You may have heard the term. “Snowflake babies” was coined to describe the children who were adopted as embryos, the “leftovers” of their parents’ IVF treatments. Their lucky siblings were injected into their mom’s womb; the luckiest actually survived to be born. A few were fortunate enough to be adopted and brought to birth by adoptive parents.
And the other IVF orphans were left in the freezer, until some decision was reached on their fate.
I’m not interested in getting into the argument over IVF again. BTDT, made a lot of people upset with me. Today, I want to specifically talk about those children left in the freezer after their parents have decided they have given birth to all the children they want to give birth to.
Unfortunately, there’s usually still “extra” children in the cryostorage at the IVF facility. As long as their parents pay the fees, they remain in storage. If the fees aren’t paid or the parents order it, the children will be discarded (some clinics and countries require that “extra” embryos be discarded after a set period of time). It’s more of a “refusing to make a choice” kind of choice, though; in the freezers, these children remain in limbo, not dead, but not proceeding towards birth, either. Several adoption agencies are now addressing the issue by facilitating adoptions of embryos: home studies, parental rights relinquishment, all the usual procedures followed in post-birth adoptions. And the children get a chance to be born.
But is that moral?
The Catholic Church (and, I suspect, a number of the other pro-life denominations) is wrestling with the issue. On the one hand, the marriage bond (and bed) is supposed to be between the husband and the wife, and all life coming from the union should be from them. This is part of the objection to IVF and other invasive fertility procedures: the marital union is no longer the cause of the conception, the fertility doctors are. On a recent episode of EWTN’s news show, The World Over, a guest stated that the moral thing to do would be to “let nature take its course” by taking the IVF orphans out of the freezer and allowing them to die if their parents refuse to take them.
I think you could make that argument for the banks of preserved sperm and eggs harvested for research, artificial insemination, and the like.
The problem with the IVF orphans, however, is that they are already human. If you’re Catholic, we also believe that at the instant of conception (under whatever circumstances) the child received a soul. Being conceived in a petri dish doesn’t make you a soulless non-human, just as being conceived in incest doesn’t change your soul. The situation is entirely beneath the child’s dignity, but that does not mean that the child doesn’t have dignity.
The argument on TWO that night, and I’ve heard it before, is that implanting these children into the womb of someone not their biological mother would be improperly intimate or a violation of the exclusivity of marriage. Which begs the question: so, are my children improperly intimate within our family? My husband and I didn’t conceive them; they were all adopted. I didn’t pay doctors to get involved to get a child, I paid social workers; is there a problem with my family, too? People usually get flustered and insist that that isn’t what they meant. Ok, then what do you mean?
A child conceived in rape is still human. We don’t just leave them out to die when they’re born because of the issues of their conception.
A child conceived in a petri dish is still human. Why would we ever say we should just let them die because of the issues of their conception?
A person in a coma or terminal illness may not be licitly deprived of food and water, as was done to Terri Schiavo (who wasn’t neither in a coma nor dying, anyways). Why would we say that we should starve to death an orphan for the “illness” of being an orphan?
Contrary to the guest on TWO, embryo adoption is not going to be solely about saving the children. He implied that maybe embryo adoption would be moral, as long as it was understood to be only about saving the child’s life. That, however, would just be objectifying them further. An adoption is a meshing and healing of needs: parents’ desire for a child, the child’s need for a family.
Any adopted child needs food, care, and shelter. An IVF orphan is going to need much more specialized attention (i.e. a mother’s womb), but, essentially, what he or she needs is food, care, and shelter. The difference, we argue, is not so fundamental as to legitimize the killing of the unborn while the born are protected. The Catholic Church makes these arguments for unborn children who were conceived in their mothers’ womb, so why would we fail to make them for the sake of the unborn child who has never known the warmth of a mother’s womb?
The sin has been committed: these children were conceived by illicit means. Hopefully, if their parents have come to understand the pro-life implications of their “extra” embryos in cryostorage, they will be open to trying to carry the rest of their children to term. If not, of course there should be safeguards, as there are already in the adoption process, to prevent children being sold (in the case of IVF, there would be a temptation to make extra embryos to sell to offset the high costs of IVF), but the children should have an adoption arranged, not a passive execution by exposure and starvation.
We are past the point of condemning the action. Now, we have to deal humanely and lovingly with these children in the freezers.