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Ask Elizabeth, April 2021. Is embryo adoption morally licit?

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Dear Elizabeth,

Is embryo adoption a morally licit option for a Catholic couple?

Dear sister,

Thank you for your question on such a difficult topic. A Vatican document published in 2008 called Dignitas Personae expressed serious moral reservations about the approach but did not explicitly condemn it as immoral.

Dignitas Personae, section 19, states:

"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 [ie. problems of a medical, psychological, and legal nature]. 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”.

Understandably, Catholic couples would like a clear, definitive stance from the Church on embryo adoption. However, the Church, in her wisdom, clearly condemns the manufacturing and freezing of embryos in the first place and therefore redirects our attention to this pressing issue.

In the US, embryos are created daily, in every city, with absolutely no regulation or legal oversight. Meanwhile, regulations in Italy and Germany do begin to tackle this problem. "In those countries, no more than three embryos may be produced for each infertility treatment, and all three must be implanted into their mother. Extra embryos may not be produced or frozen; as a result, there are essentially no frozen embryos stored in German and Italian fertility clinics." (Fr Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center)

As faithful Catholics we must advocate for these regulations to help protect and respect the sanctity and dignity of human life. Then we will have no need to ask this question of embryo adoption, as we will not be faced with this unsolvable injustice at all.

As for the embryos already created and orphaned, the leading thinkers in Catholic bioethics divide into two opposing camps in this debate. If you would like to read about this debate, check out the book: Human Embryo Adoption, edited by Rev. Thomas V. Berg L.C. and Edward J. Furton. It can be found on the National Catholic Bioethics Center website.

Ultimately, the decision of embryo adoption is left to the consciences and judgement of each couple, their spiritual directors and their bishop. Pray fervently for God's guidance if you are feeling called to embryo adoption, and listen to His voice!

All our love and prayers,



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