In Vitro Fertilization


Hello Joesixpack! I have a cousin who is practicing in vitro fertilization and I was wondering if you could send me some more information on it. Thanks so much!

Due to demands on my time, I asked a fellow Marian Catechist to write an answer for me. He shall remain nameless, but his wonderful piece follows.


What Is In-Vitro Fertilization? (IVF)

It’s the process of fertilization where the egg of a woman is combined with the sperm of a man outside the body, in vitro (“in glass”). So, IVF brings about life in a petri dish! Children engendered through IVF are sometimes known as “test-tube babies.” Several eggs are separated from the women’s ovary after she has taken a fertility drug which causes a number of eggs to mature at the same time. Sperm is collected from the man, usually through masturbation (which is considered to be a moral evil in the Church). The egg and sperm are ultimately joined in a glass dish where conception takes place and the new life is allowed to develop for several days. In the simplest case embryos can then be transferred to the mother’s womb in the hope one will survive to term.

When the birth of Louise Joy Brown took place as the world’s first test-tube baby, public reaction was jubilant. Since then thousands of children have been conceived through the process of IVF. The marvels of medicine were thought to answer the problem of couples not being able to conceive children naturally. However, because of this emotional outburst, no one looked at the negative aspects of IVF. I mean, after all, WHY would the Church be against something as wonderful as IVF? Is the Church against medicine? Let’s take a little catechism lesson first and see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say!

One can see the numerous problems that are associated with In Vitro Fertilization. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged on condition it is placed at “the service of the human person, of his inalienable right, and his true and integral good according the design and will of God.” (CCC #2375 & Donum Vitae, Intro #2).

The Catechism continues: “Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) …remain morally unacceptable. They disassociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that ‘entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.’ Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union.” (CCC #2377. Donum Vitae, II, 5).

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to members of the Pontifical Academy for Life in the year 2012, addressed the issue of married couples. He said, “The Church pays great attention to the suffering of couples with infertility, she cares for them and, precisely because of this, encourages medical research.” But he warned against, “the lure of the technology of artificial insemination,” which is not permitted by Catholic teaching. Pope Paul VI stated that there is an “inseparable connection, willed by God, and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning.”

So the bottom line is that the Catholic Church views the child as a gift from God, not a right (although the child has rights). The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a response to this in 1987 with Instruction on Respect for Human Life and on the Dignity of Procreation (Donum Vitae, which I quoted above. It called the IVF process “illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union even when everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo.” The Instruction went on to say that the child “must be the fruit his parents’ love. He cannot be desired or conceived as the product of an intervention of medical or biological techniques; that would be equivalent of reducing him to an object of scientific technology.”

So the teachings of the Church is quite clear on this matter and one that I am sure that tugs at the heart of those desiring to conceive children, but allow me to close with some words by Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, who works at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which advises the U.S. Bishops regarding a wide range of bioethical issues. Fr. Tad states that there are six main objections as to why IVF is immoral, and as such, forbidden by the Catholic Church.

  1. It undermines the marital act, which by its very nature is meant to be a self-gift – the unique means by which life is handed on. Procreation is a collaboration between humans and God, Who gives the gift of new life. IVF depersonalizes this process by separating the action of marital self-giving within the marital act from God’s gift of a child. If we recognize God as the giver of human life, we have to collaborate with Him in the designs and plans that He has for us. It becomes our project rather than as a gift received and is an injustice not only to God’s design of the sexual union within marriage, but also to the child who has the right to be conceived under his or her mother’s heart, within the safety of her body, under the loving embrace of his or her parents.
  2. IVF creates collateral damage. It’s done under the form of extra embryos. In the United States alone there are around one million frozen embryos who are left in a sort of limbo of suspended existence. Fr. Tad said “it’s an ongoing human tragedy,” and “the wild-west of infertility.” There are no regulations governing the creation and storage of human embryos.
  3. The sperm is almost always obtained through masturbation which is a grave moral evil.
  4. The man and woman’s exclusive relationship is violated when a third party enters the realm of their procreation.
  5. Medical objections. IVF increases the risk of pregnancy of multiples. This frequently results in selectively aborting some of the “extra fetuses.”
  6. There is high rate of birth defects.

So while the Church understands the pain many couples must go through. God has designed His specific plan for procreated and this thwarts the natural method by which God wanted us to conceive and have children. IVF tells God that we have a plan of our own that is better than His, which is never the case.

Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Catholicism and Society by Msgr. Paul Hayes and James Drummey
Donum Vitae
Modern Moral Problems by Msgr. William Smith
National Catholic Bioethics Article by Fr. Tad Pacholczyk

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