Remembering our little ones who have died not yet born

People gathered throughout New Zealand on Friday night for Masses of Remembrance and a Vigil for Life.

Held in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin, the Masses were poignant reminders of the tragic loss of life and pain people experience because of still birth, miscarriage, abortion and IVF.

The date of November 21st was chosen as it was the eve of one of New Zealand’s most tragic days in history.  A day where almost 2,000 embryos were given their death sentence as they reached their legal “use-by” date of ten years.

Bishop Patrick Dunn and three other priests celebrated a Mass of Remembrance in Auckland.  Remembered were all babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion as well as the embryos discarded through IVF, and their parents.
Bishop Patrick Dunn and three other priests celebrated a Mass of Remembrance in Auckland. Remembered were all babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion as well as the embryos discarded through IVF, and their parents.

The Mass of Remembrance in Auckland, celebrated by Bishop Patrick Dunn, was well attended.  Participants processed to the front of the Church after Bishop Dunn’s compassionate homily to light candles for babies lost.  The sight of so many flames a stark reminder of just how precious human life is.

Some of the candles lit to remember the little ones in Auckland.
Some of the candles lit to remember the little ones in Auckland.

A Mass of Remembrance was also held in Dunedin, with the full blessing of Bishop Colin Campbell.  This was the first Mass of its kind in the diocese.  Many of those present appreciated the opportunity to mourn and remember.

In Dunedin candles were placed at Our Lady's feet in remembrance of babies lost.
In Dunedin candles were placed at Our Lady’s feet in remembrance of babies lost.

Family Life International NZ’s John Paul II Centre for Life in Wellington holds a regular Vigil for Life.  This month, it was held to coincide with the Masses of Remembrance in Auckland and Dunedin.

The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop John Dew, and was followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a rosary pilgrimage to the front of Wellington Hospital.  Here, more than 2000 preborn babies loose their lives to abortion every year.

Archbishop John Dew in adoration at the Wellington Vigil for Life.
Archbishop John Dew in adoration at the Wellington Vigil for Life.

Close to the abortion facility, Te Mahoe, stands the fertility clinic.  Significantly many human embryos loose their lives here every week.

The Vigil for Life is a very special opportunity for locals to pray for an end to abortion and make a regular act of love for the preborn babies and their families.

Participants in the Wellington Vigil for Life process to the local abortion facility.
Participants in the Wellington Vigil for Life process to the local abortion facility.

The team at Family Life International NZ believe it is important to remember and to pray for all those who have lost in these tragic circumstances.  In the presence of Our Lord in the most Blessed Sacrament, hope can be found.

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.”
Psalm 33:19

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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.

Calling embryos “reproductive material” is degrading

IVFThe deadline for frozen embryos and reproductive tissue (gametes) which have been stored for ten years is fast coming up.

The embryos and gametes must be destroyed within six months of November 22nd unless special permission to extend the storage has been granted by the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART).  ECART can make decisions on applications for extended storage up until Friday 21st November.  The embryos and tissue cannot be used in any way after that date.

Fertility Associates are frantically trying to get hold of people who have not as yet contacted them regarding the fate of the embryos or gametes stored with them. According to Dr Richard Fisher on Newstalk ZB yesterday afternoon, around 300 people still needed to be contacted.  Not all of these will have frozen embryos stored.

On the radio Fisher referred to both the embryos and tissue as “reproductive material”.  The Fertility Associates website says the same thing.

How degrading for the embryos – human life at the very beginning of its existence and suspended in time.

There is a difference between nascent human life and the reproductive cells (sperm and ova) that are needed biologically to create the embryo.

It would seem that daily ‘playing God’ – creating life then deciding which embryos are to live and which are to die – dulls the conscience into believing that the embryo is nothing more than simple cells such as sperm or ova.

Calling embryos “reproductive material” dehumanizes them, making them simply a by-product of human manipulation.

Does this mean that embryos and other reproductive tissue are disposed of in the same manner?  Lumped together as if they are all of the same genetic and moral standing?

It is time the IVF industry were clear about what they do and how they dispose of embryos that are not transferred into a womb.

It is time that the humanity of these little ones is acknowledged and respected.

 

*****

To acknowledge this great tragedy, a Mass of Remembrance will be held on Friday 21st November at 7:00pm in Auckland and Dunedin.  In Wellington, there will be a Prayer Vigil for Life, also at 7:00pm.

