who had secondary infertility, and would NEVER have considered surrogacy in order to save embryos from being destroyed, or to enlarge my family. What I am intrigued about, however, is the fact that people think the embryos should be baptised before being destroyed - how could that be, when the Church does not allow baptism of babies in utero? (Or does She?)

    1. LizzieD
      Be careful of "destroyed" - Ive said this myself in the world, talking to friends, without thinking, but whether or not Frs ripperger &gormally are right about surrogacy always being forbidden , OTSA is right to use the correct word, murder.
      If, which I do not believe, these freezers really are so extraordinary that it is licit to unplug them, these humans will then die , and the mortal remains can be buried.
      Won't take up much space.
      Seems more like exposure outdoors of newborns to me , tho.

  6. Thank you OTSOTA. So what is your solution?
    (In not more than ten words) :)

  7. LizzieD, the Church does not baptise babies in utero, but these babies are not in utero, they are in fact, born, albeit extremely prematurely.
    Super posts, super responses, we really have to get thinking here...

  8. Whatever we can...[in full conscience]

    Yes pro-active surrogacy is gravely sinful as it conspires with sins against life and love.

    But reactive surrogacy seeks damage limitation and lessening of the evil through non-aggravation of already committed grave evils...

    So? Follow your informed conscience...

  9. What an obscene, diabolical mess. The Evil One presumably is smiling.

  10. I expect OTSA is right, he usually is.
    I had never considered the possibility of intrinsically a woman's own concepti soley licit per womb per se . As opposed to not collaborating with IVF before the fact.

    However I venture to suggest re the comment on the previous post, quoting the idea that freezing is an " extrordinary" means of keeping people alive, that this too isn't as simple as all that .
    "Extraordinary " is, for the church, contingent as opposed to absolute, for any given therapy, if my information is correct.
    Without protection -clothes, shelter, some heating even, all of which can become extraordinary in particular circumstances,-the english climate, let alone say, yukon territory - will kill an older human being in fairly short order .
    OTSA probably knows this one too, please jump in if IM up the pole.
    I was scandalized in Spain 40 odd years ago by a (complicated ) case where blood transfusion was refused as extraordinary.
    Apparently this was formally correct, just out of date in application.(The - catholic- decisionmaker was mentally stuck in year dot)
    In the dearth of resources of wartime and immediate postwarSpain , just as in many modern theatres of war and disaster, what is extraordinary, and hence licitly denied someone dying UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES is not the same as in a consumer society with modern resources routinely available.
    The extremely moderate cost per child per annum - a facility isn't cheap, but I dunno how many hundreds of thousands can be kept
    If However we humans , however microscopic, have a shorter frozen "shelf life" ( lord , this is people as property isnt it just !)than currently expected then thought needs taking faster.
    Otherwise there are quite a few years to think things thru and get things ready.
    Because the statistics for IVF are pretty bad , only a minority of implanted humans at embryo stage are sucessfully born .

    This is again NOT the same as EMBARKING on ivf - the interntion is their survival - but if the present owners of humans (yeah, slavery was abolished , wasn't it , ha) - believably say take them already or goodbye Charlie we give them to the human vivisectionists or unplug, then just rush.

    Other wise someone's got somesouldestroying triage-type decisions.
    Words fail

  11. Clearly the question of whether or not the act of placing an embryo in a woman's uterus is evil per se is at issue. Even where no involvement in the objective evil of fusing the gametes apart from the act of sexual intercourse. Apart from the question of whether such an act is intrinsically evil, however, is the question of whether to act even where it is not intrinsically evil, when a general practice of "adopting" abandoned embryos is probably going to lead to more embryos being created in vitro. Another aspect is that if one were to try to put this principle into practice, to save the lives of many of such persons, the civil law of the jurisdiction would be unavoidably involved, and since the law would probably first permit IVF, etc., its moral basis would probably not conform to natural moral law. Thus, there would be no way of controlling who got to have an embryo implanted in her womb, or the motivation of such person (though the civil law would probably purport to regulate same). There would probably be persons who would have embryos implanted not for the good of the embryos but for selfish reasons, and who might have them killed later if circumstances changed, e.g. child had some disability, imperfection not detectable earlier (abortion is permissible under most civil law legal systems). In practice, an immoral civil law regime would run things, not an organisation such as the Church according to the natural moral law. A woman engaging in intrinsically evil sexual relations with another woman could be permitted to have an "abandoned" embryo implanted so that she might rear the child in this terribly evil situation, with two "mothers". In short, a general practice of "saving" abandoned embryos would not operate under any objectively moral principles.

