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Snowflake Babies: Don’t Melt them

May 5, AD2013

I firmly believe that embryo adoption as it is currently understood is wrong. It is one of many immoral solutions to the question of what to do with these poor babies on ice. I also think, because of the violation of nature, and sanctity of marriage, plus the potential for the embryo dying anyway, embryo adoption is the greater evil of the options that are currently offered for solving the problem of snowflake babies.

Before I go on, we have several terms here that must be understood and distinguished.

First, what is in-vitro fertilization (IVF)? IVF is a process by which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside the body. For the sake of absolute clarity, IVF from here on will refer to the IVF of a human egg cell by human sperm.

Second, what is embryo transfer? It is the act by which one or several embryos are placed into the uterus of a female with the intent to establish a pregnancy. Again, from here on out we are referring only to the transfer of a human embryo into a human female’s uterus. It needs to be abundantly clear embryo transfer (ET) is not implantation.

So what is implantation? Implantation occurs in the beginning of pregnancy when the embryo adheres to the wall of the uterus. Implantation is not embryo transfer. Implantation is the natural act of an embryo attaching to the wall of the uterus.

Embryo Adoption?

For the sake of further clarity, what exactly is Embryo Adoption? First, let’s split embryo adoption as it is commonly understood into two parts. The first part is the legal adoption of the child (embryo). In so far as the act of adopting an embryo in this sense is concerned there seems to be nothing illicit about it. You are merely assuming parental responsibility for the embryo’s life just as its genetic parents had responsibility for the life when the embryo was created via IVF.

In many ways a strict definition of “embryo adoption” would only refer to the legal assumption of parental responsibilities for the child (embryo). Why? Well, let’s examine the second part.

The second part is the surgical procedure, which is not the actual act of adoption which itself is traditionally a legal matter. The second part of what is commonly referred to as embryo adoption is the surgical process of introducing that embryo into the adoptive mother’s womb. Meaning embryo transfer. After all, it is impossible for an embryo created via IVF to implant in the adoptive mother without ET. To say otherwise would be to talk nonsense.


In answer to the bolded question, no! ET is not morally licit.

As Donum Vitae (DV) states: The Church’s teaching on marriage and human procreation affirms the “inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning.

Because of the two meanings of the conjugal act, that it is both unitive and procreative, not only IVF, but ET have been condemned, and in every case. Whether you are gestating the baby for someone else as in the case of surrogacy, or are gestating the child for yourself, it is condemned. Even in the case of homologous fertilization/ET, which would be the best situation, is embryo transfer condemned.

In homologous ferilization and ET, the parents who donate the egg and sperm for the embryo, implant the embryo in the mother for the sake of keeping the child. As DV states, though, even

a homologous IVF and ET procedure that is free of any compromise with the abortive practice of destroying embryos and with masturbation, remains a technique which is morally illicit because it deprives human procreation of the dignity which is proper and connatural to it. Certainly, homologous IVF and ET fertilization is not marked by all that ethical negativity found in extra-conjugal procreation; the family and marriage continue to constitute the setting for the birth and upbringing of the children. Nevertheless, in conformity with the traditional doctrine relating to the goods of marriage and the dignity of the person, the Church remain opposed from the moral point of view to homologous ‘in vitro’ fertilization. Such fertilization is in itself illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union, even when everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo. Although the manner in which human conception is achieved with IVF and ET cannot be approved, every child which comes into the world must in any case be accepted as a living gift of the divine Goodness and must be brought up with love.”

(bolded emphasis in the original)

I think this makes it explicit that embryo adoption insofar as the embryo transfer part is concerned, is morally illicit. The legal aspect? Not acceptable either. Until the surgical concept of ET is removed from our understanding of Embryo Adoption, leaving just the legal reality of adoption, Embryo Adoption should be opposed as contrary to Catholic moral teaching.


Snowflake babies are in a tragic state, but we must not confuse pro-life principles with the consequentialism involved in IVF and ET. We should not use an extraordinary surgical means to save an embryo’s life (ET) when that surgical means is offensive to nature, and condemned by the Church. Their lives are precious, and they have dignity, yes. It would be a gross injustice nontheless to compound the indignities suffered by using a consequentialist and immoral approach to saving their lives.

I will admit, at first glance, the idea of transferring embryo’s after adoption appears to fit with our pro-life principles. You’re saving a baby, right? Yes, but being pro-life, is not about life at any cost. If that were the case, then what would be the problem with IVF, and ET?


