On Embryo Reduction

Author: Pontifical Council for the Family



Having been asked to state its position on so-called "embryo reduction", the Pontifical Council for the Family, after consulting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, publishes this Declaration.

Cases of multiple pregnancies, when the mother's womb is shared by several embryos, have become more frequent. These cases usually result from ovarian stimulation in the case of infertility, or from recourse to artificial fertilization, on which the Magisterium has already given its judgement (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae, II). First of all, we must keep in mind the difficult and even critical situations that these procedures can create. Thus it is impossible not to mention the responsibility of those doctors who, by applying hyperstimulation without the proper skill and precaution, or by using artificial fertilization procedures, create situations that put the life of the mother and the children conceived at risk.

As for multiple pregnancies, some say that they cannot all come to term, either because of the spontaneous death of the embryos in utero, or because of the premature birth of fetuses with no hope of life. They add, moreover, that if the unborn children all reach the point of delivery, the obstetrical difficulties (with the resulting danger to the mother) are greater. On this basis, they conclude that selecting and eliminating some of the embryos to save the others or at least one of them is justified. The procedure known as "embryo reduction" has been introduced for this reason.

In this regard, the following should be noted: since every embryo must be considered and treated as a human person with respect for his eminent dignity (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae I, 1), the fundamental human rights of the unborn child must be recognized from the first moment of conception; first among these is the right to life, which thus cannot be violated in any way. Over and above any confusion and ambiguity, it must therefore be said that "embryo reduction" constitutes selective abortion, for it consists in the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being (John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, n. 57). Therefore, whether it is willed as an end or used as a means, it must be said that "embryo reduction" always constitutes a grave moral disorder (John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, n. 62). Since we are dealing with a truth that can be grasped by reason alone, the unlawfulness of this conduct is a valid norm for everyone, including non-believers (John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, n. 101). The moral prohibition remains even when continuation of the pregnancy jeopardizes the life or health of the mother and the other siblings. For it is not lawful to do evil even in order to achieve something good (John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, n. 58).

Human life comes from God and is always his gift, a sharing in his breath of life (John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, n. 39). Embryo selection, which involves the voluntary taking of a human life, cannot be justified either on the principle of the so-called lesser evil, or on the principle of the double effect: neither one nor the other can be applied in this case. Nor should we underestimate the possibility that the use of embryo reduction might lead to a eugenic mentality, as a result of which, through prenatal diagnostic techniques, the value of a human life would be measured only within the parameters of normality and "physical well-being" (John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, n. 63), in the light of a reductive concept of the "quality of life".

May the Lord of life accompany parents in fulfilling their most exalted task and sustain them in their duty to respect the right to life of their unborn child. At the same time, may he guide those who are at the service of life to do all in their power to save the mother and her babies. Fortunately, due to the important scientific advances made in recent years, many cases of multiple pregnancies have been successfully brought to term. It remains certain, however, that although our human limitations oblige us at times to stand by helplessly as innocent creatures die prematurely, it can never be morally licit to cause their death voluntarily.

From the Vatican, 12 July 2000.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo

Bishop Francisco Gil Hellin

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 July 2000, page 3

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