.- In reaction to recent remarks by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini on thepossibility of adopting "left over" frozen embryos, Moral Theologian, Father Alain Mattheeuws S.J, offered an interview to the European Institute of Bioethics, stressing the responsibility of upholding the human dignity inherent to the embryos.
Father Alain Mattheeuws is a Jesuit with a doctorate in Moral and SacramentalTheology from the Institut Catholique de Toulouse. He is currently a professor at the Institut d’Etudes Théologiques in Brussels and wasinvited as an expert at recent Bishop’s Synod on the Eucharist in November of 2005.
In his interview, he takes on the delicate theme of bioethical research from the perspective of moral theology. Father Mattheeuws first gave moraldefinition to the act of freezing embryos: “It is morally illicit. Infact, we must ask ourselves what gives us the right to plunge an embryonic child into a ‘cold prison?’”
He then quoted the encyclical Donum vitae regarding this issue: “The freezing of embryos, even when carried out in order to preserve the life of an embryo—cryopreservation—constitutes an offence against the respect dueto human beings by exposing them to grave risks of death or harm to their physical integrity and depriving them, at least temporarily, of maternal shelter and gestation, thus placing them in a situation inwhich further offences and manipulation are possible” (I, 6),” he said.
The priest then tackled the difficult question of moral responsibility, warning that“We must keep from judging the people and at the same time recognize intruth the illicit nature of what they have done, at times in good faith. All of this is to say that in our efforts to inform theirconsciences, we must protect their dignity with love and respect.”
With respect to the parents of these frozen embryos, he remarked that “even as parents,they cannot morally sign ‘a complete release’ of the embryos issued from their bodies and from their personsThe parents have on the one hand a ‘first right,’ but not an absolute right over their children.”
“It is naturally and morally good”, he said, “that parents of these embryos take care of them.”
He added that "It is in their hands to avoid adding one evil on top of another: to create a surplus of embryos and freeze them is one evil, to keep themin this state is another. To decide to make them material forscience is also an evil. Parents must be vigilant in protecting thedignity of these frozen embryonic children. Their connection to their embryonic children cannot be dissolved.”
Father Mattheeuws also stressed the need for conjugal responsibility,underlining the “indissoluble link between the two significations ofthe conjugal act.” “This moral and spiritual exigency is notalways understood or lived in the receiving of a child,” he said.
The priest/professor said that he wished to set this issue in the global perspective of parenthood, stressing that “if we restrict fatherhood or motherhood to a purely punctual act, we do not give a full account ofthe whole of catholic tradition regarding the bonum prolis et educationis or the finis procreationis et educationis.”
“Motherhood”, he pointed out, “involves the body, not only in the moment of the conjugal act, but in pregnancy, giving birth, and education. Fatherhood is equally associated in this process by virtue of the conjugal act.”
Concluding, Fr.Mattheeuws said that “It remains for us to do the good possible, taking responsibility for the absurd condition in which these frozen embryos find themselves.”