Some days ago, CNN Health posted an article on certain factors to consider when freezing eggs for the purpose of achieving pregnancy at a later time. It featured a successful, unmarried breast surgeon whose demanding occupation makes it unlikely, in her estimation, that she will be married within the remaining time she has to successfully conceive a child.
That same day, “entertainment celebrity” Maria Menounos announced that she would be freezing her already fertilized eggs, her embryos, since “Being a parents is the hardest job in the whole world, and I don’t want to do it until I’m ready, and I don’t feel ready right now” [sic].
So in one situation, unfertilized eggs have been frozen, and in another, tiny embryonic human beings are being frozen; but both choices are being made in an attempt by women with substantial wealth to cheat nature and to “get pregnant” when they are good and ready, just not yet. Even if we can recognize the good in the desire to become a mother, hasn’t something already gone very wrong here?
Before we answer that question, perhaps we should address another first – is a desire to “get pregnant” still good when one is willing to use any means to achieve this end?
The pain of being childless is intense and real, and whether it is felt by an unmarried person or a couple that cannot conceive, a proper response to such suffering is one of compassion, acknowledgment, and support. But we need to distinguish within ourselves between the emotions that come with such intense suffering, and the actions we take in response.
Sometimes emotions and suffering can be so overwhelming that we are tempted to do anything in order to stop the pain. While certainly there is nothing wrong with seeking to alleviate suffering – and indeed we glorify God when we form our character in such a way that challenges do not discourage us from seeking the good – we may not commit evil in order to obtain a good. And to treat human beings as if they were simply biological matter to be manipulated is a grave injustice.
Such manipulation occurs with the freezing of a woman’s eggs or embryos. Why? Because a human being is a person, not a thing, and as such, he has the right to come into existence in the only way worthy of his personal status: through love as expressed in the mutual self-giving of the parents in their conjugal union. Artificial fertilization demeans the personal status of the child, reducing the child to an object of scientific manipulation. Because of the immoral nature of fertilizing an egg outside of the conjugal union, the same act performed for the purpose of such artificial fertilization is also itself morally unacceptable (cf. Dignitas Personae 18 and 20).
When the Christian message is given a fair hearing and considered deeply, one finds teaching that resonates with our prior, natural intuition that a child is a person and deserving of respect. The person – each and every person – is worth so much that God Himself became one of us! And more, He died for us, so that we could live with Him eternally. This is drastic if true; it is almost incredible, in the literal meaning of the word. What or who could be worth so much that it would induce God to go to such lengths, such efforts? If God Himself values each of us so highly, how can we not extend a similar regard to one another?
If this life is all there is, if death is truly the brutal end to everything, the temptation to adopt a utilitarian ethic, where the end justifies the means, becomes acute. If acted upon, this temptation always takes the form of securing a desire by means that are opposed to the dignity of the person. Such a temptation clearly informs the willingness to freeze one’s eggs, with the justification that this may be the only chance one may ever have of bearing children, while disregarding that this way of giving life to a child grossly demeans his or her dignity as a person.
The utilitarian temptation surfaces also in the possibility of freezing a mother’s embryos, with the justification that she is not ready to parent and needs more time to prepare. Once the child is conceived, is present, he or she has a right to be immediately accepted and nurtured. It is inhumane to freeze a child, even in embryonic form, because the parents are unable or unwilling to respond to the demands of parenthood at the time of conception.
Ultimately, acting upon the dictates of a utilitarian ethic is a desperate measure, the opposite of hope, a response of one who feels there is no other recourse. But there is always hope. Suffering and death do not have the last word, because Christ rose from the dead and demonstrated that no situation is so bleak that it is beyond His power to heal. And Christ always presents solutions that confirm the goodness of the person (cf. Genesis 1:31). His solutions may require patience, faith and hope from us, but He is trustworthy. The interior stirrings of reason that make us so sure of our worth and dignity are confirmed in Revelation. Each person is worth more than any thing, not because of her age, achievements, looks or degree of rationality, but because of who she is: a person.