05 December 2008

Abandoned Children

In our backwards society, people create embryos in Petri dishes for many reasons. One reason is a misguided effort to have children- parents who are unable to conceive naturally turn to In Vitro Fertilization. In this process, several children are conceived by uniting the egg and sperm. Some of those embryos are then implanted in the mother's womb, in the hope that one will implant and be carried to term. Make no mistake, conception is occurring in this process. I could speak about the fact that several embryos might implant and then the mother undergoes selective reduction abortion so she only carries one child to term, but I want to reflect on another part of the in vitro process- the extra embryos that are created and then frozen and stored in case the parents want to make use of them.

These embryos are children; but they are left in suspended animation, sometimes for years, while their parents decide what to do with them. Today, a report came out showing that the parents of these children are torn with what to do with the remaining embryos. In the survey of 1000 parents, 20% of the respondents indicated they were likely to keep their children frozen "forever." Other options for "disposal" (such a clinical term for ending a life) include donating the embryos to research, thawing them and then destroying, reproductive donation, implanting in the mother at an infertile time and a ritual disposal ceremony. One of the most horrific lines (to me) from the report is this "others [embryos are] cultured in a lab dish to let it flourish for a few moments before death."

This is one of the reasons the Catholic Church disapproves of in vitro- children are killed in the process; IVF is not a moral option for procreation. In the United States alone, almost half a million children are currently frozen as unwanted embryos. Many of these children will never have a chance at life, and some of them will be destroyed by their parents because they are no longer wanted. I don't understand how anyone can go through the IVF process knowing that some of their children will die. I wonder how many people who chose IVF actually understand what it means. I wonder how many people realize they are creating children- not potential children- but children, completely genetically different from the parents, that they will then kill, or leave suspended forever.

I have never been in the position of being unable to bear children, but should I ever face that, I think I would recognize how incredible selfish the IVF process is. With so many children who need loving homes, why can't parents just adopt? I know the adoption process is long and expensive, but then, so is IVF, and there is no moral issue with adoption.

One option that has been developed to deal with leftover embryos is a snowflake adoption. Through this, parents of embryonic children can donate their embryos to infertile couples who adopt them- the embryos are implanted into the adoptive mother who carries the child to term; giving life to a child who would either have been destroyed, donated to science or left frozen indefinitely. The embryos used in this process are known as "snowflakes"

The law in this area has yet to really catch up to the technology. In the few instances where it has dealt with embryonic adoption, it tends to look at it through human tissue laws, or property law because the law does not recognize these embryos as children. In my quick search of Canadian law, I found no cases dealing with snowflake children.

The Church has not articulated a clear position on this. The understanding that the three competing views are all founded on is that the creation of these embryos was immoral because it separated the sexual act from reproduction. They diverge based on what should be done with them:

  1. The embryos should never have been created. Implanting them in an adoptive mother results in treating them like property (they are bought and sold on the open market) and further separates sex from reproduction. Leaving them frozen violates their inherent human dignity, so they should be destroyed and left to God's infinite mercy.
  2. Implanting the embryo's further separates sex from reproduction, but destroying them keeps is murder and cannot be countenanced; therefore they should be left frozen until they die naturally from deterioration or disaster.
  3. Destroying them and leaving them frozen both violate their human dignity, so they should be available for adoption.

Until the church takes a clear position on the issue, it is open to every Catholic to come to their own conclusion on the basis of due consideration. I personally think a snowflake adoption is the correct way to go. The families who adopt these children are giving them a chance at life, and I don't think there can be anything more beautiful than that. I do however detest the buying and selling of these children- they are humans and should be treated with all the respect and dignity that implies. I worry that the law (in areas where this has been dealt with) treats the embryos as property that can be bought and sold, and even disposed of in a will. Until our society comes to recognize the value of life, this problem will continue, and we will have increasing numbers of children left frozen.

May God have mercy on the souls of all involved in the evil practice of IVF and bless abundantly those who adopt these abandoned children.

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