Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Akin on Embryo Adoption

Jimmy Akin had a very well thought out post of the moral issues surrounding embryo adoption yesterday, which made what struck me as some very sound distinctions about the separate acts of reproduction and care/nurturing which are involved in conception and pregnancy:

My own instincts are with the second group--that it is morally permissible to adopt embryos in order to keep them from dying.

To my mind, the definitive moment of reproduction is conception. When that happens is when you have a new human being. What happens to it next is not reproduction, because the reproduction has already taken place and we have a new person. What follows (implantation in the womb and subsequent gestation) is simply caring for a new person who already exists and thus is not subject to the same kind of moral unalterability as the act of reproduction itself.

In other words, human reproduction is inviolable, which is why IVF (like adultery) is wrong, but most of what is happening during pregnancy is not reproduction. A new human is produced--and thus reproduction takes place--at the very beginning of pregnancy. What follows is growth, development, and care.

I was somewhat surprised that a majority of the commenters seemed to be at odds with Akin's stance. I wonder if, with all of the moral issues which Catholics are used to opposing such as cloning, IVF, surrogate motherhood, etc. that the concept of embryo adoption suffers a certain guilt by association in the minds of many conservative Catholics, because it 'looks too much like' IVF or cloning.

Whatever the reason, I think the reproduction followed by nurturing description which Akin uses is one of the main differences between Catholic teaching and mainstream American feeling these days. My impression is that many people envision all of early pregnancy or in extreme cases pregnancy as a whole as one long act of reproduction, which doesn't actually produce 'a baby' until very late in the process. This may make intuitive sense to many people at an emotional level, but it presents problems physically, since there is a continuity of existence throughout the development of the embryo/fetus/baby from conception to birth and beyond. From an empirical perspective (and though I by no means hold that the empirical perspective is the only or even the most important way of viewing the world -- it certainly is the best way we have of understanding the physical world around us) it is conception at which something clearly happens. What occurs after that is clearly development. A great deal of development to be sure, but development within a continuity of existence. Any other dividing line must be based upon how some external observer feels about the unborn child -- and I am deeply skeptical of any system which claims that what something is depends upon how others perceive it rather than upon its own being.


Fr Martin Fox said...

My intution is to allow it; and I have been trying to figure out how I can justify that -- if I can. Naturally, I am interested in arguments that tip the matter in the other direction.

My provisional solution would be that adopting an embryonic human being would be moral, if the child has been abandoned -- because then the child has no realistic hope other than being adopted.

Obviously, there are elements of this that need exploration -- what counts as "abandoned" and when does one say this is the case? And how does one avoid inducing said abandonment?

But, as in less murky areas, the issue hinges on intent.

Two doctors can administer a dose of painkiller to their patients, and both can die, with every key fact the same, except intent -- and that makes all the difference.

Darwin said...

I find myself pretty much in agreement with you, Father. The other main POV seems to be one of "according to our beliefs these embryos should not have been created outside the natural reproductive process anyway -- so it's hardly our job to worry about what happens to them." I guess I can understand the fundamental desire to unplug from the whole situation and ignore it, but on the other hand, one of the whole points of the Catholic position is that these 'spare' embryos are individuals worthy of dignity, and thus worthy of mercy and aid. While on the one hand deploring the industry of artificially making people outside the process of natural reproduction, it seems like if we aren't willing to help out an 'abandoned' embryo, the only other people interested in it are the ones eager to cut it up for parts.

Kevin J. Jones said...

So, should the Sisters of Life start volunteering for embryo adoption?

I wonder what in the theology of the virgin birth can be brought to bear on the question.

Darwin said...

I would tend to think that Church teaching on what a 'family' is would require that only a married couple could adopt an embryo... I suppose there's a history of orders raising orphans, but that's generally not done any more, and these seems like even less of a good idea.

Though perhaps it's definately just that fuzziness between whether this is more like adoption or bearing a child that makes it such a strange and tricky issue.