Friday, June 18, 2010

The Searing Truth

The Searing Truth:
Church, Science, Families, People and their Moral Conflicts with Medical Science
by Fr. Peter Rossa

Playing with Biological Fire: The media and messages about life
Fourteen years ago I sat in a dark office vault located within the walls of another vault. 300 Airmen, from differing Intelligence Specialties served as one unit in keeping the peace. We were as secure in our vaulted room within a vaulted room as possible. James Bond wouldn’t have been able to access our work space without tripping an alarm. Our job, my job, was to plan the destruction of the world in the name of freedom—literally. The Strategic Air Command’s motto was “Peace is our Profession” but in reality, the strong-armed threat of nuclear war was the means utilized to obtain and maintain this peace.

Little did I know that one day I’d look back on those “peaceful” days within the darkened secure vault with a whole new vision, a whole new sense of security, and a whole new definition of freedom. Desert Shield and Desert Storm became doorways leading us who lived with the dark specter of conflict hanging over our shoulders to new life: The looming specter of darkness-- doing my job for real—not just planning for war but executing it ultimately forced me to consider fundamental questions regarding the meaning and purpose of life. What was I doing, and did what I do really matter or make a difference?

In that darkened vault we arrogantly debated and attempted to solve the world’s problems to pass the time. Often we’d nonchalantly flip sides of an issue arguing the other side with no real conviction or purpose just to see if we could do it. We were so casual and yet such intense people while competing.

As happens in debate, our verbal sparring often became more about beating our opponent than about pursuing truth. Truth was often a casualty in our pursuit for victory.

Desert Storm provided the fulcrum where the world of hypothesis and dreams found itself profoundly confronted with the reality of carnage and death. Our daily jesting, teasing, and occasional ribbing now became weighted by the reality of the life and death decisions being made.

My life, as with many others, was changed. Forever changed over a brief few days.

I now sit in a light-filled office with individuals and families who are confronting weighty personal and societal issues. The questions they ask are often the same as those we
debated in that darkened vault.

However, as a priest, I do so now filled with the light of faith and hope rooted in Jesus Christ. My pursuit of truth and conclusions are no longer solely determined by the power of the argument or the ability to persuade because “Truth” is not an idea nor a thing to be manipulated.

“Truth” is a person—Jesus Christ. “Truth” is no longer a casualty of loose and aimless discourse; it is the cause and reason for my life.

Truth also is the reason that I appeal to your conscience today, in Christ’s name, seeking your new or renewed commitment to restoring the proper dignity, respect and honor for every human person.

My appeal is personal, but I am not alone. My appeal is an appeal fed and nurtured through my reflections on Pope John Paul II’s profound and noble vision of humanity, and our relationship with God as portrayed in his Theology of the Body, Donum Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, Sacred Scripture and other collected works.

I pray that you continue reading. with an open mind and an open heart; the message contained herein serves as a core teaching of our Catholic faith. It is “the Gospel of Life.”

So why am I writing this article now? Have you ever had that nagging, pulling sense that you are about to do something you would rather not? Or, have you chosen to put off something important because you have other things that seem equally or more pressing?

I have been in that mood for several months. Things seem so crazy today; it seems as if people have lost their ability to think clearly and maybe even lost their minds in the process. I am deeply concerned about the lack of healthy and honest discourse in our country and around the world.

This article is a revision of an article that I wrote back in 2006. Much of what I wrote back then still remains valid today. In case you missed it, this is an article about the growing “culture of death” verses the nobility of human life and our call to build a “culture of life.”

For the media, some members of the scientific community, much of our changing American lifestyle, Good has become Evil, and Evil has become Good.

Let me take you back to spring 2006 when a series regarding life issues ran in The Arizona Republic. May 30, 2006, the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend, Jodie Snyder wrote an article (in fact she had written a series of articles published that day) dealing with in vitro fertilization. In one front page article, The Arizona Republic boldly informed us of “The High Price of Women’s Eggs.”

Then on June 15—this time at the bottom of the front page—AP reporter Carla K. Johnson wrote about “Flocking to U.S. to pick baby’s sex.” Two weeks later, on June 30, this time in the middle of the main section of The Arizona Republic, a Washington Post article titled “Senate to challenge Bush over stem-cell research” appeared. Hardly coincidental.

