Friday, May 29, 2009

5-10-2009: 5th Easter (B)

Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31/Psalm 22/1 John 3:18-24/John 15:1-8
The Church, for all her attempts to be a sign of contradiction in this world, cannot seem to separate herself from the one thing that seems to dominate our age, the filter through which we are encouraged to perceive everything – sex. The Church is noted (rightly or wrongly) to be obsessed with matters of sex, usually in prohibitions against it, but most recently because of her insistence on it.

A few months back, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person) which reiterated the church’s stance against in vitro fertilization, and all but prohibited what has come to be known as “embryo adoption.” Recently Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk (Fr. P.), a Yale-educated neuroscientist who heads the National Catholic Bioethics Center, affirmed the document’s near ban of embryo adoption citing his conviction that the immorality of such a practice stems from the fact that the fatherhood of the prospective adoptive father is severely compromised, since the mother is employing her reproductive powers (while the father is not) in gestating a child who is not the result of either their sexual union or of either parent’s gametes (genetic contribution). This, Fr. P. states, denigrates the unitive aspect of marriage. In this view every act of a couple’s conjugal union (sex within marriage) must be open to life each time it is consummated; and life can only be legitimately conceived and/or gestated through the exclusive conjugal union of spouses. And I thought adoption was supposed to be about the children.

Note that neither the Vatican document, nor Fr. P., oppose adoption of the already-born who are unrelated to either prospective adoptive parent, ostensibly because their adoption does not employ either prospective adoptive parent’s reproductive powers. Also note that Fr. P. understands gestation, apart from sexual intercourse, as included in the woman’s reproductive powers. Why, on the one hand, does the church then not prohibit but promote adoption of the already-born who are, after all, genetic strangers to the adoptive parents, while forbid the adoption of the child before birth? It seems the answer lies in the Church’s focus (obsession?) with sex rather than what is in the best interest of the unborn children.

And if there is indeed a danger to the marital covenant when children are genetically related to only one partner, that danger is nothing new. Step parenthood is as old as history. But to make the argument that there is something inherently different between step parenthood and embryo adoption, or between adoption of the already-born who are unrelated to their adoptive parents and embryo adoption, is to succumb to a very narrow interpretation of reality that rests exclusively on biology. Besides, how would that famous couple of ancient history have fared in light of this moral casuistry? Mary conceived a child who was not the result of sexual intercourse, nor the child of her prospective husband Joseph. Let us be courageous enough to admit that when the archangel appeared to Joseph, telling him to afford the pregnant Mary protection through marriage without benefit of the use of his reproductive powers, the first embryo adoption in history was effected. If we are encouraged to emulate the virtues of the Holy Family in so many other aspects of our lives, why not in this as well?

Mothers’ day is an apropos time to remind ourselves that although motherhood (and indeed fatherhood) are vocations in themselves, they exist for a greater end – the nurturing of children (whether before or after birth). Adoption in any form should be about what is in the best interests of the child, whether the child is genetically related to one of his adoptive parents or neither. Leaving innocents in a frozen limbo because you fear how the grown-ups might behave toward each other doesn’t seem to be a very good argument against embryo adoption – whatever your predilections about sex or the lack of it. The estimated 400,000 frozen embryos, now in cryonic storage across the nation, must remain so (according to Fr. P. and the Vatican document) until their “natural” demise. Tough luck, kids.

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