IVF Adoptions

"Fertility clinics across the country, according to the most recent data available, held about 400,000 frozen embryos as of May 2003. Patients had reserved 88 percent of them for their own future use, and they had earmarked about 3 percent for medical research. Two percent — or about 9,000 embryos — were available for donation to other couples, according to Sean Tipton, director of public affairs at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which collected the data."


"But the debate over embryo adoptions is just beginning to take shape. ‘There are very few moral issues on which the Catholic Church has not yet taken a position. This is one,’ said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities." – Alan Cooperman, Washington Post

What is the proximate primary end for an embryo? Birth. What is likely to happen to abandoned IVF embryos? They’re either discarded or used in experiments, i.e. killed. Does the Catholic Church approve of IVF? No (cf CCC 2377). Does the Catholic Church approve of ESCR? No (cf CCC 2273-2275).

Now we’re in a pickle.

Which is worse: allowing hundreds of thousands of embryos to be killed or bypassing the sex act so that those embryos have a chance of being born? I say desperate times call for desperate measures. IVF should still be regarded as objectively wrong and no new embryos should be made, but Catholics should be permitted to adopt extras.

Every child that was conceived by rape or fornication was conceived during an a violation of sexual morality – an act of sin. Yet there is no moral quandry for any Catholic desiring to adopt such a child – or any for that matter. Adoption in no way validates the sinful act involved in the child’s conception. Why, then, is there any doubt regarding adoption of embryos? Is the failure rate a problem? If so, why? Would it not be better for some to survive than none?

What do you think about this? Chime in. The comments are open and I’m all ears. 🙂

Update 06/01/05: Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has addressed this issue on his blog as well. He’s much more thorough in his breakdown of the issue and he gets far more readers, so I heartily recommend reading his post and the attached comments.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

21 thoughts on “IVF Adoptions

  1. theomorph

    The natural environment for an embryo is a uterus. An embryo is ‘supposed’ to be born from out of that uterus.

    I question that one, too. How far do you go with this “supposed to” stuff? Am I supposed to be wearing glasses? Am I supposed to be sitting in an air-conditioned room? Are people supposed to be flying around in planes? You could argue that we weren’t “evolved” or “created” to do any of those things. Or, you could argue that those things are a natural extension of our phenotype and thus exactly what we were “evolved” or “created” to do.

    If we didn’t evolve (or weren’t created by God) to be able to remove embryos from uteruses, or to cultivate them outside of uteruses, then there’s the strange problem of our being able to do those things. If you take the God-created route, then you have humans that were created with abilities that far outstrip what they are “supposed” to be doing, which raises some disturbing questions about this God. If you take the evolved route, then you have people doing things that defy their evolution, meaning that they got these abilities from somewhere else, which points back at the God-created route, and those same disturbing questions.

  2. theomorph

    What is the proximate primary end for an embryo? Birth. What is likely to happen to abandoned IVF embryos? They’re either discarded or used in experiments, i.e. killed.

    I would question whether “the proximate primary end for an embryo” is birth. That might be the proximate primary end for an embryo that’s in a particular environment (e.g., a uterus), and so long as you ignore the possibility of natural miscarriage (which is statistically significant—45 percent?), but it’s not the proximate primary end for an embryo as an embryo independent of that particular environment. Removing the embryo from that environment makes its chemistry nonsensical so that it no longer has a “proximate primary end” insofar as that chemistry is concerned.

    In other words, I think your argument requires a more holistic perspective. You’re not just talking about an embryo, but an embryo plus a particular environment (e.g., embryo plus a uterus in the proper condition). Then you have a “proximate primary end,” barring the possibility for natural miscarriage.

    Even then, you still have to show that merely having the “proximate primary end” of “birth” automatically gives this embryo/uterus complex a value whose contravention equals “killing” that’s analogous to less contentious forms of “killing.” As well, could it be possible that there is a volitional difference that would lend to a legal differentiation akin to that between “murder” and “manslaughter”?

    So I have a hard time seeing the “killed” angle outright, and once that becomes questionable, the rest of the argument stalls until it’s resolved.