Back then, a seemingly coordinated relentless assault on the “Culture of Life” was occurring and going largely unnoticed.

Then July 1, 2006, New York Times writer Elizabeth Rosenthal published a cynical report on news from the Vatican. The headline read, “Vatican aide asks for cell-work penalty.” Still standing in the long shadows cast by our remembrance of Memorial Day and just as we were about to celebrate our independence and freedom as a nation, The Republic ran a story from the New York Times concerned with the Church’s efforts to enforce ecclesial penalties for Catholics conducting scientific research on embryonic stem-cells and other medical professionals involved with in vitro fertilization.

I was struck by the irony; as if the assault on human life wasn’t enough; the Republic was running a condemnatory story on the Vatican’s attempt to provide guidance and
admonishment to fellow catholics who were scandalizing the Church by compromising their faith at the altar of scientific reasoning.

Since then, local, national and international articles pop up weekly —if not daily—regarding embryonic stem-cells. Whether we recognize it or not, we truly are facing a global issue.

Here in the U.S. we often hear about these “issues” because of a cycle of get- out-the-vote politics and Congressional debate on bills allowing the use of federal funds supporting embryonic stem-cell research

The extent of local, national and international coverage portrays a very real and a very pressing subject.

Obviously, The Arizona Republic and other news outlets believe its readers want to hear about scientific developments regarding fertilization medicine; reporting on scientific developments in fertility medicine is a good thing because it affects so many people, but news outlets must be careful not to slant the story as so often happens in The Republic.

I take umbrage with the media’s blasé and distorted presentation of the issues. I believe journalists have a fiduciary responsibility to thoroughly research material and then present the facts as news and not as a one-sided advocacy plea (unless, of course, the article appears on the opinion page). Perhaps the “Republic,” and the other journalists, were caught up in the fascinating possibilities and apparent hope offered by fertility medicine; many people are because the promises and possibilities, which appear good, are so alluring.

In fairness, I admit that many times reporters raise some troubling issues. But, as presented, these issues seem to be little more than an after thought.

In the case of Ms. Snyder, perhaps her concerns were greater than she was unable to address in her columns due to lack of space, time or research. News print and television are for profit organizations after all; getting the story to print is essential in our 24 hour news cycle. Reporting the news is, generally speaking, a business and therefore profit is the bottom line.

But for us, as the body of Christ, the salvation of souls is the bottom line.

Regardless, all of us should be capable of realizing life and death issues are not simply a matter of science and scientific advancement— they are far more complex.

The moral reflections and implications on our actions that should be taking place are often overlooked or lost in the hope offered by science. The power of the scientific method is very alluring and increasingly becoming the measure of all that is true and good.

The same is true with fertility medicine and embryonic stem-cell research.

Emotions often run high because of the pain and suffering associated with infertility; this suffering is intensified by a married couples’ natural desire for children. These high emotions, such as suffering, combined with other real-life issues, such as false perceptions and stigmas, and our increasing willingness to wear our political beliefs on our sleeves make “life issues” a sensitive topic that is usually explosive; especially in politics.

During a debate over embryonic stem- cell research on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Arlen Specter (R-PA) recently—and I add, recklessly— accused the Catholic Church of
standing in the way of and impeding scientific progress. He is not alone; many others echo this false belief. His statements revealed the ignorance many people have regarding the Catholic Church’s beliefs about human life, they also reveal his lack of knowledge on Church History, and his unfamiliarity with Pope John Paul II’s teachings on faith and reason- on science and technology.

While science pushes moralists and ethicists to stretch their reasoning, the moralists and the ethicists provide a healthy check and balance to scientific research. When done well, this balance protects real people from the Frankensteins and Kevorkians of today. Faith and reason, science and morality, are meant to work in unison. They need one another and are interdependent on one another. Faith and reason are not meant to be at war with each other.

