Embryo Adoption

Embryo adoption is a highly controversial practice that raises numerous social, moral, religious, ethical, and other issues. Although various controversies accompany the practice of embryo adoption, the benefits of this procedure allow it to persist in the medical, social, legal, and religious fields. However, there is no defined and clear approach to this procedure even nowadays. At the same time, the Catholic Church does not have an official statement regarding this practice either. This ambiguity leaves much space for debates around human dignity, the sanctity of marriage, and the creation of human beings after the image and likeness of God. The major issue is the disposal of non-demanded embryos, which violates human dignity and undermines the perception of a human person as that made in the Imago Dei.

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Two of the articles, which will be analyzed below, advocate embryo adoption as the only possible moral choice and a family-building procedure. One of them focuses on legal and moral challenges of embryo donation and tends to oppose embryo adoption as a rather controversial technique. Consequently, the analysis of research literature demonstrates the objection to this procedure mostly because of the disposal of spare embryos. Nevertheless, the researchers admit that embryo adoption is a life-saving operation and even a family-building procedure. Therefore, the analysis of research articles, dedicated to the subject in question, allows stating that should the Catholic Church and the key social and legal decision-makers unambiguously approve of embryo adoption, this would save human lives and dignity as well as facilitate the building of families

Embryo Adoption as a Family-Building Technique

In their article Building Extended Families Through Embryo Donation: The Experiences of Donors and Recipients Goedeke, Daniels, Thorpe, and Du Preez analyze embryo adoption from the perspective of people donating embryos and accepting this donation. Thus, recipients and donors consider the bond between children and their genetic parents as crucial. For this reason, they often refer to the concept of embryo donation as adoption. This approach poses a number of questions concerning various physical, genetic, and social factors of pregnancy, birth, and family creation. Further, Goedeke et al. explain the term embryo adoption as a paradigm shift from embryo donation. The idea of donation within this context implies giving embryos without anything that might connect them to their donors in terms of the childrens future. At the same time, adoption implicates an intricate set of relations and underlying considerations.

Study Design

The study, presented in this article, was conducted in New Zealand in 2012, and it included the in-depth interviews with 15 recipients and 22 donors who had participated in embryo donation and adoption procedure. The researchers state that all participants considered donors as an integral part of childrens lives, primarily due to their genetic bonds. As a result, recipients were vigilant and worried that they would observe the concealed influence of genetics and heredity from donors in their children who had been adopted as embryos. At the same time, donors felt their responsibility for their conceived children, given for this kind of adoption. Both groups of participants tended to regard each other as a part of an extended family, and the majority of them considered this attitude as a positive outcome of embryo adoption.

Study Findings

The study findings are significant for potential future donors and recipients who want to understand the practice of embryo adoption and related issues. On the one hand, the study simplifies the process by explaining the procedure and what to expect from it. On the other hand, the notion of an extended family in relation to donors complicates the matter. Thus, the researchers specify the limitations to the study as the interviews have been conducted at different stages of the adoption process for its participants. For this reason, their opinions could change with time.

Anonymous embryo adoption has been the most common procedure and the least traumatic for both parties. However, it deprives children of the information about their genetic health conditions. However, adoption protocol recommends disclosing information to children about their genetic background. The failure to follow this advice may result in significant social, health, moral, and legal challenges. Another essential issue is lack of information about the long- term implications of embryo adoption. Since the majority of recipients do not intend to reveal truth to their children in the future, the consequences of embryo adoption cannot be considered as different from common genetic parenting.

The findings of the research demonstrate that recipients as well as donors believe that children born from embryo adoption procedure must be aware of their origins to develop a proper sense of identity. Moreover, genetics is seen as crucial by all participants of this procedure, and they attribute various physical, psychological, and social aspects of childrens development to it. Despite stating that they have no legal rights for a baby, most donors admit feeling attached to the child and considering them as part of their extended family. Donors even want to participate in choosing recipients, and the criterion would be the recipients fitting in the donors family. In donors view, the most desirable adopter would be the most similar to the donating party.

Furthermore, many donors regard the child, given for embryo adoption, as a sibling to their children in the family. This consideration makes them feel morally responsible for the child who has been donated as an embryo. Some donors even demonstrate a solid approach to selecting recipients and they would not agree to anonymous donation. The latter must be reliable and overall good parents. While donors are worried about the genetic link they do not want to lose with their child, recipients are concerned about not having that link at all. Some women consider themselves as incubators when they realize they have no genetic relation to the baby inside them.

