Suppose the technology existed to cryopreserve or “freeze” a person, without harming them, for an indefinite period of time. Would it be unjust to involuntarily freeze someone? That is, would freezing someone without their consent deprive them of a basic human right?
For example, would it be unjust to involuntarily freeze an elderly person who is suffering from Alzheimer’s in hopes of unfreezing them when a cure is found? Or, would it be unjust for a married couple going through a divorce to involuntarily freeze their four, five, and six year old children, until after the dust settles, in order to shelter them from the emotional trauma of a divorce? Or, would it be unjust to involuntarily freeze someone with Down syndrome in hopes of a “curing” medical breakthrough 40 years in the future?
Justinian, around 500 A.D., wrote that justice is “the steadfast resolve to give every person their due.” Would this involuntary cryopreservation be taking away something that these persons are due? The framers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence believed that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Would involuntary freezing deprive a person of the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness? I think the case is clear that it would … especially when the purpose is for convenience and efficiency.
The geographically small, yet philosophically mammoth country of Malta may soon pass legislation that outlaws the cryopreservation of Pre-Birth People in the embryonic stage of life – “except in exceptional medical cases.” The law (let’s affectionately call it The Maltese Falcon) is part of a larger regulatory scheme to give much needed oversight to the artificial reproduction industry.
It appears that the Maltese government is attempting to legally recognize the injustice that ensues from involuntarily freezing Pre-Birth People. Thus, the message from The Maltese Falcon is clear: Don’t freeze Pre-Birth People.
Ideologically The Maltese Falcon sounds appealing, but what would be the consequences of adopting this legislation in the U.S.? Two important consequences would flow from the U.S. implementation of The Maltese Falcon. First, there would be a change in the clinical practices of in-vitro fertilization. Currently, an IVF clinic’s common practice is to create many more Pre-Birth People than can be immediately implanted in the mother. The “extra” Pre-Birth People are either discarded like property (having their lives unjustly taken from them), used for medical research, or they are frozen for an indefinite period of time. The Maltese Falcon would constrain an IVF clinic to only create as many Pre-Birth People as will be immediately implanted in the mother (another viable option is oocyte cryopreservation, where the woman’s “extra” eggs are frozen, then thawed and joined with sperm immediately prior to implantation).
Second, difficult moral decisions will have to be made regarding the half-million-plus Pre-Birth People that are currently in a state of indefinite cryopreservation. So far, this discussion has built on the presupposition that Pre-Birth People in the embryonic stage of life are “persons” with the same “due” as any other human being – regardless of their phase of development (e.g., toddler, adolescent, adult, geriatric, etc.). Supporting that premise is beyond the scope of this discussion, but for more information, see the post, Smallest Person Adoption.
Building on the premise that it is unjust to freeze Pre-Birth People (except in cases of extreme medical necessity), would it also be unjust to simply treat Pre-Birth People as property and discard the half-million-frozen children? If so, then what do we do with them?
One attractive option emerges … Adoption.
First, Pre-Birth People are to be treated with the dignity that all other persons enjoy – the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. This means that every child frozen in an embryonic phase of development should have a Life Path Plan. The Life Path Plan should be developed by the child’s biological parents. If the biological parents are unwilling or unable to personally give the child a chance at life, then they should actively seek an adoptive placement for the child. If the biological parents are non-compliant with actively seeking an adoptive placement, the State has an obligation to step in and protect these children from indefinite deprivation of basic human rights.
This may seem like a shocking statement, but think of the next line in the Declaration of Independence … the line after Life, Liberty, and Happiness: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” It is perhaps the highest and most noble task of government to ensure that all persons in their domain are afforded these rights. Governments routinely terminate the parental rights of biological parents who neglect or abandon their post-birth children; Pre-Birth People deserve the same rights as the breathing.
Pre-Birth People Adoption isn’t a novel concept to the U.S. A clinic in Barcelona, Spain, has seen “[c]ouples from all over the world … traveling to the renowned Spanish clinic to adopt [embryos] donated by other couples.”
If the government must take custody of Pre-Birth People, it should implement grants to promote awareness of the need for these Pre-Birth People to have a chance to receive their basic rights through adoption. Other grant programs could be instituted to help willing families afford the costs of Pre-Birth People Adoption.
Federal funding for embryo adoption awareness is currently in place under the Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign. According to LifeNews.com, the “snowflake baby” program “provide[s] funding for adoption-awareness programs for the children who were formerly stored human embryos at fertility clinics who could have been destroyed for scientific research.” Sadly, “President Barack Obama is seeking to end [the] federal funding . . . that helped save unborn babies potentially slated for destruction in fertility clinics.”
The destiny of the half-million frozen Pre-Birth People is one of the most ominous moral and ethical dilemmas of our generation. In the words of Uncle Ben from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”