The tragedy of “surplus” embryos

cryopreservationA tragedy is about to unfold in New Zealand history.

Almost 2,000 embryos, lives suspended through cyropreservation, have a final date of existence.  They must be destroyed within six months of November 22nd.

Each of these embryos were created at some time because someone wanted to become a parent.  For whatever reason (and there will be many) these particular embryos, were not transferred into a woman’s womb.

Now, unless special permission has been granted to extend their storage, these embryos must be destroyed.  They have reached what is deemed to be a reasonable storage limit of ten years.  This tragedy will unfold every week in New Zealand from now on as more frozen embryos reach that ten year mark.

This tragedy has no simple or perfect solution.

The embryos are human beings, who have a right to life and inherent dignity.

It is wondered by some, out of deep respect for those whose lives have been suspended and are now to be destroyed, if embryo adoption is a solution.

Some theologians and bio-ethicists, acknowledging that IVF itself is morally illicit, have argued that embryo adoption would be the appropriate solution as the embryos have a right to life.

However there are important considerations to ponder.

The following are just a few of the many things to consider:

Every person has inherent dignity from the moment of conception through to natural death.
The human embryo, created in vitro has the same dignity as every person conceived.

Cryopreseveration (feezing) embryos is an injustice
Dignitas Personae and Donum vitae make it clear that freezing of embryos is  “incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos”. 

No one is obligated to prolong life by extraordinary means.
This is true when someone is nearing the end of their life.  The same principle surely can be applied in this situation. Embryo transfer can be deemed an extraordinary means to save a life, as could indefinite freezing of embryos.

It is unethical for the embryos to be used solely to treat infertility
Many argue that the surplus embryos could go to women who suffer infertility.  However, the Church in Dignitas Personae rules this possibility out aligning it with surrogacy and heterologous procreation (see #19).

Theologians have considered many other things in regard to this issue and to the whole area of reproductive technologies.  The Church is also concerned about the marital union and the rights of the human person.  A simple search on the topic will reveal a number of essays outlining arguments both for and against embryo adoption from the Catholic perspective.

Dignitas Personae speaks of embryo adoption in this way:

It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of “prenatal adoption”. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.

The document goes on to say that

 All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.

Caution in this situation is the most prudent way to proceed.

Allowing the embryos to remain frozen continues the injustice that these embryos have already suffered.

Mauro Cozzoli writes in his article The Human Embryo:  Ethical and Normative Aspects 

The thought that to save a life one must violate other values, and thus add injustice to injustice, is alarming and disheartening.  If one fails to see a way out that can be humanly approved, it is because the road that has been undertaken with artificial procreation is blind and dark, so that the only solution is radical:  to turn back and refuse to continue on it.

It would seem the cautious and most prudent way forward at this time is to allow the final act of life which is death.  Allowing the death of these embryos, affording them the proper dignity due a human person, is not the same as causing their deaths.  They must not simply be disposed of and treated as simple “medical waste”, but given a proper burial befitting a human person.

Now we must commend these little ones to God, while committing ourselves to work for the “reform of morally unacceptable civil laws and the correction of illicit practices.”  (Donum vitae III Moral and Civil Law).


Further posts on this topic:
The real cost of IVF in New Zealand:  human life
Calling embryos “reproductive material” is degrading
Frozen with an expiry date
Extrauterine embryos

Nearly 2,000 frozen embryos to be discarded in New Zealand


Dignitas Personae on the freezing of embryos

18. One of the methods for improving the chances of success in techniques of in vitrofertilization is the multiplication of attempts. In order to avoid repeatedly taking oocytes from the woman’s body, the process involves a single intervention in which multiple oocytes are taken, followed by cryopreservation of a considerable number of the embryos conceivedin vitro.[35]  In this way, should the initial attempt at achieving pregnancy not succeed, the procedure can be repeated or additional pregnancies attempted at a later date. In some cases, even the embryos used in the first transfer are frozen because the hormonal ovarian stimulation used to obtain the oocytes has certain effects which lead physicians to wait until the woman’s physiological conditions have returned to normal before attempting to transfer an embryo into her womb.

Cryopreservation is incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos; it presupposes their production in vitro; it exposes them to the serious risk of death or physical harm, since a high percentage does not survive the process of freezing and thawing; it deprives them at least temporarily of maternal reception and gestation; it places them in a situation in which they are susceptible to further offense and manipulation.[36]

The majority of embryos that are not used remain “orphans”. Their parents do not ask for them and at times all trace of the parents is lost. This is why there are thousands upon thousands of frozen embryos in almost all countries where in vitro fertilization takes place.

19. With regard to the large number of frozen embryos already in existence the question becomes: what to do with them?  Some of those who pose this question do not grasp its ethical nature, motivated as they are by laws in some countries that require cryopreservation centers to empty their storage tanks periodically. Others, however, are aware that a grave injustice has been perpetrated and wonder how best to respond to the duty of resolving it.