An ‘either/or’ situation does not exist, according to the principles laid out by Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor: The Splendor of Truth and Fides et Ratio: On Faith and Reason. According to the Pope’s noble vision of humanity, when working in unison faith and reason represent the best of morality, ethics and scientific research which ultimately truly do support, safeguard and advance the development of our nation, culture and people.

In Vitro fertilization seems to be a very compassionate alternative for many couples facing infertility. Embryonic stem cell research seems promising in many ways. Therapeutic cloning appears so beneficial on the surface. But are they really? Or, are there other consequences and unseen moral dilemmas involved with developing modern medicine and technology—issues not fully reported in the media?

The Church and life issues in the media
While the blessings of in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning are espoused in the media, the flip side almost always is overlooked by secular news outlets.

First, what is in vitro fertilization? In vitro fertilization is the creation of a human embryo from a woman’s ovum and a man’s sperm through scientific intervention outside of the uterus.

But, this is not just an issue of a single ovum or a single sperm; multiple ova and hundreds of sperm are involved to create multiple humans, hidden in the form of embryos (the actual number varies). Typically, between three and five embryos are then implanted in a woman’s womb.

Once the process is deemed successful, doctors commonly pursue “selective reduction” and terminate some of the human embryos to enhance the survival and successful birth of one or two children. In short, “selective reduction” aborts children's lives; children are created by doctors who are agents of creation and dealers of death in the name of medicine.

If, however, this process of implantation fails it is repeated, further compounding the moral gravity because embryonic children are repeatedly created and destroyed thus violating the child's right as a human person. When doctors and scientists using this technology fail to acknowledge the presence of the human person in the embryo, the embryo is reduced to mere biological material making its destruction permissible in their eyes (eyes of the scientist). On the other hand, if they (the scientists) recognize this presence (as human), then they have no moral grounds with which to justify destruction of the person.

“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end.” (Donum Vitae #5) Every embryonic child deserves our total respect. “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, under any circumstance, claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” (DV#5)

As Catholics we are all involved in the struggle against the Culture of Death. The hope offered by in vitro clearly has introduced a new element into medical science—it pits the desires of men and women to possess a child against the rights of their other embryonic children to survive.

“Often overlooked in the hope offered by science are the moral reflections and implications of our decisions and actions.”

We should neither advocate, participate in, nor facilitate in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem-cell research or human cloning. Period!

By fostering, encouraging or supporting them, we formally cooperate in an intrinsically evil action; if we participate in embryonic stem-cell research or in vitro fertilization we incur the penalty of excommunication. The penalty of excommunication is automatic. We cannot afford to play with biological fire.

Our call is to defend the rights of the unborn, the faceless and the powerless human embryo. Commenting on the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” the new United States Catholic Catechism for Adults reminds us: “...We are called to create the culture
of life and work against the culture of death.”

Scientists and medical researchers shy away from the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Why? Likely because “being human” cannot be empirically measured. Some advocates of in vitro and others are willing to acknowledge that the embryo is of a human genus, but do not believe it is a “person” because it has yet to develop.

“Applied biology and medicine work together for the integral good of human life when they come to the aid of a person stricken by illness and infirmity, and when they respect his or her dignity as a creature of God. No biologist or doctor can reasonably claim, by virtue of his scientific competence, to be able to decide about people’s origin and
destiny.” (DV#4)

To my surprise, scientists are not alone. Even some clergy have asked me, “At what stage of development does an embryo become a human person?” I have a difficult time understanding this question, because both logic and reality bear out that if left to develop naturally, the human embryo has no other choice but to continue its development as a human person. It’s not as if the laws of nature or the natural law will allow it to become a frog. We cannot separate our humanity from our personhood or our body from our soul.

Others are desperately afraid that if the embryo is recognized as a human person, their political or judicial philosophy will be compromised; maybe they will be out of a job or perhaps their research will be terminated because the “embryo” once declared a human person will have “equal rights” under the Constitution.

Sadly, some people will be forced to confront their rolls in the taking of another human’s life. All involved will need help in seeking reconciliation and healing. Should science be concerned with morality? Absolutely.