Therefore, the concept of embryo adoption, according to Goedeke et al., has three dimensions: genetic relations between donors and conceived children, embryo donation as embryo adoption, and the building of an extended family, involving donors, recipients, and children. As the study demonstrates, the complex procedure of embryo adoption is not a single act of donation. Thus, recipients and donors consider genetic heritage as crucial, and they tend to inform the conceived children about their actual genetic background. Legal framework is not vital for these relations persistence. At the same time, embryo adoption provides opportunities as well as challenges. However, the re-definition of traditional family bonds and other moral, ethical, psychological, and social issues cannot outweigh the desire of families to have children.

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Embryo Adoption Through the Imago Dei and Catholic Social Teaching Principles

The main message of this article can be analyzed through the prism of the Imago Dei and Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Thus, the article emphasizes the importance of the inherent genetic link between donors and conceived children for donors and recipients family building.

Thus, from this perspective, embryo adoption maintains one of the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching that implies support but not the undermining of family and marriage. Despite the unconventionality of this social construct as seen by donors and recipients, embryo donation facilitates family building, and, therefore, it could be approved by CST.

On the other hand, another fundamental principle of Catholic Social Teaching is the sacredness of human life and the dignity of an individual. The sanctity of marriage, which implies non-intrusion of third parties in marital affairs, can also provide the arguments against embryo adoption. Thus, these religious principles are violated in the process of embryo adoption. While the process itself does not imply any breach, the preceding procedures break these postulates in the most brutal way. The chosen embryo develops in the womb, whereas extra or defective embryos are discarded. The fundamentals of human dignity are undermined, thus contradicting CST. Therefore, the consideration of embryo adoption as a family-building procedure contributes to its positive image but the related aspects of embryo production create a strong controversy.

Embryo Adoption as the Last Resort for Extra Embryos

The procedure of embryo adoption can be considered fully from a positive perspective. The same way as it violates the principle of human dignity in relation to discarded embryos, embryo adoption protects those that are expected to develop in human beings. Thus, in the article The Only Moral Option Is Embryo Adoption Breed opposes the conservative Catholic approach to in vitro fertilization (IVF) as an impious action. Breed emphasizes the complexity of the moral decision that requires disposing of the embryos not demanded by the couple.

A Moral Concern

The issue of non-demanded embryos emerges when potential donors are faced with the challenge of disposing of their embryos after reaching the number of children they desire to have. The decision is tough since these embryos are considered as their children. However, IVF specialists offer 4 solutions: continue cryopreserved embryo storing, give them away for scientific experiments, thaw them out and let them die, or offer for adoption. As it can be seen, only one option provides a solution that will allow this embryo to live. Therefore, Breed considers embryo adoption as a life-giving practice that would save human lives and maintain human dignity. Consequently, the only moral choice would be to give these embryos for adoption.

Embryos, which are given for adoption, can be considered as parentless from the religious perspective. For this reason, Breed implies adoption as an act of donation when genetic parents do not participate in the further life of their genetic children. Moreover, Breed focuses on adoption as a rescue mission from a deadly danger. The author gave the Biblical example of Moses who had been adopted by the Pharaohs daughter with the consent from his mother. Breed draws the parallels between Moses and embryos that would be killed unless saved by recipient families. Embryos are referred to as orphans in the article. Thus, their protection or adoption is the only choice that both donors and recipients could make.
Moreover, Breed  advocates embryo adoption by comparing it to the works of mercy. The Sacred Scriptures prescribe the believers to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. The adopters perform these actions in relation to embryos correspondingly: a mothers womb provides vitally important nutrients and liquids, gives shelter and warmth to the homeless and unprotected embryos. In the same way, the families, which accept children conceived by donors, agree to feed, shelter, and clothe them. Therefore, embryo adoption is considered by the author as a positive action that saves embryos from certain death, thus maintaining human dignity.

Human Dignity Issue

The Catholic religious doctrine requires respect for human dignity and proclaims the sacredness of human life. From this perspective, embryo adoption is a life-saving procedure; therefore, it should be supported by Catholic Social Teaching. A human being, created in the image of God, deserves to be protected. The focus of the article is on the innate goodness and innocence of cryopreserved embryos. Breed argues that they have to be saved. From the CST perspective, this action complies with the words from the Bible: Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute, rescue the weak and the needy. For this reason, embryo adoption can be considered not only a moral but also a righteous action. The moment of conception is considered as a moment of the appearance of a new life. Consequently, the notion of human dignity could be applied to an embryo since it is human from the moment of its conception.

Legal and Moral Issues of Embryo Adoption

Another focus on embryo adoption is made by Moore in the article Embryo Adoption: The Legal and Moral Challenges, where the researcher focuses on the legal and moral issues of the procedure. The reproductive technology of IVF is acknowledged as a breakthrough medical advance that allows more couples to become acquainted with the joys of parenthood. The central theme of the article is the outcome and complexity of the moral controversy over embryo adoption. The unnatural technique, through which embryos are created, makes Moore ask a question of whether the community is able to respond to the challenges, set by this delicate matter.

