Catholic theologians differ over adopting embryos
The question of adopting embryos remains an open one, according to the New Zealand Catholic bioethics centre, after the country's National Ethics Committee on Assisted Human Reproduction issued new guidelines that will allow couples who have undergone in vitro fertilisation treatment to donate leftover frozen embryos for reproductive purposes.
NZ Catholic reports on comments of Nathaniel bioethics centre spokesman John Kleinsman, who was assessing new guidelines released this month by the National Ethics Committee on Assisted Human Reproduction. The new rules will allow couples who have undergone in vitro fertilisation treatment (IVF) to donate leftover frozen embryos for reproductive purposes.
The Committee has been working on guidelines for embryo donation since 2002. A draft proposal was released for public consultation in 2004 and revised after submissions were heard. Health Minister Annette King approved the guidelines in July.
The donation process will operate under strict rules, including the need to disclose to recipients the names and address of the donors; ethnicity of the donors; and medical history of the donors and their immediate families.
Mr Kleinsman said although the Holy See has not issued a definitive statement on embryo adoption, Catholic responses typically fall into one of two categories.
"Some Catholic theologians hold that it is immoral because it constitutes a form of surrogacy which is contrary to Catholic teaching," Mr Kleinsman said. "Other Catholic theologians describe it as an act of rescue that intends to save a child. They point out that it is rectifying an injustice that has already happened."
The Nathaniel Centre believes the case in favour of embryo adoption is "more consistent with the priority that Church teaching accords to protecting the sanctity of life".
"The option of embryo donation gives genetic parents another avenue for exercising their parental responsibility - an option that respects the dignity of the embryo," Mr Kleinsman said. "The life that is already started is given the opportunity to flourish."
The guidelines state that "embryo adoption for reproductive purposes should be provided only where there are medical conditions precluding normal reproduction . . . or unexplained infertility".
"This would seem to specifically exclude applicants who might wish to adopt an embryo for altruistic reasons," Mr Kleinsman said. "From the perspective of respect for the sanctity of life, this appears as an arbitrary criterion. Provided such couples meet the other established criteria, there is no moral reason as to why altruism should be excluded as a reason for wanting to adopt."
Safeguards are crucial to the implementation of the new guidelines, Mr Kleinsman added.
"Parents seeking to adopt embryos will need to be screened and there will need to be good processes in place for counselling and support," he said. "The children born by way of embryo adoption will need to be given access to information about their background since we know from our experience of child adoption that this is important in their search for meaning and identity."
Catholic theologians differ over adopting embryos (NZ Catholic 28/8/05)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Nathaniel Centre for Bioethics
National Ethics Committee on Assisted Human Reproduction
The Moral Case for Embryo Adoption (The Nathaniel Report August 2005)
After Schiavo struggle, interest surges in end-of-life care (The Tidings 19/8/05)
Use for New Stem Cell Finding Still Far Off, Researcher Cautions (Pew Forum/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 23/8/05)
Stem cells created from skin without human embryos (New Zealand Herald 23/8/05)
29 Aug 2005