Dream babies
Couples struggling with fertility can now have the child of their dreams. While this appears like a really good and altruistic thing to do, it is fraught with complications. Do couples have a right to children? The Church says “no” in Donum Vitae: Instruction on Respect for Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation. Why? Children are a gift; not property. The pain of infertility is a heavy burden for some married couples. Donum Vitae encourages the development of fertility medicine that seeks to treat and cure the causes of infertility, not the circumvention of the natural law or the laws of nature. It encourages couples and scientists to be steward’s of Gods gifts and not masters and manipulators — science and medicine are meant to enhance and heal, not to dominate our cooperation in creation.

I have spoken with women who have a strong maternal desire to have children yet are not married, and are struggling to find the “right” man to marry. As their biological clocks tick, they feel increasingly compelled to consider “other alternatives.” (See page 3.) Women are not alone in their desires; many men also desire children and have not met that “perfect” woman.”

In vitro fertilization makes it possible for women and men to fulfill their maternal and paternal desires; but at what expense? Do children have a right to be conceived within a loving marital relationship between one man and one woman?

In Donum Vitae and Canon Law, the Church definitively says yes— Children do have the right to be conceived within the marital union of husband and wife. To do otherwise makes us masters and manipulators of God’s gifts; not stewards and cooperators in the life of grace.

Not only is In vitro fertilization a manipulation of God’s gifts, but it is also big business. Fertility clinics charge enormous fees. The technology brings both financial costs and opportunity for industry. Indeed, the costs force many couples to take out loans to pay the fees required to have children.

In Britain, for instance, couples seeking in vitro actually can get a government- subsidized financial discount by donating excess embryonic children for scientific research. But what happens when the remaining human embryos are not used? They are placed in a deep freeze. These embryonic children are placed in cryobanks for an indeterminate length of time, for a storage fee, of course. Then what happens to those human embryos if the couple can no longer bring children into this world? One option utilized is adopting embryonic children. Otherwise they are kept in cryogenic freeze until someone becomes concerned or sees an opportunity.

What if the couple wants to keep their children in the cryogenic freeze until a reasonable solution can be found, but they experience financial hardship and cannot afford the storage fees? Do the children become property of the cryogenic companies? Property of the banks and credit unions? Wards of the state? Subjects of state or federally sponsored scientific research?

These unanticipated after effects of in vitro become problematic very quickly and not just for us as Catholics. When Catholics avail themselves of in vitro technologies, what are they to do next?

One Sunday morning I was approached by a married couple who wanted me to meet their beautiful twins. The couple was elated that after many attempts to conceive they
finally had received twin gifts from God. Still, they were troubled. After a few minutes they revealed that their twins were conceived through multiple attempts at in vitro
fertilization; they loved both children and beheld them with pride and joy.

Not until after their children were born did the couple discover that every human embryo is a child according to the Church. They now faced terrible new dilemmas; their first dilemma was that “selective reduction” was utilized so that their twins would survive-- an abortion had occurred. And, without knowing, they incurred excommunication. Their second dilemma was that the wife no longer could carry children to term; yet they had 15 embryos in a cryobank. They didn’t know what to do and asked me for advice. Their strong desire for children led them down an unexpected slippery slope. They felt trapped. They are not alone in their quandary: In 2002, more than 400,000 embryonic children were being stored in the cryobanks in the United States, according to a Rand Corporation study.

The couple I spoke with that Sunday also mentioned that they had suffered severe financial difficulties because of the extreme cost of the multiple in vitro procedures but wouldn’t relent on their need to pay the storage fees as they couldn’t abandon their embryonic children. They were experiencing severe financial difficulties due to the debt they incurred. They expressed concern that if they declared bankruptcy or were unable to pay the storage fees, they wouldn’t be able to live with themselves; they might have to cease paying the storage fees and lose what remaining control they had over the rest of the frozen human embryos.

Physical, economic, spiritual and moral torture is what they were experiencing. If they had known this they probably would not have undergone the “treatment.”

The link is more than casual.

In vitro fertilization, embryonic stem-cell research and human or therapeutic cloning are directly linked.

Already, we have seen fertility clinics offering their “excess” embryos for medical research. Where do you think the embryos used to acquire these embryonic stem-cells are coming from? Have you read recent articles about human or therapeutic cloning?