The Mass of Remembrance is for all mothers, fathers and family members who have suffered baby loss through miscarriage, still birth or abortion.  All embryos discarded from IVF practices, including those to be discarded from November 22nd will also be remembered at this Mass, as will their parents.

For more information visit Family Life International NZ’s website.

 

 

New Zealand’s first “saviour sibling”

For the first time in New Zealand a family has been granted permission to carry a baby to term which has been grown with the specific intention of saving an older sick sibling.

Permission for such procedures must be granted by the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART).  None has been granted for this purpose previously.

The embryo was chosen for implantation after Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) with Human Leucocyte Antigen Tissue Typing (HLA) revealed a tissue match with the sibling who has sickle cell anaemia.

According to the Sunday Star Times, the mother is currently 13 weeks pregnant.  When the baby is born, stem cells from the umbilical cord will be transplanted into the sick child.  It is hoped the stem cells will be a cure.

Several embryos must be created in the laboratory (IVF) in order for PGD to take place.  On day 3 or 5 of embryo development one or two cells are removed from each embryo and screened.  Those that are not a tissue match are often discarded.  Some may be frozen.

New Guidelines for Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis with Human Leucocyte Antigen Tissue Typing were published on 18th August 2014, which make “saviour siblings” more likely.  Guidelines are produced by the Advisory Committee (ACART) whose role is to advise the Ethics Committee (ECART) on all reproductive technology procedures and research.

Under the Guidelines, preimplantation diagnosis coupled with tissue typing can only be undertaken when the resulting child will be the brother or sister of the child to be treated.  It is not legal for fertility clinics to use the screening to select the sex of the child.

There are so many ethical and moral concerns around the procedure of IVF to begin with.  The procedure separates the act of procreation from the marital union.  To then add the creation of many human beings in order to find one that will “save” a sibling adds further to the immorality of the procedure.

So-called “saviour siblings” are only valued because they can do something for an already born child. But those embryos which are not a tissue match are given no value at all by the parents and fertility clinic staff.  They are the bottom of the heap.  These unique individuals are perceived to have no value because apparently they have nothing to offer.  They are then discarded as if they were skin cells, not nascent human life.  If they are lucky their lives are suspended as they frozen for an indeterminate time.

All human life is sacred, and therefore must be treated with dignity and respect.

The best way to do this is to refrain from “playing God” in the first place.  Creating embryos in a petri dish allows the fertility doctor to decide who shall live and who shall have the chance to live.  This is a power that no person should ever have.

 

The real cost of IVF in New Zealand: human life

Embryo,_8_cells (320x240)Fertility Associates, New Zealand’s largest fertility clinic, is currently celebrating the birth of baby 15,000 through their reproductive technology services.  At the same time, they have unveiled a new technique to help in the selection of ‘healthy’ embryos to implant.

But what is the true cost of IVF in New Zealand?

The new service offered to parents at Fertility Associates is “Time Lapse Morphometry Imaging” where the cell divisions of the developing embryo are captured by photographs every five minutes.  The still shots are then used to compile a video which allows technicians to view developmental changes without disturbing the embryos.  For those undergoing IVF, this means they can opt in for the service which helps to “identify the embryos with the best prognosis to then be transferred (or cryopreserved)”.  The imaging is available for an additional cost – around $1,000.00.  The technology, it is hoped, will increase the success of IVF treatment from 40% to 50% in women under the age of 37.

Fertility Associates was established  in 1987 by the founding doctors of IVF in New Zealand, Dr Freddie Graham and Dr Richard Fisher.  They provide both privately and publicly funded ‘treatments’ (anything from ovulation induction and artificial insemination to IVF and surrogacy).

Two other fertility clinics that provide IVF in New Zealand also boast births in the thousands.  Fertility Plus, the first fertility clinic in New Zealand, which is run through National Women’s Health at Greenlane Hospital, has had up to 10,000 babies born through IVF; and Repromed, a private clinic based in Auckland, operating since 2007, has had more than 1000 births.

While the birth of a baby is always worth rejoicing over, we do have concerns over how these babies have been conceived – the removal of the union of spouses means that these babies were conceived in a science lab, they were selected for implantation when just a few days old – the best of usually a number of embryos.  Their siblings, deemed “not good enough” were discarded as nothing more than medical waste.  The remaining ‘lucky’ embryos had their lives suspended through cryopreservation for possible use later on.

