The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Adopting frozen embryos: one family’s story

The Church’s recent document Dignitas Personae is posing a lot of challenges to some people — including the couple profiled in this story by CNS:

As committed Catholics, Timothy and Dawn Smith respect Vatican pronouncements, but recent statements about frozen embryo adoption from church officials have bewildered the Fitzwilliam, N.H., parents of three children who came into the world through this process.

In the document “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”) — released at the Vatican Dec. 12 — church leaders did not condemn frozen embryo adoption, but said the practice raises serious ethical concerns.

Vatican officials insist no fully moral solution exists for dealing with frozen embryos, not even the idea of adopting or “rescuing” abandoned embryos to bring them to full development and birth.

“If the church did come out and say you can’t adopt frozen embryos, we wouldn’t openly challenge church teachings,” said Timothy Smith, 44, whose wife Dawn, 40, has given birth to three children who were adopted as frozen embryos and believes their road to parenthood was morally righteous. “But, the door is still open a crack here. Until that is shut, we would like to say we think this is a very good thing to do.”

When the Smiths married in 1991 they knew they wanted three or four children, but learned in 1997 they were infertile. They have chosen not to publicly discuss the details of their infertility.

As they researched their options, the couple — who were living in Delaware at the time — discovered that people who go through in vitro procedures sometimes donate their excess frozen embryos to others incapable of conceiving children through marital sexual intercourse, and decided this was the course they wanted to take.

Though they subscribe to church teachings that artificial methods of procreation, such as in vitro fertilization, are immoral, the Smiths believe they protected the lives of their three children by adopting them as frozen embryos and providing Dawn’s womb as a nurturing place for them to grow.

The couple welcomed daughter Erin Oct. 5, 2004, and sons Conrad and Dominic Dec. 29, 2007, Smith told Catholic News Service Dec. 30.

They understand the church’s position on procreation, but were still surprised at the contents of the bioethics document released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“I would have thought that, after some reflection on the matter, they would have leaned a little more” in favor of the practice, Smith said. “It doesn’t read like they talked to people — especially Catholics — who had gone through this and weighed the moral issues involved.”

There’s more on the Smiths and the Vatican teaching at the CNS link.

Photo: by Don Blake, The Dialog/CNS

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posted December 31, 2008 at 6:11 pm

JPII said that there “seems to be no morally licit solution”. He then called on doctors to find a morally-licit solution (implying that all options had been reviewed and found immoral). While I sympathize with the plight of unborn embryos, I don’t see how the ends can justify the means here. You are participating in an immoral act that artificially separates marriage and procreation. The principle of double-effect does not apply here since the act itself is immoral.

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posted January 1, 2009 at 9:53 am

So, what happens to all these hundreds of thousands of embryos? They just stay around until either the Last Day or a power failure? I’m not being flip, but this issue really troubles me and I’d love to hear others’ views.

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posted January 1, 2009 at 3:51 pm

I can’t see that God is happy with these thousands of innocent children being held in frozen suspension forever. Look at that little girl. She’s alive and is loved by parents who could have all the sex the want and still won’t have a pregnancy.

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Jason Ramage

posted January 1, 2009 at 4:04 pm

“The World Over” discussed this issue in their Dec 12th episode. The least-of-all-evils solution proposed there was for scientists to determine how long these embryos survive in their frozen state (because they do eventually break down, developing something akin to freezer burn) and pay the fees to maintain them long enough to die naturally. Thus, the dignity of their human life is recognized without involving further sinful practice. Besides, there are plenty of orphaned children already growing up in our world. The only reason people avoid them is they view them as used cars — inheriting someone else’s problems and the emotional issues any orphaned child would be dealing with. Adopting frozen embryos amounts to avoiding that cross… and the glory that would follow.

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Jason Ramage

posted January 1, 2009 at 4:05 pm

who could have all the sex the want and still won’t have a pregnancy.That’s what Zechariah thought ;)

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posted January 2, 2009 at 12:16 am

Yes, to me it seems clear that any way currently known to take the embryo and implant it is not accepted by the church. There are many Catholics today who do not know the church teaching or choose to ignore it in regard to implanting for creation by other than the natural relations between one man and one woman in the state of grace at the time they were married. That is why the church is challenging science to come up with a solution to the problem they have created through sin they started. The program on EWTN was excellent and Father Tad Pacholczyk is excellent on this topic. If anyone desires more, they can google his name and get all the info they need. Yes the little girl is beautiful, but beauty or good created by sin does not change the fact of the sin. If I murder to rob someone and then use that money for beautiful and good things, it is still wrong. The evil started with the creation of these lives and of course now more evil will come from Obama and his plan to use these live beings for experimentation.

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posted January 2, 2009 at 10:21 am

Gramps, do you think it best to leave the embryos frozen or destroyed?

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posted January 2, 2009 at 11:12 pm

I believe that it is best to follow the teaching of the Church. Had this been done, there would not have been embryo’s in the first place in storage. However, does doing something illicit make everything OK? I suspect we will end up with a study that determines natural life for an embryo and try to sustain the life until it dies a natural death. If we would just have followed Humanae Vitae years ago, none of this would have happened. If we would follow Church teaching, it is amazing how many of these situations are avoided.

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Bill Donaghy

posted January 9, 2009 at 10:15 am

To All.. I believe God calls us to work with Him in bringing light out of darkness. Sin has brought many a soul into the world and that soul has later brought grace…. think of the sexual sins in the very lineage of Jesus; from Abraham and Hagar, through Jacob and the FOUR women he slept with to give us the 12 Tribes of Israel, and even to the sin of King David and Bathsheba who gave us King Solomon. The reality is…. an innocent life has come. New souls have been breathed into these precious “little ones” – embryos – because God stays faithful to His laws of life, even when we bend and break them. Research is out of the question, as is destruction. Prenatal or embryo adoption has not been called morally illicit or a grave offense in Dignitatis Personae. Reading the document I sensed the dilemma and the open wound of the situation, but no closed door. I know this is a unique calling, to rescue these little ones, and that it is a fine line between grasping at a way of curing infertility and receiving a new life who only needs 9 months in the warm womb of a family. I invite the readers to ponder our journey with Baby Grace, our daughter frozen for 7 years until we adopted her from her genetic parents. She was born this past Sunday morning and died Sunday evening. Her story is here –,Bill Donaghy

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