What to do about the embryo’s? I don’t know. This is a question no one has sorted out. As Dignitas Vitae says, those embryos which are not transferred into the body of the mother and are called “spare” are exposed to an absurd fate, with no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival which can be licitly pursued.

© 2013. Joseph Mazarra. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Happily married to a beautiful southern woman, has two sons, with a third one on the way. Christendom Graduate, and a Marine Officer. My wife and I hope that over time our family becomes a beacon of light within our community, one that reflects the Faith God has given us, and one that helps lead people safely into His harbour, the Catholic Church.

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  • Sheless Davis-Gudmunson

    Joseph, I have to believe that God allowed you and your wife to be fertile because you are not strong enough to go through the struggles of infertility and needing to find alternative methods to build your family. Shame on you for not supporting other Catholic families that allow these embryos to come to life.

  • Somebody

    So, hypothetically, let’s say a Catholic couple adopts an embryo and when the woman is 8 months along, realizes the immorality of carrying a child that is not her’s. Will you be consistent and support the priest using a penance of performing a late term partial birth abortion on said child, not as morally permissible, but morally required? After all, if any interaction of bodies not 100 percent related is immoral, this is the logical conclusion one must come to. I think the issue is that you think the frozen embryos are really not human yet, and I’m assuming your answer would be no. Just argue you think they are not human. THAT is the real issue. If it were not, you would support Church and government mandated late term abortions on said embryos, because their lives are immoral.

    • Carla

      I somehow got your reply in my inbox. Upon a second read, this piece by Mr. Mazzara is repulsive. You are right to point out that his Pharisaical moralizing leads nowhere. And may I nitpick and point out that he can’t even spell embryos correctly (he makes it possessive) so clearly his argument has not been thought through. He just wants a platform to judge others, forgetting that he is not without sin. As Mother Theresa said, you are using all your energies to judge, there is no more energy left to love. Who is the greater sinner according to Jesus’ teachings: the woman who adopts an embryo in the hopes of a child, or Mr. Mazzara, who judges and moralizes? What would Jesus say?
      Isn’t it fascinating that when embryo adoption is successful the woman’s body does not reject an embryo that is not genetically hers? The miracle of life, a wonderful gift from God!

    • Carla

      And may I add I’m happy to see Mr. Mazzara has not written any more pieces for this blog. I hope he is not invited back to write. I don’t think Pope Francis, never mind Jesus, would agree with him.

  • Carla

    Mr. Mazzara, Jesus might say to you, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

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  • Mary Rose

    But adultery is not wrong because a woman can be impregnated by a man other than her husband; adultery is wrong because it breaks the marriage vows, violates a bond/promise between two people, etc. The act of having sex with a man who isn’t your husband is a sin; getting pregnant by a man who isn’t your husband isn’t a sin (the sex that caused the pregnancy was). That is to say, committing adultery and getting pregnant is no more shameful than committing adultery and not getting pregnant. You seem to be of the mindset that children conceived out of wedlock are somehow worse than any other children. The children are not at fault, and their pregnancy, or rather their existence which, for 9 months can be thought of as almost synonymous with pregnancy, is not a sin. The woman’s choice to have immoral sex is the reason we look down on adultery; a woman who never made that decision but still has another man’s child in her womb (be it through ET adoption, or the horrible circumstance of rape) should not be considered an adulteress.

  • Mary Rose

    Quick question: if we were talking about abortion, would you consider a born human to be exactly equal to an unborn human? Wouldn’t you say the only difference between them is a matter of place (inside or outside the womb)? I’m sure you would. Why then, in the case of adoption, is the place of the child suddenly a determining factor. Holding a baby in your arms or holding a baby in your womb makes no difference.

    The wife who adopts an embryo has not committed adultery, nor has she removed the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect of the child’s conception; the child has already been procreated and already exists. The sin against said child and against marriage has already been committed by the child’s biological parents and the scientists hired by them. A couple who adopts an embryo is not violating the sanctity of their marriage anymore than a couple who adopts a newborn.

  • Isaiah

    Dignitas Vitae n. 19

    “The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;[38] this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

    It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of “prenatal adoption”. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.

    All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons”.[39]”

    This is about as clear as the document gets on this issue.

  • Susie

    Thanks, Joseph, I think that clarifies it for me!

