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Dr. Frankenstein at work (unclaimed frozen embryos).

Mary Shelley could have predicted this one.

A few months ago, Brits learned that upwards of 3,000 frozen embryos lay unclaimed in fertility clinics across the country.

The question was: who was responsible for these orphaned zygotes? And would they ever see the warm side of a nursery or Toys-R-Us now that their parents had abandoned them without a backward glance or a forwarding address?

Nor could these pitiful 3,000 maybe-babies be put up for adoption either, since adoption requires parental consent.

What was a frozen embryo to do then? Get a lawyer?

The situation would be hilarious if it weren't so pathetic.

Predictably, a debate was called wherein great moral minds were asked to determine how many zygotes could be fitted on a pin and whose job it was to save their souls.

Into this fray stepped Cardinal Basil Hume, who demanded the orphaned embryos either be adopted or reverently buried. "The embryos should be disposed of with dignity and prayer," he said.

Which is all well and good except for one thing. However reverent and well-meaning it might be, doesn't burial constitute death for the embryos, thereby contradicting the pro-life philosophy? If embryos have the right to life--as pro-lifers so vehemently insist--how then can they support an action which would deprive them of the very life they say must be protected?

Advocating embryo adoption is equally problematic for pro-lifers too, since such endorsement serves only to drag the movement into the nether world of "in vitro fertilisation" where it doesn't belong and which its ideology condemns.

True, the embryos don't have much of a life. Yet their very existence raises profound moral questions. Do they have a right to the suspended little lives they already have? And if so, who has the right to terminate them?

In the old days, when a woman became pregnant the natural way, the foetus growing inside her was called a baby. After nine months and a lot of pain, the baby was born. This was called "life," and everyone had a right to it.

Nowadays, when a woman is impregnated through any of several new methods, the foetus is not called a "baby" until one of its parents--or a delivery nurse--calls it that. Until the magical word is pronounced, it remains foetal tissue devoid of right and subject to its mother's whims until it is born. No matter how it kicks.

If the old-fashioned view is the truth of human existence--that defenceless babies have a right to life from the moment they are conceived in their mother's womb--then it is difficult to know whether orphaned embryos have a right to life or not, since they were not conceived or implanted in the womb the natural way.

But if the latter view is true--that a foetus becomes a baby only when another human calls it that--then these orphaned embryos are nothing more than bits of genetically engineered tissue without rights or reason to live, having no more intrinsic value than a mustard seed in a jar.

If you hold with the old-fashioned view--that an unborn baby is brought into being by God, having an immortal soul from the moment fo conception--then I don't know what you make of 3000 orphaned embryos.

I don't make anything of them.

I can't relate to them at all!

Real pregnancy I understand. It's real life. There's a separate being inside you. It makes you puke. It kicks when you want to sleep. It has a will, a mind and a life of its own. Oh sure, the law allows you to abort it if you don't want it. But this "being" inside you is a baby just the same; and every woman who has ever been pregnant knows it, regardless of the lying language she may use to take its life.

If these embryos have souls, let God Himself deal with them. The rest should be left to their worldly creators, the smiling, do-gooding Dr. Frankensteins whose wicked God-playing got us into this grotesque mess in the first place.

"I beheld the wretch--the miserable monster whom I had created," says Dr. Frankenstein.

"All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things!" his creature weeps pitifully. "Yet, you, my creator detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by one of us."

Before cracking open more testtubes for the misbegotten, today's monster-makers should read Shelley first.

Editor's note: Paula Adamick has tackled a most difficult issue. We would just like to add that the culture of death creates a mood of despair. Also, there exists a popular misunderstanding which thinks that Frankenstein is the monster instead of the doctor. But in this case it is not the embryos embryos who are misbegotten, it is the doctors' "science." The embryos are still God's creation.

For the Church's stand on embryos, see News in Brief, page 12.
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Author:Paula Adamick
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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