by ROWENA OREJANA
Catholics have been urging the government and fertilisation clinics to respect the dignity of “snowflake babies”, or frozen embryos, that will be destroyed within six months of reaching the expiration date set by law — November 21, 2014.
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn, at a Mass of remembrance on November 21 for babies who have died, said the situation of having frozen embryos is not respectful of human dignity.
“It’s not a respectful way of treating human beings. We need to ask God’s forgiveness for many of the things that happen in society,” he said.
Family Life International spokeswoman Michelle Kaufman described the situation as a tragedy without a “simple or perfect solution”.
“This tragedy will unfold every week in New Zealand from now on as more frozen embryos reach that 10 year mark,” she said.
Fertility Associates Group operations manager Dr John Peek said they acknowledge that discarding
embryos is a sensitive issue for a lot of people.
He said, “embryologists spend their working life having great respect for the embryos they nurture,
and you can be assured that they are as respectful when embryos are discarded”.
Many people who have stored frozen embryos have chosen not to extend storage. The Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology of the Ministry of Health received 301 applications for a two-year extension.
Ministry of Health ethics committees manager, Helen Colebrook, said fertilisation clinics were unable
to contact 426 people and applied for extensions on their behalf.
“ECART has granted a one-year extension for such applications to give the clinics more time to
try to locate those people so that they can make their own decisions about their gametes/embryos,”
New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre director John Kleinsman said the moral status of the embryo
“A life is begun which is the life of a new human being with his or her own growth (Evangelium Vitae),
a being that will only grow in size and complexity. This implies that from the first moment of its
existence the result of human procreation must be guaranteed the unconditional respect that is
due to every human person. From this perspective, the existence of so many stored embryos around
the world represents a profound injustice,” he said.
However, Catholics are divided on the issue of whether or not to extend the existence of the embryos.
Mrs Kaufman said the most prudent thing to do is to allow the snowflake babies to die with dignity.
“It would seem the cautious and most prudent way forward at this time is to allow the final act of life,
which is death. Allowing the death of these embryos, affording them the proper dignity due a human
person, is not the same as causing their deaths,” she said.
However, Oamaru nurse Roseanne Sheridan, who learned of the issue only a couple of weeks before the deadline, made a last ditch attempt to petition Parliament to extend the deadline.
“We ask that Amy Adams, the Minister of Justice, intervene to save these tiny lives from destruction,
protect them from scientific experimentation and assist the parents in finding a way to give them
a chance at life,” she said in the petition.
To save the frozen embryos, it may be necessary to adopt them out, but this is a sticky issue as well.
Many argue against adoption, as the Catholic position with regard to assisted human reproductive
procedures is that their use is only acceptable between a husband and wife, said Dr Kleinsman.
Thus, one argument gives priority to the sanctity of marriage, he explained.
However, the other argument gives more emphasis to the right to life. Many Church documents, such
as Donum Vitae, he said, makes it clear “that protection of the life of the embryo is the principle to
which priority must be given in making decisions involving embryos”.
In any case, Catholics are agreed that the snowflake babies should be given every respect as human
Right to Life spokesman Ken Orr said they are asking the health ministry, “that those human embryos
which are targeted for destruction be accorded a respectful burial and not be incinerated as medical
waste” and “that the Minister of Health continues to decline any further recommendation from ACART that so called “surplus embryos” be used for scientific research”.
They must not simply be disposed of and treated as simple “medical waste”, but given a proper burial befitting a human person.
Dr Peek explained that if the embryos are allowed to thaw, they do not resume metabolism. They are placed with other biological waste, he said, because they are biological tissue.
He added that though Catholics may have a different perspective, he stressed a large number of embryos
are used by people who “try to have the children they keenly desire”.
“The time when people need to decide about what to do with their stored embryos is always a difficult one; it’s a time when people deserve support for the decisions they have made in response to the
difficult journey caused by infertility,” he said.