    I do agree with your assessment that embryo transfer is incompatible with Catholic teaching. Your final quote from DV seems clear enough, when it says that there is “no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival which can be licitly pursued.” It truly is an absurd fate in this world, yet may the thousands of children who have lost their lives in the IVF process be safe now in Our Lord’s arms.

  • Nick

    It should be pointed out that this debate has not been pronounced on by the Church. Much ink has been spilled on it – notably is discussion between Dr. Janet Smith and Dr. Monica Miller on the pages of the National Catholic Register, but it remains a good discussion – good in that it challenges the mind to apply Catholic Social Teaching is particular situations. BUT, nobody should be denigrated for their favor or opposition to “Snowflake Babies.” Right now it is a matter of a well-formed conscience, and I don’t think the Vatican is going to be quick to offer a definitive opinion.
    – Nick

    • Joseph Mazzara


      It is fairly cleary stated that homologous IVF and ET are both condemned as violations of the sanctity of marriage in DV.

      Rephrasing as a question a reponse I made to Joe C. above: Is it ever moral for a wife to impregnante herself with someone else’s child?

      And that’s the key here, this isn’t normal adoption. I would say embryo adoption is by far a greater evil than merely unfreezing them because it not only risks abortion anyway during the process of ET, it also violates the sanctity of marriage. Yes, the child has already been procreated, but the transferrance of that child into the womb, as it says in DV, violates the unitive aspect of marriage, it takes sex out of the equation, which is the natural manner of conception. The child is already conceived, now you’re just impregnating the wife without sex, so in addition to the lack of unitive marital relations, you are also introducing someone else’s child into the womb of your wife, much the same way it is someone else’s child when your wife is impregnated via adultery. Both homologous and heterologous IVF AND ET are condemned. If homologous, transferring your own child into your womb, is unacceptable, it seems a stretch to say that it will be acceptable to transfer another person’s child into your womb. Snowflake babies are in an extraordinary medical situation, and there is no solution that can be “licitly pursued.” I guarentee that when this was written: “no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival which can be licitly pursued” they had all options, including “adoption” by well-meaning Catholics in mind. “No possibility . . . which can be licitly pursued.” How much more explicit can it be?

    • joeclark77

      “…much the same way it is someone else’s child when your wife is impregnated via adultery”

      Do you do yoga? Because that’s one enormous streeeeeeeetch. The analogy is ridiculous. And if it were true, it would apply in the same way to normal adoption. “Adoption puts someone else’s baby in your family the same way adultery would” or some such.

  • Joseph Mazzara


    I have updated the piece to address the ambiguity you pointed out.

    Instead of: “Implantation [is] the beginning of pregnancy, [in which] the embryo adheres to the wall of the uterus.”

    It now says: “Implantation [occurs in] the beginning of pregnancy [when] the embryo adheres to the wall of the uterus.”

  • Joseph Mazzara

    Babies made via IVF do not make the mother pregnant until they are transferred and implanted in the womb of the mother. Just like my mother is not still pregnant with me.

    I think narrowing the definition is better than keeping it broad. I can see your point, though, and grant that “pregnant” may be defined as “having a child inside your body.” I would definitely not say a woman is “pregnant” who has babies frozen on ice. I’d say thinking of it that way is dangerous because it can lead our side to looking unscientific and ridiculous.

    After all, think of how we use the term “pregnant” in other senses? That was a pregnant pause, or that was a pregnant statement, meaning full of something. If the baby’s in a dish and not in the mother, or in a crib and not in a mother, the mother isn’t pregnant.

  • Susie

    Thanks, Joseph. I understand the different ways to use the word pregnancy, I guess I am not ready to concede to abortion providers that pregnancy begins with implantation, and that is why I think it is important to correctly define the word pregnancy. Looking in a medical dictionary online, pregnancy is defined as
    “1. The state of a female after conception and until the termination of the gestation.” I’m just saying – if you are going to define pregnancy, then conception should be included. Really, that definition can also help people to realize how problematic IVF is. If pregnancy encompasses the period from conception to birth, then women who have provided eggs that are fertilized would be considered pregnant. And women do need to look at IVF that way. Once those eggs are fertilized, they are the mother of however many children result, and that is a very serious responsibility. It can help women to see that they don’t really want their children in a petri dish or stored in a freezer.