  3. Jerry Nora

    “I also have a significant problem with everyone in the church (Catholic or otherwise) feeling it is necessary for them to investigate the method of conception of every birth.”

    I see the Church defending the lives of everyone after they’re conceived, regardless of the mechanics of conception, I never heard of priests investigating the origins of a couple’s children.

    I too would have a problem with such meddling, but I don’t know that it’s a problem.

  4. Jerry

    “I’ve been asked what sorts of positions my wife and I have sex in, apparently because some positions are not considered “Christian.””

    Well, I’m on your side against that meddling, Rob, but I have not read of anything coming from the Vatican or other official sources that would brook this. They would urge certain guidelines in respecting one’s spouse, of course, but would not pry like that.

    I’ve read a fair bit of Augustine, and while he was a bit of a prude at times, I never read that, either directly from him or second-hand.

  5. Funky Dung

    “In other words, I think your argument requires a more holistic perspective. You’re not just talking about an embryo, but an embryo plus a particular environment (e.g., embryo plus a uterus in the proper condition). Then you have a “proximate primary end,” barring the possibility for natural miscarriage.”

    The natural environment for an embryo is a uterus. An embryo is “supposed” to be born from out of that uterus. That is the way humans evolved/were designed. God/biochemistry/whatever intends for an embryo to reach term and be born. Anything less is a failure at some step of the process. Something was malformed, a hormone was missing, etc. Natural miscarriage is a failure in the mechanisms of procreation. Granted, it is a “tolerated” failure and, on the whole, the system is robust enough to account for and survive it. Nonetheless, it is still a failure. Nature still “expects” an embryos to reside in a uterus, reach full term, and be born.

    As Jerry pointed out, natural miscarriage is a red herring. People die all the time from ailments and old age, but we still prosecute people for ending another’s life before natural processes do.

  6. Rob

    A few things about IVF:

    Not all IVF creates more embryos than can be used. It is quite possible to only create enough embryos to implant. I’m not positive, but I believe this is the approach required in some countries.

    In some ways, this is a matter of statistics. Let’s say, for a given situation, the odds of a single embryo implanting are 19% (compare that to 20% for normal conception and realize the 1% difference may not be statistically significant). Let’s work with 20% because I can crunch those numbers in my head.

    How many embryos do you create at a time? How many embryos can a woman carry to term successfully? 1 is normal, 2 is a bit tougher, 3 is difficult and 4 is doable but resulting in significant risk to both mother and children.

    If you implant 4 embryos, there is a .8*.8*.8*.8=.4096 ((2^(3*4))*.0001)= 40.96% chance that no implantation will occur. That means that there’s a 1-.4096= 59.04% chance that at least one implantation will occur. There is also a .2*.2*.2*.2=(2^4)*.0001=.0016 chance that all four will implant.

    If you are unwilling to accept the .16% risk, then you only implant 3 embryos, which gives you a .8*.8*.8= 51.2% chance of no implantation and a 48.8% chance of at least one.

    The odds of twins or (or triplets for the 4 implanted eggs) are exercises left to the reader.

    (Note: I did not worry about sig figs. I left the numbers so that others could follow my work.

    Since you are not making more than the implantable number of embryos, that means a separate IVF cycle must be done if no implantation occurs. IVF cycles (especially the harvesting of eggs) are the expensive part — I’m not sure of the exact cost but figure $20,000 a cycle as a guestimate.

    The extra embryos are created to reduce costs.

    If PGD is done, many labs require 8 or more embryos to work with.

    If there is a situation (mother over 40, etc.) where the odds of creating a viable blastocyst are low, things get real expensive very quickly if one attempts the “only the usable embryos per shot” approach.” 6-8 embryos could be implanted per attempt, but 5 or more embryos is a minute but real possibility. Most of the time, beyond 4 embryos, “selective reduction” is employed – and it has been employed for as few as two.

    Because the number of pregnancies is not known until after neural tissue has formed, I would argue that selective reductions are causing the death of a human being. If such a situation arises, selective reduction may be necessary. Attempts to carry seven embryos to term are so likely to result in the deaths of all babies and perhaps even the mother that I question the morality of not doing a selective reduction. We hear of the successful septuplets. I wonder how many we never hear of because a catastrophy occurs.