If 26,000 babies have been successfully brought to birth through IVF in New Zealand since 1984, then how many thousands more nascent human lives have been discarded?  How many are currently frozen – their lives suspended?

Fertility Associates have revealed that 10,600 embryos are currently being stored at their clinics in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.  As they are not the only fertility clinics in the country that store embryos in liquid nitrogen, we can assume that there are thousands more.

On November 22nd the embryo storage restrictions set forth in the  HART Act 2004 (Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act) will come into effect.  According to Fertility Associates 1950 embryos would be reaching the 10 year limit in their clinics alone.  350 couples or women are the parents of these frozen embryos.  Some will have obtained permission to extend storage through the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART).  Unfortunately, ECART were unable to supply me with the number of extensions given, despite being the Committee which grants permission.

The human embryos that have been stored for 10 years at that time, which do not have storage extension permission, will need to be destroyed within six months.

Already stripped of their dignity through the means in which they were conceived and then stored, these embryos – human life – will make the ultimate sacrifice for those who face infertility, or because of personal circumstance wish to circumvent the natural order and become parents anyway (ie. same-sex couples or the single woman).

So what is the real cost of IVF in New Zealand?  It is not monetary, despite a massive investment by those walking that path.  No, the real cost is the loss of nascent human life – human life stripped of dignity from the very first moment of their existence.

 

 

Surrogacy

babyGammyThe story of baby Gammy’s abandonment by his biological parents for having Down syndrome has opened up a wide discussion around surrogacy.

As the days go on, more information is being revealed about the biological parents of the 7 month old boy and the circumstances of his birth.

We know that Gammy and his twin sister were born as a result of a surrogacy agreement between an Australian couple and an Indonesian woman, Pattharamon Janbua, who is 21 and already the mother of two children.  Her husband agreed that the cash she would receive for being a surrogate (or gestational carrier) would help them out considerably.  That fee was reported to be $AUS11,700.

It was discovered about three months along that there were twins, and more money was offered to Pattharamon.  However, a month later tests revealed that one of the babies had Down syndrome – that baby was Gammy.

Pattharamon says that the Australian biological parents asked that Gammy be aborted, but because of her Buddhist believes she could not do it.

When the twins were born, the Australian couple took the little girl, who we know very little about, but who obviously did not have Down syndrome, leaving Gammy at the hospital.

According to Indonesian law, Pattharamon is Gammy’s legal parent.  Gammy has medical issues, in particular a heart condition which needs surgery – a complication that is reasonably common in those with Down syndrome – this has led Pattharamon to go public and to ask for assistance.  More than $200,000 has been raised and this little boy will have the surgery he needs.

In a new twist to the story, it is being reported that the biological father has a “conviction for indecently dealing with a child under 13 and has served jail time after being found guilty in 1998.”

The story raises many points to discuss around parenthood, surrogacy, IVF, infertility, abortion and disability, too many for this post.

Infertility, or the inability to carry a child because of the lack of a womb is a tragedy that brings great heartbreak for many people.  It is natural for people, and women in particular, to desire to have a child.  There is something innate in us that wishes to carry on a part of yourself.  Love between a man and a woman is at its best when it multiplies to include children.

But at what point does the desire to have a child become a want, a need a must have possession at all costs?

So many couples today are experiencing infertility and generally the response is to deal with it by approaching a fertility clinic such as Fertility Associates.

IVF (in vitro fertilisation – the creation of a new human being in a petri-dish) is very common place.  It is often not talked about for many reasons.  Those of us who oppose it on the grounds that it creates children outside of the marital embrace and removes the dignity of human embryos by freezing the excess and discarding the imperfect, tend to keep quiet so as to not offend friends who desperately wish to have a family.

Pregnancy is sacrosanct.  One must be able to have their own genetic child at all costs – and it costs a lot.  (Private treatment costs with Fertility Associates is so complex that they have developed a Fertility Cover plan where payment can be made for three cycles with 70% being refunded if no baby results).

Often donors are required to fulfill the “dream”, complicating the situation further.

Then there is surrogacy.  Which is how baby Gammy now finds himself the subject of much debate.

