A Strange Request

Artificial ReproductionToday we received a strange request via e-mail at the Pro-Life Action League, Generations for Life’s parent organization. It was from a woman purportedly seeking a surrogate mother for some frozen embryos, which she refered to as “fertilized eggs” and “potential humans.” She said she’d pay $8,000 for this service, which she admitted was quite a lot less than the going rate. I told her, of course, that we could not help her and explained that we oppose artificial reproductive technologies (ART) as an assault on the dignity of the human person. She wrote back and denounced us for hiding behind an “institutional policy” and for acting counter to our goal of defending and saving lives, and remarked that this was pretty much what she expected us to say. To this I replied that far from being a mere “policy” our position is a moral conviction, based on how ART undermines human dignity, treating babies as a commodity rather than a gift. I pointed out that this was borne out by her own use of the dehumanizing terms “fertilized eggs” and “potential humans”—neither of which exists (once fertilized, the ovum is transformed into a zygote, a distinct human person, not a “potential” one). I went on to ask why, if she believed we would reject her request (which she could have known for sure we would just by looking around our website a little bit), she had bothered to write to us at all? Was she really just looking for a “cheap labor” surrogate? Or was she really looking for a way to deflect her own uneasiness about what she was involved in upon us? We get this kind of thing all the time, people who explain to us that we’re hypocrites for this reason or that. What many of them are really looking for is a way to dismiss our claims about the humanity of the unborn child. If they can convince themselves we’re hypocrites—for example, for allegegly opposing welfare programs or supporting the Iraq War (we do neither)—then it’s easier to ignore what we’re saying about unborn babies. I asked this woman—in a way that I hope she will perceive as a sincere appeal to her conscience (a difficult business via e-mail)—that she should ask herself whether there are any deep-seated feelings of uncertainty or even guilt over the situation she has created for these unborn children of hers. As of this writing, she has not replied. But the whole exchange has got me thinking more deeply about the problem of surrogate motherhood. Of course, pro-lifers almost universally oppose practices like this. But once these human embryos have been brought into existence, what do we do about them? My colleague John Jansen recently posted on so-called “snowflake adoptions,” whereby a couple seeks to save unwanted frozen embryos by having them implanted in the woman’s womb. There’s a great deal of controversy about this, with some saying it amounts to cooperation with the evil of ART, and other calling it an effort to undo some of that evil. My position has been that, provided our unequivocal opposition to artificially producing these embryos in the first place is clearly understood, it is morally licit to give these embryos a chance to grow into babies and be born. However, today’s strange request has made me reconsider this position. Here we have some frozen embryos which may stay that way indefinitely if their mother does not find a surrogate for them. They are not, like the embryos involved in “snowflake adoptions,” unwanted. But, like those embryos, they do already exist, and their future is gravely in doubt. It seems to me that the principle involved is the same—the intention to give these children the chance to be born, grow up, and lead a normal life. Yet I didn’t hesistate to refuse to be involved with the surrogate proposal. I didn’t put it this way in my correspondence—I don’t think it would have been understood—but it seems better to me that all of her embryonic children remain frozen with their human dignity intact than that one or two of them be allowed to live at the cost of denying the humanity of their brothers and sisters. Now, I haven’t thought through all of this completely, but I have to wonder if I’ve been looking at the “snowflake adoption” issue all wrong, as if the worst fate that can befall these children is to remain frozen in some laboratory (and thus eventually to die, as these embryos cannot withstand being frozen indefinitely). An even worse fate might be for the pro-life movement deem acceptable the deaths of some of them (an inevitable result of these procedures) to save a few. I’m not saying this is exactly how embryo adoption should be looked at—frankly, I’m not sure what the answer is; this seems like an intractable quandry. I thought I’d see if anyone else has thoughts on the issue, especially how surrogacy of embryos already conceived differs from snowflake adoption. Also, I’d welcome comments on the psychology of this continual effort to cast pro-lifers as hypocrites. This is something we’ve all experienced I’m sure.

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