    Obviously the proper choice is to avoid the possibility in the first place.

    If it becomes possible to freeze eggs, then the cost of creating only the implantable embryos approach will drop dramatically. But as stands, embryo adoption is incredibly inexpensive — often cheaper than regular adoption.

    I do not see the problem with IVF per se that the Catholic church does. I do see problems with how it is implemented in many cases.

    I also have a significant problem with everyone in the church (Catholic or otherwise) feeling it is necessary for them to investigate the method of conception of every birth. Some people will not leave it there, and insist on knowing whether a married couple engage only in forms of sex that the questioner approves of.

    If, for example, a couple chose embryo adoption, must it be announced as such to the world? There are very good reasons that “Is that kid natural, IVF, embryo adoption, or Memorex?” should simply be met with a response of “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect you to be so ignorant as to ask such a question.”

  7. Jerry

    Emily et al.: The Nat’l Catholic Bioethics Quarterly has an entire issue dedicated to this (I have a copy), and there have been some articles on this topic published in earlier issues a couple years ago. LMK if you want to look at them.

    The Pitt Law Library also has the journal in its periodicals section as well, as well as all back issues. (I know most of the the readers can’t make much use of this, alas!)

  8. Jerry Nora

    I don’t how far we can or should take the “supposed to” reasoning Theo, but our race would look darn silly if it couldn’t get beyond the blastocyst–of course, it’d only look silly for a few decades before the adults died out with nobody to take over. Let’s work on that before worrying too much about eyeglasses and the like, however handy they may be.

  9. Emily W

    I think it should be acceptable. If they are not adopted, they will be destroyed. Bypassing the sex act to bring them to life seems like a far better option than to simply let them be destroyed.

    On another note, there are plenty of children (already born) in America who are in need of adoptive parents. Most of them, unfortunately, are older or have special medical needs, and so they languish in foster care.

    Adoption of any sort — whether of an embryo or of a child already born — is beautiful, and a noble choice.

  10. Rob

    I’m thinking of the people in the church, and not even thinking only of the Catholics.

    I’ve been asked what sorts of positions my wife and I have sex in, apparently because some positions are not considered “Christian.”

    Rumor has it that St. Augustine was one of these type folks – anyone know if there’s any truth to it?

  11. Steve Nicoloso

    I’ve thought about this a lot. We’ve been relatively successful procreators (5 live births plus 2 miscarriages), and we have about 5-7 useful “child-bearing” years left. Now we’d have no difficulty having more kids the old-fashioned way, if experience is any guide at any rate. And we wouldn’t have to pay for it. What would the price be to “adopt” an at-risk embryo? $7000? Would it even be allowed by the “Embryo Shop”? Would (should?) we choose the gender, race, intelligence level, handedness, nose size, similarity to our already born (who all kinda look a bit alike)? I am, troubled by the idea put forth by some of Akin’s commenters that adoption would somehow encourage the practice of IVF, ameliorating the guilt of “wasting embryos” for some, and turning parenthood into even more a commodity than it already is.

    Even after reading Jimmy Akin’s mostly sensible detractors however, there is no question in my mind that it is morally licit to adopt said embryos, even if the adoptees are unmarried, even if they’re lesbians, even if they’re pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-war, free-trader Republicans! In fact, I have no doubt that people should, as a matter of duty, be lining up to adopt them. Heck, I don’t even have a problem with the embryos being implanted in cows if that offers them hope of survival! Surely this technology is closer at hand than fully artificial wombs. But the big question is whether I will put my money (and we, together, my wife’s body) where my mouth is… and this, I must confess, is very difficult in our situation. But somehow I feel that we ought to.


  12. Steve Nicoloso

    Rob, thanks for the probability lesson. That was my understanding, but I didn’t express it very well. So basically, if one believes that human life should be protected from conception, then IVF, as it is typically practiced, would be out of bounds, even if one does not concur with the RCC’s teaching on how conception should take place.

    Now you say:

    If it becomes possible to freeze eggs, then the cost of creating only the implantable embryos approach will drop dramatically. But as stands, embryo adoption is incredibly inexpensive — often cheaper than regular adoption.