Often, the embryos used for cloning come from the same sources used in embryonic stem-cell research. The cryobanks are being paid to store the remaining embryonic children created through In vitro fertilization.

Cryobanks have a large reserve of embryos thanks to parents who no longer want the embryos, who have abandoned them, who can no longer afford the storage fees or who are unable to carry them to term.

These cryobanks and fertility clinics make money from both ends of the deal—from couples seeking a solution to their infertility and now from researchers who experiment on embryos later.

Let’s not forget that most couples can’t afford the process of in vitro fertilization, especially repeat procedures. Thus, they do what every “good” American does—they take out a loan or a second mortgage; which means the banks and mortgage companies also are profiting though indirectly. Some states, like California, see the financial opportunity in the development of new biotechnologies and industry, and also subsidize the “Culture of Death” for the sake of the state’s economy. (In California alone, the amount is $3.1 billion of taxpayer funds.) But at what expense? Will your state or our nation be next to subsidize the death of so many?

The reality is that the researchers, fertility clinics and cryobanks now want federal research money, and legal validation of their efforts. They are well funded and well organized; there are plenty of Political Action Committees (PACS) that are currently lining the halls of congress for federal subsidies to foster this sick violation of human life. The bottom line: It’s big business!

“Eugenics,” a June 15, 2006, Arizona Republic story reveals that the age of designer babies is here. Having a child isn’t enough. Now people request children with certain hair or eye colors. Some ask that the parents of the embryos have certain IQs, education and economic backgrounds, as well as health histories.

But what happens if the screening process fails and a child is born with a hereditary disease or illness? It’s not like you can “return” the child and exchange him or her for a new one. Can these companies and doctors be sued for malpractice? The answer is yes. The legal term is “wrongful birth suits.” Are we and our courts talking about a child or defective property?

In the September 2006 issue of More Magazine, Louise Farr asks, “Whose egg is it, anyway?” In this instance, the status of embryos according to state divorce laws is being argued in a Texas court case: Roman v. Roman. The Romans are going through a divorce and Texas laws treat human embryos as community property. However, federal divorce laws protect the embryo as a human person, not community property. The Romans want the courts to determine who has rights to the embryos. Perhaps a better question is are the embryos property to be owned or children to be cherished? Talk about unforeseen issues.

Imagine the potential coverage of this case on Court TV, CNN or Fox News. The question of the embryo as person or property. Would the media be willing to venture into so charged an issue? Would Hollywood dare to wrestle with the question “what does it mean to be human?” Could Roman v. Roman be the next Roe v. Wade decision for our courts to decide.

Another example—this one explored in the Aug. 12, 2006, East Valley Tribune—involves multiple children created via in vitro fertilization using a common male donor, #3066. The dilemma is that this male donor was a genetic carrier of autism, a trait that apparently has been passed on to his progeny. Imagine the disappointment the parents experienced when they realized that their designer child wasn’t as advertised. It is a sick situation to imagine actually; but to have to live through it? The poor child.

Should we and our scientists be concerned about the morality of scientific experimentation and research? Absolutely. The advocates of in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning — whether human or therapeutic — are playing with fire.

So how do we get out of this quagmire? The leaders of the Catholic Church and others in our state, nation and world are working feverishly to stem the tide that has reduced human beings to mere biological material and property. While lives are at stake, it seems to me that “re-personalizing” the human embryos and emphasizing the embryos’ civil rights creates the best defense against the growing culture of death.

Righting Wrongs: A Catholic response to the culture of death
So what else does the Catholic Church have to say about these fertility issues? Are there some other alternatives available to couples struggling with infertility? Let’s take a look.

At this point, you may be feeling a little downtrodden, overwhelmed, shocked or even elated as pieces of the in vitro picture come into focus. Your feelings are not uncommon. I shared the same feelings as I wrote, read, researched, prayed and wrote some more.

Actually, it’s sad that the reality of what is happening can be so overwhelming and even depressing. Our culture and our mores are changing so fast—almost as fast as science itself. The temptation is to say that we are hopeless because we feel helpless. But we can’t succumb to that temptation. So what are we to do as Catholics? How are we to respond?

