Adoption and Orphan Care

Should Christians Adopt Embryos?

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Evangelical Christians, it seems, are adopting embryos at an increasing rate, and the secular media are noticing the trend. Last week, religion journalist Krista Kapralos wrote about the theological and missional underpinnings of born-again believers giving birth to “unused embryos.” In a few minutes, I plan to talk to her about whether we should see this as something God calls us to do.

I mentioned on this blog, awhile back, that I had received some kick-back from someone who opposed any talk of so-called “snowflake adoption,” and objected to such an adoption happening in his extended family.

How, he wondered, could I support this kind of adoption when I am opposed (and I am, strongly) to in vitro fertilization (IVF), donor assisted reproduction, and other technologies that violate the one-flesh union and the relationship between love and procreation. The same thing, he argued, is going on here with a donor embryo being implanted in an adopting mother’s womb.

First of all, there is no such thing as a “donor embryo.”

Someone can donate sperm or ovum or even a heart or a liver, but no one can “donate” an “embryo.” No one can “own” an “embryo.” An “embryo” isn’t a thing; he or she is a “who.” Our Lord Jesus is the pinnacle of the image of God (Heb. 1:1-3). He was an “embryo” (Luke 1:42-43). The “embryonic” John responded to our Lord’s “embryonic” presence in precisely the same way he responded to his adult presence on the banks of the Jordan River.

These so-called “snowflakes” are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus and are stored in cryogenic containers in fertility clinics as the “extras” of IVF projects. They already exist, and they already exist as persons created in the image of God.

And there are Christians called to adopt them, to bring them to birth through pregnancy, and to raise them in love. To be sure, the numbers of children who can be adopted in this way are a microscopic percentage of the whole. And the numbers even of those who can be safely brought to birth is even smaller.

Isn’t this simply an embrace of the kind of “Brave New World” Frankenstein technology we elsewhere lament?


Adopting parents are not complicit in the “production” (I shudder to type such a horrible word in reference to a human creature) of these children. Again, the children are already conceived. The adopting parents are no more endorsing the technologies involved than parents adopting from an unwed mother are endorsing fornication or adultery.

Embryo adoption also doesn’t carry with it the violence to the one-flesh union that comes with surrogacy or sperm donation, in which one spouse’s genetic material is joined with a stranger’s.

Embryo adoption would be problematic if the adoptions themselves became a further commodity in the buying and selling transactions of the reproductive technology business or if these adoptions were a widespread incentive for couples to justify the decision to “create” and freeze additional embryos. This is not presently the case, though, and doesn’t appear to be likely to become so anytime soon.

But, most importantly, these aren’t “unused embryos” as though they were things or tools. These are image-bearing persons who are endowed by their Creator, not by their “usefulness” with certain inalienable rights. Opening our hearts, and our homes, and sometimes our wombs, to the least of these is a Christ-like thing to do.

An earlier, “embryonic” version of this essay appeared here on 22 February 2010.

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).