Proposals to use these embryos for research or for the treatment of disease are obviously unacceptable because they treat the embryos as mere “biological material” and result in their destruction. The proposal to thaw such embryos without reactivating them and use them for research, as if they were normal cadavers, is also unacceptable.[37]

The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as atreatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;[38] this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of “prenatal adoption”. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.

All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons”.[39]


[35] Cryopreservation of embryos refers to freezing them at extremely low temperatures, allowing long term storage.
[36] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae, I, 6: AAS 80 (1988), 84-85.
[37] Cf. numbers 34-35 below.
[38] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae, II, A, 1-3: AAS80 (1988), 87-89.
[39] John Paul II, Address to the participants in the Symposium on “Evangelium vitae and Law” and the Eleventh International Colloquium on Roman and Canon Law (24 May 1996), 6: AAS 88 (1996), 943-944.

A true pastoral response: teaching the truth in love without fear

Family at the foot of the crossAt a recent press conference for the Synod on the Family it was announced that one presenter, who was not to be named, had proposed that “language such as ‘living in sin’, ‘intrinsically disordered’, or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the Church.”

That may have an element of truth in it.  People do not like to hear that they are living a sinful life and that their souls are in danger of eternal death and so they stay away or their hearts become hardened.  But it is not the language that is the problem.  This language is speaking the truth with love for the individual created in the image and likeness of God, and who is made for heaven.

The problem lies in the attitude of those who wish to “bend the rules” as it were to “pastorally” embrace those who, because of their personal situations and experiences, feel unwelcomed by the Church.

So much of the discussion around this Synod on the Family has been around the “hardship” people face whose lives, for whatever reason, do not reflect the teaching of the Church on life, love, marriage and family.  It is argued that the Church must allow these people full participation in the Sacraments because that would be truly compassionate and merciful.

But true compassion and mercy stems from concern for the eternal salvation of a person’s soul.

A feeling is just that, a feeling.  It may not be a true reflection of reality at all.

All are welcomed into the Church.  All of us are sinners.  Each one of us must daily choose to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  When we fall we make a firm decision to not fall into the same sinfulness again and we seek reconciliation with our God through the Sacrament of Penance.

A real pastoral response does not push aside the sins as irrelevant, nor does it seek to hide the language of truth in order to make individuals feel better about their choices in life.  Instead, a real pastoral response teaches the flock, explaining carefully the reasons why the teachings exist and then assists people to live their lives faithfully through appropriate practical measures.

Those who defend the Church’s teaching do so, with a great understanding of the trials faced by families and individuals in today’s culture. They have a deep love of Christ and his people.  They have a zeal for the eternal happiness of souls.  Like a good parent who loves their child, they realise that rules exist to protect and to ultimately lead one into the Truth.  Their response is one of true compassion and mercy.

The Saints knew that the goal of heaven could not be won by taking the easy road.  They knew that a true Christian must live sacrificial love.  They inspire us to do the same.  Each one of us is called to sainthood.

St Thomas More was martyred for his stand against Henry VIII’s refusal to accept the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce.  He defended with all his might the truth of the Catholic Church while Henry changed the rules to suit his own desires and whims, ultimately forming his own church.

St Gianna Beretta Molla knew about sacrificial love.  She gave her life in order that her preborn child may live.

St John Paul II understood the great value of suffering, of giving oneself totally and entering into Calvary.  He taught that to love is to be gift to one another.

St John Paul II’s legacy was also one where many, many young people, encouraged by his words, chose to pick up their cross and follow Jesus daily despite the hardships and difficulties.  These young people are now the families of today who are faithfully living their married lives, opening their hearts and lives to children, living the Gospel of Life.  Sometimes they are seen as fundamentalists or self-righteous when they seek the support they need to live out their vocation faithfully or when they actively search for Pastors who will teach them and their children the Catholic faith without excuses.

A true pastoral response teaches the truth in love without fear.

Great witnesses of the faith are born through solid, truthful formation.

The world needs Christ.  We must not be afraid to love sacrificially, to teach the beauty of God’s plan for love and life and family.  We must know that God’s grace is sufficient and that real mercy can be obtained.  We must not be afraid, as St John Paul II said “to go out on the streets and public places.”

As we serve with love, as we live love, as we teach the truth in love, then we will draw people back into the loving arms of the Church our Mother.

Powershop Advertising Offensive to Catholics

There’s nothing quite like seeing something you’ve heard about for yourself. Today, quite by chance, I drove past not one, but at least four of Powershop’s incredibly offensive advertising posters. These posters depict Pope Benedict XVI blessing the marriage of two men, with the words “same power, different attitude”.

The advertising is in Auckland and Wellington.  I have also just seen it on Newstalk ZB’s website.  It is possible it is on other websites as well.

If you follow Family Life International NZ on Facebook, you will have seen that we are asking people to make a complaint.  You can also make a comment on Powershop’s Facebook page, or on their website set up for this purpose..

This advertising campaign attacks the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sacredness of marriage being between one man and one woman – and open to the gift of life.

