In today’s society, we are fuelled by the drive to achieve whatever our heart desires. This philosophy has extended to the burden of infertility: if I want a child, I will have a child.
How is it wrong for a struggling married couple to seek assisted reproductive technology to produce the child they so desire? How can desiring life ever be wrong?
The Church does indeed recognise the anguish which infertility causes within the marriage, but does this compassion move us to achieve the goal of a child by whatever means necessary?
Infertility according to the World Health Organization is defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse, and affects millions of people of reproductive age worldwide. Estimates suggest that between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals live with infertility globally. Subsequently, there has been a rise in assisted reproductive technologies, the goal being allowing an individual (male or female) or any couple (heterosexual or otherwise) to have a child as desired.
At the surface, this seems appropriate to end a source of suffering through our medical advancement.
So why does the Church caution us against it? Why is IVF (In-vitro Fertilisation) not condoned by the Catholic Church?
The Church on the creation of life
The Catholic Church recognises that life first and foremost is a gift from God that begins at conception, i.e., at the point when a male sperm and female egg join through the sexual embrace/ the conjugal act in matrimony, and become an embryo with a new, unique genetic code unlike that of either parent. This embryo at the moment of creation is both corporeal as well as spiritual, possessing a soul created and willed by God at the moment of conception.
This duality creates a person endowed with dignity proper to him/her. This principle of life held by the Catholic Church drives its view on many sexual topics including contraception and IVF. Procreation then is seen not as a right of a married couple, but indeed as a gift from God.
In today’s society, driven by the self-sufficient desire where we believe in controlling all aspects of our life, how can we submit to the will of God in something so critical as to procreation?
The Church in Her wisdom foresaw this grey cloud which currently looms over life and as such, She has commented extensively on this important topic over the decades.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2366: “Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment.” CCC 2376: “Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other” (Donum Vitae).
Reproduction entails remanufacturing, while procreation involves a supporting role in God’s creation. CCC 2378: “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property…the child possesses genuine rights: the right to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents, and the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his/her conception.”
Further to this, the Church has approved NaProTechnology (Natural Procreative Technology) that aims at assisting procreation by treating the underlying cause of infertility, not bypass it, therefore respecting the importance of the conjugal act within marriage and the rights of the child.
Another ethical issue that needs to be acknowledged is that IVF creates multiple embryos in the lab per cycle; “By moving the site of procreation outside of the mother’s body and into the lab, the embryonic human being becomes subject to the logic of manufacture and production. This logic is about efficiency, quality control, maximising profit, and giving customers what they want.”
This “efficiency” creates multiple biological humans who do not get the opportunity to grow as intended in its mother’s womb. Thousands of embryos, i.e., many lives/souls have been discarded (selective reduction/aborted) or frozen and eventually discarded. In essence the medical community has quite literally attached a monetary fee (an average of $15–30K per cycle) to human life.
This position on artificial reproductive technology is not a case of the Church being anti-science but instead is aiming to guide us along the moral path for the common good of ALL, much like the referee in football.
If we comply with the referee, we will ALL be able to enjoy the beautiful ‘game’ of life to its fullest.
1 – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infertility
2 – https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2019/11/57961/
3 – https://www.forbes.com/health/family/how-much-does-ivf-cost/
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