    Incredibly inexpensive? How incredibly inexpensive could it be relative to a romp in the hay with one’s wife, which is (more or less) free? Regular adoptions are unbelievably expensive, even “third world” ones. So being cheaper (even much cheaper) than that doesn’t inspire confidence. I guess what I’m wrestling with is really whether we ought to do such an adoption in place of having another child the old-fashioned way. I.e., is it a moral imperative, assuming one could afford it, which [gulp] I suppose we could. Now of course, you apparently don’t see intrinsic (“brain activity”) value in the frozen embryo, so I don’t suppose you’re the right one to ask. But assuming that such a being ought to be accorded the right to life and care (which I believe it ought), should I “adopt” such a one, even if it were costly, in place of merely having a child naturally. This is the big, nasty question for me.

    I also have a significant problem with everyone in the church (Catholic or otherwise) feeling it is necessary for them to investigate the method of conception of every birth. Some people will not leave it there, and insist on knowing whether a married couple engage only in forms of sex that the questioner approves of.

    It is of course not for everyone, nor an arbitrary questioner, to know, but I can see how in churches that lack teaching authority, such situations might arise: lay people taking confessional matters into their own hands. But churches generally have (and probably ought to have) doctrines that apply to personal behavior, and while it is not the business of everybody in the church, it is the business of the church (the pastors and elders) to discipline its members, part of which might possibly include asking otherwise impertinent questions from time to time. Of course, healthy and truthful confessional practice would probably obviate such a need.


  13. Steve Nicoloso

    Sibert, in addition to Amy’s comments, which a good protestant ought to accept (the best do, but it is not required for admission), the process of IVF generally intentionally creates more embryos than can be expected to survive or be implanted. It is simply a matter of economic and medical efficiency. It is possible to fertilize only one oocyte ex utero. This may even be practiced in some cases. But given the high rate of failure, this would make this inordinantly expensive procedure even more expensive, given the likely need to repeat it.

    If one believes “life begins at conception” (which is, of course, a mere tautology) or, more accurately, that human beings ought be accorded care and protection from the moment of conception, then IVF can only be seen as a violation of this rule… even IF one does not accept the RCC’s teaching that conception must be the result of the sex act. BTW, the same rule applies to hormonal contraception as well, and I find it staggering how many supposedly pro-life evangelicals are unaware of this. (Not only do I find this staggering, but it was one of the major reasons I’ve left the evangelical church…)

    In olden times, people sacrificed their children to Moloch. The beating the drums drowned out the blood-curdling screams of the kids. It was really wicked, and “Our Father Below” was quite pleased…. but he had Bigger Plans: Modern Technology has enabled the moral equivalent of Moloch worship, but without this strained belief in such a silly god, and free of uncomfortable images of live children being burnt alive. The more real gods of personal autonomy and actualization have proven to be much more popular… and much more greedy!


  14. Amy

    Sibert… the RCC says that the marital act is to occur within marriage and be both unitive and procreative and that all conditions must be met. Anything else would be considered sin. IVF takes the unitive aspect away from procreation. As Funky Dung pointed out, in the case of rape, the act itself would be a sin as it is most likely not occuring within marriage, nor would it be unitive.

  15. Emily T

    There is an article about this in the National Catholic Bioethics Center Quarterly (if I remember correctly, it’s a point/counterpoint kind of thing)…I’d be happy to copy it for you Eric, if you’d be interested in it. It was also touched on by Father Pacholczyk of the NCBC on a recent Catholic Answers show.

  16. Nathan

    This is a very difficult question. I wish the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would give some guidance on it. The best case scenario is the illegalization of IVF, but that seems unlikely, especially as our politicans continue to push for ESCR, which would be doomed to extinction if IVF were outlawed.

  17. Amy

    You know, I think I agree with you. I can’t come up with any good disagreement.

    On a somewhat related note, pick up a copy of this week’s People Magazine… there’s an article about how American children are being adopted by couples from Canada and parts of Europe. I never, ever would have guessed it, though I’m not sure I’m really that surprised.

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