I am a practicing Catholic. As such, I look to the official teaching of my church to help guide me on making difficult decisions. It wasn’t always this way, but my faith has grown exponentially since beginning our quest for parenthood. That said, I recently noticed something interesting on one of the forms from the clinic where we will be transferring our adopted embryos. What I commonly have come to know as an “FET”, or frozen embryo transfer, was being referred to as a "cryo-IVF".
I did a double take because we are not doing in-vitro fertilization. That’s what I’ve been explaining to my Catholic friends when explaining that I really am following our church’s teachings. Yet according to my clinic, what we are doing is a type of IVF.
Perhaps this is mere semantics. There is no question that our embryos were indeed created during an in-vitro fertilization procedure. But we had nothing to do with that part. They were subsequently cryopreserved and stored for eight years. Again, that was not our choice. Finally, they are getting ready to be thawed and transferred where they belong – to a mother’s womb. This is the part we take full responsibility for.
I suppose cryopreservation and thawing is simply a delay of what is otherwise an IVF cycle. Our embryos were created on the same day as their genetic sibling, who was transferred without ever having been frozen, and who was born to our donors nine months later. Our embryos will likewise end up in a woman’s uterus, and hopefully, just like their genetic sibling, they will be born. So really, they just took a detour.
What difference does it make anyway, if we call what we are doing IVF or not? For some people, what a procedure is called makes no difference. However, when the difference is between being a faithful Catholic and not, then the name matters.We did not purposefully create these embryos outside the human body. We did not freeze them in time, saving them to be “used” at a later date.
While I completely sympathize with families who make these decisions, according to my own conscience, I agree with the reasons behind why the Catholic church teaches against both of these procedures. It’s not so much about “playing God”, which I so simplistically used to call it. The Catholic church teaches that mothers and fathers are co-creators with God – what an amazing responsibility! It is impossible to bring about a human being without the breath of God.
So no, the Church doesn’t oppose IVF and cryopreservation because it lets humans do what only God can do, because it is God’s will to share in His creativity! Rather, it’s about treating human beings as if they were commodities to be manipulated and utilized according to our own whims and conveniences.
Technically, there is always the possibility of equipment malfunctioning or staff error that could result in the accidental destruction of the embryos once created. They must be entrusted to the care of the fertility clinic where they are created, even if for only a few days, before being transferred to the mother’s womb.
Furthermore, when creating more embryos than can safely be transferred back in a fresh cycle, cryopreservation becomes necessary. With this comes the additional risk of a labeling mishap that could theoretically result in embryos being transferred to the wrong woman. Even if this worst-case scenario doesn’t happen, what does take place as a matter of course is that parents decide that they are finished building their families and no longer choose to come back for the remainder of the embryos they created.
This is a difficult observation. If it weren’t for a couple doing precisely this, we wouldn’t be in a position to be parents thanks to their generous donation. And yet, from the perspective of the child, their best interest would’ve been served had their genetic parents welcomed every single one of their kids.
At any rate, yes, we are currently cycling, and yet we are not doing IVF because we are not going to be fertilizing eggs. We are simply availing ourselves to these embryos so that they may have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. I look forward to hopefully meeting at least one of them later this year!