First, we need to recognize that alternatives to in vitro fertilization do exist. Morally acceptable options include adoption, the use of Natural Family Planning techniques to enhance the likelihood of becoming pregnant and the hope brought through NaPro Technology (see The Catholic World Report, April 2005.) The scope of these options is too vast to consider here; but we still haven’t fully dealt with the issue at hand.

So, what did I say to the couple I met that Sunday morning? This is perhaps the most sincere, though imperfect, response I can give to emphasize the real face of faith-based decision making.

You might be surprised that people often raise deep or personal issues in a public place like outside church doors after we’ve celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass— topics they normally would discuss only in the privacy of their own homes or in an office. I wasn’t prepared for the question let alone the answer. Prayer—really hard and really fast—is what came naturally.

A Shepherds Advice
I admitted to the couple that I wasn’t certain what they should do, let alone whether I should be telling them what or how to do it. But, they insisted I give them an answer.

So I took the plunge, I said these are some quick thoughts and initial impressions I believe may be permissible but are still problematic. After a brief consideration here are the points I discussed with them:

The embryonic children are alive but in a sort of “arrested development” or suspended animation—for lack of a better description.

I told them that we, as Catholics, do not support in vitro technologies nor can we facilitate or participate in them. The means in which the children are being stored is truly extraordinary, I told them, but could we really consider pulling the children out of the deep freeze and allow them to die? Is this similar to removing someone from life support?

Another possible though very, very problematic solution would be if you chose to allow others to adopt the embryos, I said, they may very well grow and live to be a healthy man or woman. But, by doing so you would, at the least, be implicitly endorsing or supporting in vitro which we cannot do as Catholics; we would be formally cooperating in another intrinsically evil action and thus compounding the gravity of our sins.

If you remove the embryos from the “deep freeze” they will die naturally; but, they are not currently dying, they are not ill, their organs are not shutting down. So there is a real difference, in my opinion, between someone who is dying and is on life-support verses the embryos in a cryogenic freeze. Each seem morally licit but very, very problematic to me.

Then the couple asked the question I most feared: “What would you do?”

I told them I’d have to think about it and asked them if they could give me some time to do a little research. Fortunately they said that would be great. So I did what every priest should do...I met with a confrere. He’d never had a question like that in his many years of priesthood and had no idea how to answer the couple. So I called another senior priest I respected. He too had never faced such a question and had no answer. So I attempted to find a moral theologian in the diocese. At the time we did not have a single priest with an advanced degree in moral theology. Thank God we do today.

“Now what?” I asked myself. I called the seminary and explained the situation to my moral theology instructor. I was shocked to learn that he never had encountered the question. He promised to do some research and get back to me. I was relieved—at least the burden of providing an answer was now off of my shoulders. Later that week, he called back and said he’d spoken with two moral theologians considered to be soundly in line with the Catholic Church on issues of morality. I was sure that these two moral theologians would have the answer. My former instructor said that they both came up with what they believed were morally licit but problematic solutions though they differed. One said, “It would be morally licit to allow the adoption but problematic because of the connection and implied support to the in vitro process.” The other said he believed, “It would be morally licit to allow the embryo to die naturally in the Petri dish but problematic because the embryo was really in a state of arrested development and not dying.” According to my instructor, they both said, “This is so new that Rome is just beginning to study the issue.”

Well, that helped me a lot...right! Actually it did. At least I was able to respond, knowing that I’d done my very best to give the couple learned and correct information for consideration. I spoke with the couple a week later.

After I shared the information, they asked, “Now what should we do?” They repeated their request, “What would you do?”

I told them the decision was really theirs to make. You are the parents of the children and thus the decision truly rests with you. They grimaced. Begging me for an answer they asked again, “What would you do?” Such is the powerful relationship we have as priestly shepherds. They truly valued my response.

I did what I said I’d never do: I answered them. “Never in my life could I imagine a situation that truly fit the definition of choosing the lesser of two evils until these last couple of weeks. I think I’d choose to allow the embryos to be adopted for the sake of the children. But the decision is still yours. Things are not sinful because they have bad consequences they have bad consequences because they are sinful. It’s not your fault you had never heard the Church’s teachings about human embryos and in vitro fertilization; it’s our fault as priests that we haven’t been more vocal or taught about it from the pulpit. Unfortunately, as parents, you now
face a decision that is amazingly difficult.”