Out of his biological parents desire to have a child at whatever cost, they chose to have another woman carry their child to birth, entering into a contract, an agreement, and paying money for “services”.  The desire to have a child and the subsequent agreement was only ever for the delivery of a “perfect” child.  That is what they paid their money for.  That is why they asked for little Gammy to be aborted when it was discovered in utero that he had Down syndrome.  That is why they were able to walk away from him, tearing him apart from his twin sister.  He, in their eyes, was not perfect and a child with Down syndrome was not what they had invested in.  To this couple Gammy has no worth because he is a defective object that doesn’t fulfill the contract made with the surrogate mother.

We should not be shocked.  The attitude that pregnancy is a right if one chooses it has permeated society to such an extent that a mother has a right to terminate the vulnerable life within her if she so chooses.  Why would it be any different when she pays money for another to carry that child to birth?  Abandonment after birth is only an extension of the desire to abort an already living human being in the womb.

How many pre-born children, diagnosed with various fetal anomalies are aborted each year not only here in New Zealand, but throughout the world, because they do not meet the expectations of perfection?

As a society we must see children as gifts, not as objects that can be manipulated in the science lab.  We must see that all children have worth and dignity and cannot be “terminated” or abandoned simply because they do not measure up to our standards of perfection.  If we do not, then little Gammy’s life has taught us nothing and we will find ourselves discussing situations even more graver than this.

 

 

Note:  I have noticed that an alternative spelling for the surrogate mother’s name is being used – Pattaramon Chanbua.  I have also seen quoted an alternative amount paid by the Australian couple – $AU$16,000.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

“God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it.'” (Genesis 1:28)

This is a command that most married couples wish to fulfill.  For the majority, procreation happens with relative ease.  Some fall pregnant easily, others take a little time, but find that pregnancy is achieved naturally within a few months.  However, there is an ever widening group for whom infertility is a very real issue which causes much heartache.

Recently we learned of a new fertility product called “Duo Fertility”.  Developed by Cambridge Temperature Concepts in the UK, the device takes a woman’s basal body temperature up to 20,000 times in a 24 hour period in order to detect when ovulation is most likely to occur.  Additional personal information is also collected and everything is entered onto a database.  Couples are given a fertility analysis which gives the most accurate predictions.

This is a great device for couples who wish to optimise their chances of conceiving, and certainly fits into Catholic morality.  It is a more sophisticated device than the ovulation test kits that are available in the pharmacies.  Devices like these give couples struggling to conceive extra knowledge about their fertility, and would be particularly useful when used in conjunction with a system of Natural Fertility Regulation, such as the Billings Ovulation Method.

Christian couples who wish to remain faithful to God’s plan for human sexuality, marriage and procreation need to be aware that the makers of “Duo Fertility” are not against IVF treatments.   Cambridge Temperature Concepts states in their on-line literature:

“It should be noted that there are a number of conditions with which DuoFertility cannot be expected to assist and where IVF is an entirely appropriate treatment with significant success.”

This statement does not pose a moral problem for those using the “Duo Fertility” device itself.  However users should be aware that advice may be given to look further into IVF treatments if they are not successful in conceiving while using this device.  That is a position that Family Life International cannot endorse.

We would prefer to promote an alternative technology that embraces Catholic moral teaching about procreation and marriage from the outset.   NaProTechnology (Natural Procreative Technology) is a very real alternative to IVF and is extremely useful for couples experiencing difficulties in conceiving.

NaProTechnology was developed in the US by Dr Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute.  While not yet available in New Zealand,  it is available in numerous cities in Australia.  It would be wonderful to be able to offer this service to New Zealanders.

NaProTechnology takes the following approach to the infertile couple:

  • Assesses the underlying causes of the reproductive abnormality.
  • Allows for the treatment of underlying causes.
  • Assists the couple in achieving pregnancy while maintaing the natural acts of procreation.
  • Research into unknown causes is undertaken if the treatment plan is unsuccessful.
  • Family building through adoption is supported if the medical programme has been unsuccessful.

For Catholic couples, NaProTechnology is an acceptable alternative to IVF treatment as it fully embraces the Catholic understanding of human sexuality, marriage and procreation.

We would encourage couples having difficulty in conceiving to approach a good doctor who understands the ethics involved in fertility treatments, and who will respect their wishes to remain faithful to God’s plan for marriage.

Our website has more information regarding the morality of infertility treatments.

For more information regarding NaProTechnology visit the US site or the Australian site.