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Slate's Human Nature: Leave No Embryo Behind

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Continuing this discussion, we turn now to Will Saletan. He writes on the intersection of science and politics for our partners at the online magazine Slate.

Hi, Will.

WILL SALETAN reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Let's go deeper into the Catholic Church's side of this. What is the Catholic Church's position on adopting frozen embryos?

SALETAN: Well, actually the church is divided about this. The Vatican is considering right now what position to take. The two camps represent two different ideals of Catholicism. One is that all human life beginning from fertilization is sacred. From that point of view, of course, if they are leftover embryos, you should adopt them. You should allow them to grow and become children and adults. The other position is that there is an integrity to the marital union that must never be violated. So you must never create life outside of the normal means, which is, of course, sexual intercourse, and you should not be complicit in that by then adopting an embryo that somebody else created by these artificial means. So those two camps are debating right now. In fact, I was in Rome a couple of months ago and saw a debate between two priests over this, and the church has not decided which way to go.

BRAND: So, Will, what does the second arm, the arm that says that you should not be complicit in creating these extra frozen embryos--what do they say should be done with the ones we already have?

SALETAN: You know, that question was asked at this conference I saw in Rome, and amazingly to me, you know, the priest said, `Well, if you are lying there on the table waiting to have the embryo adopted and planted in you and you reflect on your moral obligation, you should get up and leave the room and leave the embryos in this state of limbo because there is nothing licit that you can do.'

BRAND: Well, speaking of Rome in Italy, they're holding a referendum next week on new regulations there that will, among other things, limit the number of embryos produced in an IVF procedure. One of those regulations mandates that they all be implanted and doesn't allow any extra embryos. That kind of law--do you see that as getting passed here in the United States?

SALETAN: Well, something like the Italian law--I mean, that goes much farther than anything I think people in this country would accept. The provision that all the embryos have to be implanted? In this country we believe in a right to privacy. I can't imagine that Americans would accept a law that says you actually have to get the embryos implanted if you choose not to. The other provision about limiting the number of embryos--you might be able to get something like that passed. The state of Kentucky--there was a bill to try to do that--Senator Brownback of the United States Senate suggested that perhaps we should try to limit the number of embryos created. But the problem is you're then asking all these women who are then undergoing IVF to produce fewer embryos with, as a result, lower likelihood that they will end up with a live birth, and they'll have to go through the procedure again. It's very expensive. It's very physically demanding. I think that would run into a lot of trouble.

What's much more likely, it seems to me, is something that Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, has proposed, and that is something like an informed consent regulation. You go in to have IVF; the doctors are required to talk to you about the results of this, that there will be leftover embryos. If you create a lot of them, what do you want to do about those? Do you want to consign them to adoption or to research, or maybe you would like to produce fewer of them so that there will be fewer left over.

BRAND: And isn't there a debate swirling now over who should decide the fate of the frozen embryos that are now...

SALETAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, there definitely is. To most people I think we think, look, if you're the parent, if you produce the embryos, it's up to you to decide. I think what a lot of pro-choice people don't understand is the way a lot of pro-lifers think. You know, we think pro-lifers are conservatives. But pro-lifers in a funny way are collectivists. They believe that embryos are members of the human family and we should all decide together. In fact, the president said that there's no such thing as a spare embryo, by which he means, well, it's a spare to you--the couple that created it--but it's not a spare to some other couple that wants it. So while it's clear to a lot of pro-choice people that the family should decide--the couple that conceived the embryos--it's not at all clear to a lot of pro-life people, including people in high offices in politics.

BRAND: Opinion and analysis from Will Saletan. He writes on science and politics for our partners at the online magazine Slate. He's also the author of "Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War."

Thanks, Will.

SALETAN: Thank you, Madeleine.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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