Powershop’s advertising posters in this instance are most definitely an attack on the rights of Catholics and indeed the right of all Christians to believe and make those beliefs known in the public square.

Powershop is owned by Meridian Energy, a state owned enterprise.  Right now, the issue of same-sex marriage is before Parliament – the Marriage Ammendment Bill, which seeks to allow same-sex marriage, is awaiting it’s second reading.  Powershop’s advertising campaign in this instance is entirely inappropriate.

On their blog Powershop write:

“We live in a world that has embraced freedom and equality. If something’s working for you and it’s not hurting anyone else, then we support your right to do it. We also believe it’s the responsibility of anybody in a position of power to consider whether their exercise of that power is bringing a greater or lesser happiness to the world. And we know that applies to us as much as anyone.”

Powershop fail to recognise that our actions, whether it is obvious or not, have the potential to hurt society as a whole.  I also challenge their inferred meaning that the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality, marriage and family brings less happiness to the world.  The individual is responsible for their own happiness.  There are some things that are enshrined in natural law.  We cannot change that which nature has dictated.  True happiness comes from following all that is true, good and beautiful, even when it means making sacrifices.  I would argue that those who follow the Catholic Church’s teaching of sexuality, marriage and family, are overall more happier than those who choose to reject that teaching.

Powershop seems to keep apologising, however their apology is not sincere.  If it was they would remove all the advertising in this campaign from every media, despite the loss of costs already incurred.

I urge all New Zealander’s, especially Catholics and our brothers and sisters from other Christian denominations to make a stand on this issue.  Let your voice be heard.

With forty years of pro-life service in New Zealand, nineteen as the director of Family life International NZ, I have gained a little experience and, please God, just a little wisdom over the years as to the means the ‘dark one’ employs to cause disharmony and dissention amongst well meaning, good intentioned people who truly all want to serve God through working for a Culture of Life in this nation and beyond.

This year we have seen at least three priests from USA who have been or are deeply involved in the pro-life movement attacked and maligned . Some people think it their duty to join the frey, blogging and speaking about these priests and others whom they judge to have perceived weaknesses, often with little facts to base their accusations on. It is grossly unfair to all parties to spread gossip etc over the internet and further the grief already caused. Nobody knows the true facts and these matters are between the priests, their bishops and their Maker.

It is most unfortunate to read blogs from here in NZ showing photographs of the priests and writing as judge and jury. This causes more distress and concerns to an already hurting church.

It is timely I believe to reflect on the words of St Josemaria Escriva. (Christ is Passing By 72)

“And let us resolve never to become sad if our upright conduct is misunderstood by others. If the good which, with the continuous help of Our Lord, we try to accomplish is misinterpreted by others, who delight in unjustly guessing at our motives and accuse us of wicked designs and deceitful behaviour. Let us forgive always, with a smile on our lips. Let us speak clearly, without hard feelings, when in conscience we think we ought to speak. And let us leave everything in the hands of our Father God, with a divine silence- “Jesus was silent”- if we are confronted with personal attacks, no matter how brutal and shameful they might be. Let us concern ourselves only with doing good deeds. God will see to it that they “ shine before men”.”

Therefore my friends I implore each and everyone of us who aspire to promote the Culture of Life in this country to be firstly concerned with our own souls and then to try as best we can with the grace of God to serve our brothers and sisters. Do not waste precious time in being diverted by the unfortunate circumstances of others.

The daily post on this site throughout this pro-life month of October of pro-life quotes and encouragements are meant precisely for this purpose.

Self-less Love

The latest New Zealand Marriage, Civil Union and Divorce statistics are a sad consequence of a seriously declining moral fibre in our nation.

For two people to commit to each other for life in marriage, they need to give selflessly and they need to be prepared to forgive. However, our society embraces instant gratification and selfishness.

Children learn from their parents about love, marriage and self-sacrifice. If they do not experience this as children, valuable learning is lost. As just over 1/3 of all marriages from 1971 have now been dissolved, many of today’s marriage-aged adults have not experienced this fully. It is little wonder then, that they are struggling to make the committment to marriage.

The civil union statistics show that this form of “union” is most definitely perceived as a “gay marriage”. It is reported that  73%  of all unions occuring in 2010 were between couples of the same sex.  Civil unions legitimise something that is of itself disordered, and diminishes the honour due to marriage.

This year is the 30th Anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio“.  In it he discusses the situation that the family finds itself in – both good and bad, and he identifies the root of the problem:

“At the root of these negative phenomena there frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being.” #6

It is this corruption of true freedom which sees society living with a disordered view of love, marriage and the family.

But there is hope!  Many young people of Faith, are marrying.  They are willing to commit and to give sacrificially.  It is married couples of all ages who embrace fidelity and self-sacrifice who …”bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage…” and it is these couples who perform “one of the most precious and most urgent tasks… in our time.” (Blessed John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio #20).

For the press release from Statistics NZ go here.

For detailed statistical information go here.

Text of Familiaris Consortio.