They said, “You’re right, but we could’ve asked before we went ahead. We wanted children so badly that we just couldn’t envision anything else...let alone these consequences.”

Subsequent to the original publishing of this article, there has been a third approach to the dilemma regarding the embryonic children created through IVF: do nothing at all. The logic and reasoning is actually quite simple though still every bit heart-wrenching: by not participating in embryonic adoption there is no implicit cooperation that occurs through adoption. Doing no more harm avoids the scandal resulting from the necessary formal and material cooperation required for the birth of cryogenically frozen children.

So what happens if the embryonic children are not adopted and brought to term? The
embryonic children will basically die from cryogenic freezer burn. How long will this take? Who knows exactly.

I would also like to add that when I provided the options to the couple, I was unaware of the “selective reduction” that took place during IVF; had I known I would not have recommended the adoption of the embryos.

Interestingly, Rome has remained silent on the issue of adopting the embryonic children; this silence is reflected in Dignitas Personae. My guess is that the formal and material cooperation required to bring a cryogenically frozen human embryo to term prevents Rome, and us, from endorsing this practice if the intent is to bring the embryo to term.

If however, parents who have participated in IVF or someone else chooses to adopt the embryonic children and leave them in their current cryogenic state without further action then I believe that would be permissible- especially if the embryonic children have been abandoned by their parents for whatever reason. This third option is still heart-wrenching given the certain death of the embryonic child without the opportunity for be born. It would be needlessly reckless to say that the cryogenically frozen embryo is less alive due to their cryogenic state; thus, I find it more appropriate to call the frozen embryo’s state of life as “arrested development.” The method of their creation is truly a quagmire; they are still alive even though cryogenically frozen; if they weren’t they would not be able to die over time.

In the end, the decision to undertake IVF rests with parents for now; whether their actions are in accord with the moral teachings of the Church and the natural law is another issue.

In this case, the decision ultimately did rest with them. To this day I do not know what they decided. Thank God for the pontificate of Pope John Paul II who firmly and decisively declared to the world and to the Church that the Roman Catholic Church has a vested interest in protecting the lives of every human from the moment of conception to their natural death. The Church has a vested interest in protecting the unborn, the young, the elderly and the infirm for two primary reasons:

One: The Catholic Church believes that every embryo is a human being, an individual human person, at the moment of creation. At the moment of conception a soul is infused by God into that corporeal mass of tissue; we are body-soul composites that are unique and with an individual destiny. We are made in God’s image and likeness not just our parents!

Two: Children are a gift of God, received and experienced through the marital embrace, intended to be united with our loving God from the moment of conception for all eternity. Every human person has an infinite value not because of the value you or I place on each other but because of the value God has for all humans. Because they are a gift we
have no absolute right to them.

“By his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human being” “This saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God who ‘so loved the world that he gave his only Son,’ (Jn 3:16) but also the incomparable value of every human person.” (EV#2)

In other words, the Church is involved in defending “the incomparable value of every human person” because God was, is, and always will be involved in our lives as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Jesus was, is, and always will be the ultimate defender of life and those who have been abandoned by society or have no voice.

Jesus is the staunch defender of the faceless, nameless and voiceless people. John Paul II is not alone in defending the Culture of Life from the secular, faceless and ignoble vision proclaimed by the Culture of Death. The Gospel of Life is “the fruit of the cooperation of the episcopate of every country of the therefore meant to be a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness.” (EV#5)

Pope John Paul II reminds us: “The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture.” (EV#1) The Gospel of Life is the good news calling man “to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimension of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” (EV#2)

© 2010 Fr. Peter Rossa,
Scottsdale, AZ May not be reprinted
without permission
Second Edition, June 17, 2010


  1. Thank you for this post. I hope the questions you posed will make people stop and realize how truly dangerous it is to "play God".

  2. So you didn’t give them an answer... ?