    1. 1.that's right now even if all so.
      And suppose a frozen baby bank were the spoils of war of a Catholic warlord/crusader or a divine providence inspired christian leaning Cyrus or Constantine? Farfetched? So was the fall of communism, until it happened. Better have our moral praxis ready.
      2.Brave new world, but how far are we from uterine tissue(presumably from stemcells) in a culture vat ? Betcha they're trying, betcha they re itching to try with humans, and may have.
      Oh Yuck!

    2. Sorry Lynda and regrettably am in a mad rush at present and unable to respond in full but I am afraid you seem to be under some misapprehension that the practicality/applicability of something relates to its moral ordering - the ethics of doing do not influence the morality of being - we're not consequentialist nor utilitarian nor situationist nor relativist nor pragmatist...You're arguing from a position of reverse induction - and however valid/invalid each particular point/consequence/resultant/cautionary - they're an irrelevance towards the morality of the issue - if you wish to discuss the practical ethics of potential application - or even those difficulties making application impossible - that's fine but you have to begin with an acceptance of the premise - not a consideration that consequentialist exigents can effect it. Will get back to you- p.s. be careful what you designate intrinsic evil - grave sins [even those crying to Heaven for vengeance] may involve that which is not unequivocally universally categorically evil according to the 1st font. Will reply to your arguments individually very soon.

    3. No. Sorry, if I didn't make it clear enough. I didn't dwell on the intrinsic evil question - I just left that to one side. I then pointed to all of the issues that would have to be morally taken into account when adopting a practice of adoption in real situations in real countries with real laws that do not recognise objective moral truth, the Natural moral Law.

    4. Obviously, whether or not to act to introduce a practice of saving a person at embryo stage, would be dependent on whether or not implanting an embryo in a woman's womb is not intrinsically evil per se, I.e., if there is possibly circumstances in which it might not necessarily be intrinsically evil. Another premise that is hardly necessary to state explicitly is that it is incontrovertible that there is no positive moral duty to implant an embryo into a woman's womb where that is the only known means of saving his life. Thus, if (and I am not even attempting this question) it is not intrinsically evil to implant an embryo in a woman's womb per se, one then has to consider all the circumstances and possible, probable, likely, etc. before one can rightly determine whether or not it is right to take the action in practice. Not to do so, would be gravely reckless with regard to very important matters.

  12. Oh bye the way, IF IVF were ongoing "discarding" (all these words for PEOPLE ), then supplying an ongoing remedy would to some extent be collaborating and justifying, but it's years of backlog even right this minute we are talking about.
    If this is the cousins , one thing is, they are just as defeated as us yuropeans, but think big, AND they DO envisage ENDING abortion and the culture of death within years.
    We could do with that spirit!

    1. Mike, I'm not sure that you're right that adopting the embryos would be collaborating. If that were true, wouldn't crisis pregnancy centres be cooperating with abortion and our promiscuous and adulterous culture because they are trying to deal with the fallout from it?

    2. Yes, this is not analogous because of course we have a moral duty to do what we reasonably can to prevent a child being intentionally killed in utero (perhaps most importantly, generally, by keeping it/making it again illegal under civil laws). However, there is no moral duty to place an embryo in a woman's womb, where the embryo is "frozen", in a suspended state (as a result of the evil acts of others) even if that is the only known means of preventing his death while still an embryo.

    3. Rhosyln : Im sure I did not make a comment on Lynda clear enough.
      Hypothetically, because it's not what has happened, tho plenty similar has happened with abortion-permitting legislation around the globe, had IVF techniques been such that all non immediately implanted embryo-stage humans immediately been necessarily immediately destined for death within hours, (Which is NOT the case)
      THEN it would have been unwise, and I suspect morally wrong, in the face of legislation beeing mooted to authorize such IVF to further such legislation and practice by saying , in effect, we will softpedal opposition to this legislation ,go ahead if you must , we've thousands of generous catholic women all lined up.
      Whereas In many parts of the world fertility clinics have this frozen baby store running into the millions , even should IVF stop this minute.
      I understand early christians DID buy up sexual slaves, recuing many women from enforced prostitution.
      To that extent, they were collaborating with slavers and the slave trade.
      Much more recently, specific religous orders and foundations , and plenty of churches in Spain still have the chains and manacles left by grateful ransomees, ransomed Christian captives of Islam, particularly the galley slaves caught by Barbary pirates ( who raided as far as England and Ireland but coupla centuries ago) -
      Getting slaves was an important but not exclusive part of piracy, ransoming them made for a lucrative sideline, so you could say that, objectively, ransoming had to be done recognizing the pirates' practice, laws, and terms.