  • Joseph Mazzara

    @ Susie

    We call the implantation of a child in the fallopian tube an “ectopic pregnancy.” We call it that after it has been implanted. We add the qualification “ectopic” because it is outside what is considered a natural or normal pregnancy, “implantation in the womb.” Conception of a child, and implantation of that child in the womb is not the same thing. I hope that is clarity enough for you.

  • Joseph Mazzara

    @ Joe Clark,

    Not sure how you can be more explicit than this from Donum vitae: “Although the manner in which human conception is achieved with IVF and ET cannot be approved”

    • joeclark77

      But your article isn’t about the conception part of the equation, it’s about the ET part. We all agree that conception via IVF is immoral. That’s explicit in the quote. But your article is about what we should or shouldn’t do to rescue babies *already* conceived in this manner. Your opinion is not supported by the quote. You’re going to have to argue your claim on its merits.

    • Joseph Mazzara

      @ Joe Clark,

      Sex is the only process by which pregnancy can be licitly brought about. Pregnancy by any other material means is illict.

      Again from DV:

      “But even in a situation in which every precaution were taken to avoid the death of human embryos, homologous IVF and ET dissociates from the conjugal act the actions which are directed to human fertilization. For this reason the very nature of homologous IVF and ET also must be taken into account, even abstracting from the link with procured abortion. Homologous IVF and ET is brought about outside the bodies of the couple through actions of third parties whose competence and technical activity determine the success of the procedure. Such fertilization entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children. ”

      If it isn’t okay for the parents of the snowflake baby, it isn’t okay for an adoptive parent either.

    • joeclark77

      You are still inferring an immorality of ET which is not explicit in that document, which speaks of “fertilization” and “conception” but not your term, “pregnancy”. I can infer from DV that if a would-be adoptive parent were to contract someone to perform IVF for the purpose of making a child that they could adopt, that would be immoral. We are agreed that doing IVF to conceive a child is unnatural and immoral.

      But the “snowflake baby” situation is different — we are talking about adoptive parents who did not ask the biological parents to create the children, but are offering to *rescue* those children so created. The quotation from DV does not say that this kind of rescue by ET is immoral. It may be “unnatural” or “imperfect” but so is every adoption. Unless the adoptive parents had some part in intentionally creating the unfortunate situation by which these children needed adopting, this quotation from DV does not make the case you think it makes.

      Do you get the point that I’m making: that there’s a difference between the (immoral) choice to create a baby by IVF, and the (possibly moral) choice to adopt and give life to that baby by ET? Or would you argue that we cannot separate the two choices?

    • Joseph Mazzara

      @ Joe Clark,

      It is never moral as a wife to impregnante yourself with someone else’s child.

    • joeclark77

      Is that just your opinion?

    • Joseph Mazzara

      @ Joe Clark,

      No. How is impregnation outside of marriage anything but some form of adultery, or anything but a violation of the sanctity, and unitive aspect of marriage?

    • joeclark77

      No, I don’t see embryo transplantation as any form of adultery. How is it adultery? Remember we’re talking about the embryo adoption here, not the IVF conception, which we agree is a moral wrong.

      And no, I don’t see adopting a snowflake baby as violating the sanctity or unitive aspect of marriage. Would you say the same of (ordinary) adoption? Doesn’t that violate the “natural order” of marriage and family in the same way?

      You are assuming the thing you want to prove (i.e. that ET is immoral). That’s not sufficient to make your case.

  • joeclark77

    “I think this makes it explicit that embryo adoption insofar as the embryo transfer part is concerned, is morally illicit.”

    No, it absolutely does not. Maybe it is “implicit” somehow, but definitely not “explicit”. Words have meanings. You cannot say something is “explicit” if it is your own opinion derived from emanations and penumbras. The quotation you selected, and especially the bolded part, is clearly saying there’s a moral problem with IVF, not with ET.

  • Susie

    Quick comment – ” Implantation is the beginning of pregnancy, in which the embryo adheres to the wall of the uterus.” Your definition of implantation as the beginning of pregnancy is the same one used to defend the use of the Pill and Plan B as non-abortifacients. It is stated that Plan B does not end a pregnancy because it does not have any effect after implantation. Is your definition of implantation as the “beginning of pregnancy” a medically correct definition? I would appreciate having the terms clarified.

  • K C Thomas

    Congratulations, Joseph Mazzara. May God bless you with all strength and devotion to serve the Catholic Church. may god bless you and your dear wife and children

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