Appalled at British fertilization clinics' plans to destroy frozen human embryos, the Vatican suggested Tuesday that married women volunteer to bring the embryos to term in "prenatal adoptions."
The alternative, broached in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, spells out a moral quandary for the church: Its teaching holds that the only way to procreate is intercourse by a married couple.
Thousands of embryos _ products of in vitro fertilization _ are in cold storage around the world, posing legal and moral dilemmas for their custodians.
In Britain, where the law stipulates that frozen embryos can be stored only five years without special consent, an estimated 6,000 embryos are expected to be destroyed next month.
In the Vatican newspaper, the Rev. Maurizio Faggioni called the destruction of frozen embryos "a prenatal slaughter" in which "tens of thousands of innocent lives will be legally cut short."
"The solution . . . to rescue embryos abandoned to certain death has the merit of seriously considering the value of a life so fragile as the embryos," the theologian wrote.
Faggioni said only married couples should consider "adopting" an embryo and could consider it akin to "taking in an orphan or abandoned child."
"This would be treated as prenatal adoptions," Faggioni wrote.
The proposal _ which has not been publicly discussed by Pope John Paul II or any high Vatican official _ would mark a new direction for the church in dealing with advances in fertility techniques.
In a sign of the article's weight, however, the Vatican took the unusual step of distributing it separately to journalists before it was published.
In the past, the pope has denounced in vitro fertilization and hormonal treatments on post-menopausal women seeking to become pregnant. He has also called for an end to the production of frozen embryos, equating the destruction of surplus embryos to abortion.