Key Considerations of Embryo Adoption

Overall, the researcher focuses on four aspects of embryo adoption. Firstly, Moore discusses the development of IVF as an assisted reproductive technology that enables many people to adopt children to their families in the most natural way. Secondly, she indicates that the arising problem of cryopreserved extra embryos leads to the consideration of embryo adoption procedure from this perspective. Thirdly, the researcher provides a legal framework for embryo adoption. Finally, Moore addresses the moral issue of embryo adoption. However, the latter discussion seems to be the most important one from religious standpoint.

The controversy around embryo adoption involves the use of those embryos that remain non-demanded. Since IVF is a complicated procedure with highly unpredictable outcome, clinics choose more than one embryo (usually four to eight) and put them in a womb. This is the way to avoid multifetal gestation. However, the initial number of embryos usually exceeds the final number because of the significant physical, emotional, and financial burden on the family and particularly, the mother. As a result, the embryos not used immediately are cryopreserved for future use. Giving the embryos for adoption to infertile couples is an act of donation that prevents the improper use of human material.

As stated in the article, Nightlight Christian Adoptions IVF clinics have introduced the concept of embryo adoption with the Snowflakes program. Under this program, not only are embryos available for donation and reception, but they are considered by both donors and recipients in terms of their matching. As a rule, this matching implies the correspondence of donors genetic qualities to the recipients expectations. Moreover, adopters are likely to evaluate the donors family (previous children) to have an understanding of what they are to be faced with. Still, donors also have their right to vote. Therefore, this two-way selection process is likely to ensure a successful outcome of adoption for both the donor and the recipient families, and the conceived children in particular.

Moore also mentions the issue of government involvement. The social concern, raised around the issue, has made the government participate in the debate. First, the authorities promote embryo adoption by investing funds in this field. However, the government does not want to intrude in further actions because of the significant controversy, surrounding this issue. Political parties try to avoid the solution of the embryo adoption-related problems clearly. At the same time, states have their legal frameworks to regulate the issue, which only contributes to the dilemma.

Moore also underlines the problem of embryo adoption as it is seen by some religious organizations. They oppose this procedure because recipients promote it through their successful gestation cases and financial investments. More people appeal to IVF clinics, more embryos are produced, and thus, more embryos tend to become orphans with time. Therefore, despite the noble aim of embryo adoption, the system is inherently evil and debatable. Until the issue of extra embryos disposal is solved, the moral decision, concerning embryo adoption procedure, tends to persist.

Embryo Adoption as Intrusion or Gods Work

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) states that a union between a male and a female is sacred and no outside intrusion should be allowed, especially in terms of conception. The Catholic moral opposition to IVF embryo creation and adoption underlies the dignity of procreation and human dignity. The image of God is also sacred, and people as embodiments of this image must be protected whether as adults or as embryos immediately after conception. The immorality of intrusion into marital affairs on the one hand is outweighed by the morality of religious doctrine on the other hand. Not only did God create mankind in his own image, in the image of God, but He also charged people to be fruitful and increase in number. Thus, embryo adoption complies with this maxim, and it can be considered a Gods work. At the same time, the address to fill the earth and subdue it has been successfully accomplished, and it cannot be considered a call for action. Therefore, the sanctity of marriage is one of the major concerns, expressed by the opponents of embryo adoption, while religious texts do not provide a direct explication of the issue. Consequently, there can be no unequivocal approach to the issue of embryo adoption until it is accepted at least from religious perspective. The only solution would be the official statement, issued by the Church.


To conclude, embryo adoption remains a highly controversial issue. The Catholic Church does not even have an official statement to address the procedure of embryo adoption clearly and without ambiguity. The research in this sphere mostly outlines the benefits and challenges of the procedure while leaving significant space for discussion in terms of the moral and social approach to IVF and embryo adoption. Religious foundations also do not provide an unequivocal approach to this issue and admit various interpretations of the Bible and Catholic Social Teaching in this relation. The major controversies and arguments against embryo adoption are related to the accompanying procedures of IVF and the disposal of extra embryos.

However, despite numerous challenges, such as embryo disposal and the violation of major religious doctrines, the advantages of embryo adoption continue its existence disregarding any social, religious, ethical, and other controversies. Moreover, there are positive aspects of embryo adoption such as saving embryos from discarding, the solace of genetic parents, and the parental happiness of recipients. Consequently, embryo adoption remains a controversial issue mostly due to accompanying procedures, but the unambiguous approach to this life-saving operation from religious and social perspectives would save human dignity and lives as well as contribute to family building.

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