By Nancy Frazier
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Are frozen embryos human beings worthy of dignity and respect or are they property subject to contractual obligations?
That is the legal question surrounding the dispute between actress Sofia Vergara and her former fiance, businessman Nick Loeb, over two female embryos they created in 2013. Loeb, who wants to bring the pregnancies to term using a surrogate, has asked a court in Santa Monica, Calif., to void an agreement they both signed that the embryos could be brought to term only with the consent of both mother and father.
But from an ethical standpoint, the questions raised by the dispute may not be easily resolved. The Catholic Church’s stand on frozen embryos, as articulated in the 2008 instruction from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”), comes down firmly on the side of the dignity and worth of the human embryo. But it says the creation of embryos through in vitro fertilization and their later abandonment represents “a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. The moral objection is first to IVF itself because the dignity of the child calls on parents to procreate that child from an act of their own love,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
But fertilization of an egg in a test tube “depersonalizes that process and can lead to treating the embryo as a commodity, even as an object,” Doerflinger added.
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times on April 30, Loeb, 39, outlined the reasons for his lawsuit and what he sees as the primary question at issue: “Does one person’s desire to avoid biological parenthood – free of any legal obligations – outweigh another’s religious beliefs in the sanctity of life and desire to be a parent?”
Vergara, who already has a 22-year-old son, Manolo, and is now engaged to another man, has said she thinks Loeb is merely seeking publicity with his lawsuit. She said through her lawyer that she is “content to leave the embryos frozen indefinitely as she has no desire to have children with her ex.”
The Colombian-born Vergara, 42, was raised Catholic, and Loeb, whose father is Jewish, was raised in his mother’s faith as an Episcopalian, but grew up with a Catholic nanny.