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Further Reading

Collateral Damage

Thawed Thinking

Is Freezing a Human Being Really Humane?

by Rebekah Curtis

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 36

Children between the ages of 18 months and four years are terrible people. I say this because I have lived with quite a few of them. One trying day, when the difficulties of life were compounded immeasurably by the existence of a three-year-old among them, I had an epiphany. I should put the three-year-old in the freezer. When I was healthy again, when there weren't so many other besetting problems, when we had the resources to raise her like all people deserve to be raised, we'd thaw her out and do the job right.

The day passed and I didn't freeze Evie. As I gave the idea more thought, I had trouble seeing how the plan wouldn't turn me into Jabba the Hutt, solving the problem of human animation with technology and temperature. What would we tell Grandma, anyway? "Oh, we've encased her in carbonite. She should be quite well protected. If she survived the freezing process, that is."

That is, of course, what grandmas all over the country are being told. Most of them take it pretty well, as long as the frozen babies have a warmer sibling.

Dr. Robert Weise of Concordia Seminary writes, "When you freeze an embryonic human being, parenting remains frozen. You cannot parent a frozen embryo." Even if we put aside every other problem with IVF, embryo freezing alone is a moral deal-breaker. A mother cannot freeze her three-day-old baby any more than she can freeze her three-year-old baby and still be acting dutifully toward her child. Parents are supposed to raise their kids, to help them grow up. Suspending children in time and space until things get better accomplishes neither.

False Protection

But perhaps this perspective is wrong. Parents are also supposed to protect their children, and it is freezing that saves these embryonic children. If they were not frozen, they would die, so freezing is the way of moral rectitude. Isn't that so?

Not quite, since there is another way to save these tiny people. Rather than having their lives suspended (and risked) via freezing, they could be given a normal progression of life within a womb, where an embryonic person normally lives. But which womb? If freezing is being considered, it can only be because there is no womb available.

So the question of where our embryos might be housed points to a larger problem. Parents who face this decision about how to protect their embryonic children do so only because they chose in the first place to put them in mortal peril. There is no moral justification for freely choosing to create a human life in an environment incompatible with human life. None of us can survive in vitro, and a freezer is no place for a human being, either. Aside from the abuse of the frozen person's right to normal growth and human society, freezing and thawing are life-threatening events. Deliberately building a person who is bound to this Russian-roulette-determined future is morally indefensible. Someone has knowingly, voluntarily, gone to a great deal of trouble to create a life that can only be sustained through extraordinary and life-threatening measures.

The scenario fails on the ethical grounds of beneficence and non-maleficence. It does a person no good, and it actively does him harm, to create a situation that requires his placement in an environment where he cannot live. His prospects for relocation either to a womb or to a freezer are not a chance any of us would be happy taking with our own lives: numbers are hard to pin down here due to the vast array of variables, but an 80 percent live birth rate from fresh embryos is considered good. Thawed embryos' chances are generally under 50 percent.

What Kind of Parents?

Many people believe that embryos are not human, or at least not human enough to qualify for such arguments. However, since IVF embryos were created intentionally for the purpose of making a human being, this argument loses much of its force. The circumstances of IVF point strongly to a meaningful connection between that most valuable of humans, the wanted child, and the necessary embryos. It is impossible to determine which embryo meets that standard of wanted humanness from any perspective but in retrospect. In dealing with problems of the present, we are unable to judge which embryo has rights. The way of ethical uprightness demands that each be treated with the dignity of the human child we fully intend to get out of the process.

The services of a professional ethicist are not required to tell a mother that she is not free to freeze her three-year-old, even with a noble vision for the child's better future (visions of the future sometimes prove inaccurate anyway). The child's life would be put at risk with both the act and its undoing. Additionally, her parents would be utterly failing in their duty toward her should she survive either the freezing alone, or the freezing and thawing. If suspended animation were a permissible solution to domestic problems, most of the world's children would be frozen right now.

In the famous joke, a man propositions a woman with the offer of a million dollars. When she thoughtfully accepts, he asks if she would still participate for ten dollars. "What kind of girl do you think I am?" the offended lady asks. "That's clear," he answers; "now we're just talking about the price."

What kind of parents do we think we are? That's clear. Now we're just talking about the age of the baby we'll put in the freezer. 

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