      BTW I think the vatican ought to get its finger out and say "never" or "depends" already. It had never ocurred to me that it might be never.
      I am worried that someone in a position to act may see a "Catholic justification" for disposing of the contents of "HIS" fridge as He sees fit, ie murder, massmurder at that, then trumping all arguments by saying "oh but the POPE/CATHOLIC CHURCH/ Vatican says it's ok.
      Hasn't happened.

  13. Lynda, I'm sorry but that makes no sense to me. We are obliged to help to prevent the death of a child being killed in utero, but even if we know that an embryo (that is, a very young child) will die if we do not do this, we are not obliged? I fail to see the difference. In both cases, the child will die.

    Let's put it this way: if the embryo had become a foetus of say 12 weeks, and had been frozen (let's just imagine that this is possible) and thousands of these foetuses (babies) were due to be unfrozen and would die if we did not 'adopt' them, would you have the same answer? I suspect you would not, yet it is the same situation.

  14. Of What angels do you denominate yourself?

    The one posing as a moral ethicist above has forgotten the most fundamental moral truth, that it is not we but God who is the Creator, and that thus we have no absolute duty to resolve all moral issues. Thus we cannot denigrate to merely a norm those moral laws which are based on the Creator's authoritative ordination of our race.

    Thus surrogacy is always morally evil, because it is contrary to the Natural Law inscribed in our very nature as humans, male and female. If the Creator could command Jeremiah to go to a harlot to have a child (an interpretation that Jerome rejected), then only the Creator could command or allow that a woman receive a another's child in her womb. A moralist such as the one above, cannot claim such authority to answer the question otherwise, because he implicitly puts himself in the place of God, who alone can make such determinations.

    Thus the only Catholic position, is that based on Revelaed principles: the children imprisoned in ice by their parents must be recused by their mothers; if they mother's are dead, then they are in God's hands, because the public order of salvation regards only those who are born.

    We must humbly recognize that it does not belong to us to resolve all questions, but some we must leave to God, otherwise we are violated God's rights as Creator and Author of the Natural Law and Moral Law.

    Roman Layman

  15. Roman Layman - I applaud your thought processes but who would wish to turn off the switch on 600,000 lives? I think that Our Lord would have a more merciful option.

  16. Dear Richard,

    If you think that I advocate turning off the switch, they your thought process has short circuited, as I never said such; I said it was morally illicit to use surrogacy as a means "to save" these children. Our Lord does have a more merciful option, its called election, as in those whom He has loved from eternity He has already elected to eternal salvation; which does not mean that all are such. seem to implicitly hold that "saving" them means moving them to a non-mother's womb; and thus show that your thought process moves on a natural plain devoit of the fundmental truths of our august Faith..

    Man often treds where Angels dread to set foot: the truth is that man's duty is not to solve all problems, nor can man do so; some dwarft his mind, his powers, and his comprehension by an infinite magnitude. If the Lord should reveal His will that they be saved by surrogacy, then it would be licit. To say that I imply that He is not merciful, is to implicate that in being silent on this He is not merciful....I think that such an implication would be not only utter nonesense but atheistic blasphemy...

    If you know of a more merciful solution, then you, I suppose, have some revelation from God about the matter, and you should make this know to the pope, so that he can add your name to one of the inspired writers of Scripture...

    Roman Layman...

  17. Roman layman :
    1. please Explain :"public order of salvation regards only those who are born"
    Godsend it does not mean what it looks like.
    2., mine host posted "It would be good to see this issue raised in a more respectable public arena than this blog......something from the Vatican perhaps?" I echo that, ditto, in his way, otsa.
    You wrote"you, I suppose, have some revelation from God about the matter, and you should make this know to the pope, so that he can add your name to one of the inspired writers of Scripture..."
    I suggest you read the ravensburg adress, and consider humanae vitae.
    A miserable sinner such as me remains a son in theSON, prince , prophet, and priest, by baptism , and such as we may , as a lio, inter alia on this very blog, be part of the swirls of the visible seconadary cause formation of the sensus fidei on aspects of this vale of tears, pending precisely one extremely visible aspect of , your words "If the Lord should reveal His will " through his church through the present or next Peter, binding and loosening.
    God bless!