Catholic Teaching

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): A Violation of Human Dignity

  In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a procedure in which eggs (ova) from a woman's ovary are removed and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory environment (such as in a glass petri dish). After a period of growth in a controlled, laboratory environment, the embryo is then returned to the woman's uterus. IVF is one of several assisted reproductive techniques (ART) used to assist infertile couples in conceiving a child. "In vitro" is Latin for "in glass." While there are numerous health risks and moral problems associated with IVF for both the woman and the man involved in the procedure, this article will address the immorality of the procedure from the perspective of the loss of human lives as a result of IVF. In vitro fertilization separates human procreation from the conjugal union between husband and wife. In the process, couples (and doctors in the fertility business) make themselves the masters of human life instead of its stewards.  

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2377), techniques such as in vitro fertilization "dissociate 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.'" (Donum Vitae II, 5). By such procedures, "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...Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person." (Donum Vitae II, 4).

There is little doubt that modern science and technology have made enormous contributions to our lives. However, the fact that a certain procedure is technologically possible does not make the procedure morally or ethically permissible.  Numerous human embryos are created in each IVF procedure
; many of them die as a result of the process because they are so fragile or are killed as unwanted "surplus embryos." (Even if only one child were conceived per IVF procedure, the process would still be immoral for many reasons.) The loss of nascent human life through IVF is staggering. Oftentimes, embryos are unwanted if the gender of the child is not what the parents desired. Others are eliminated because they are considered genetically inadequate (see pre-implantation genetic diagnosis below). Some embryos are stored alive in freezers for later use (either by the parents who desire another child or donated for use in scientific experiments). Still other embryos are destroyed in scientific experimentation or are simply unwanted and flushed down the sink.     

We must ask ourselves this question: If, as pro-lifers know, human embryos are living human beings in the earliest stages, then why do many pro-lifers/pro-life groups not oppose IVF as they oppose abortion? It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception/fertilization. From the moment of conception, a human embryo contains a complete and unique genetic code, with his or her growth and development totally coordinated from within. Why then do we allow these human beings to be devalued and used for utilitarian purposes? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2270) tells us: "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person -- among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life."  Additionally, the Scriptures reveal, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you." (Jeremiah 1:5) "My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth..." (Psalms 139:15) Clearly, nascent human life must be treated with the same respect and protection as the rest of us. 

"One thing has become abundantly clear since the development of a global, multi-billion dollar artificial procreation industry: children are now regarded as luxury commodities, very expensive ones, and they had better measure up to the expectations of customers. This assumption was recently bolstered with the announcement in the UK from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) that the numbers of single women and lesbians receiving IVF treatment has tripled in the last five years. (LifeSiteNews) IVF and related activities are a gigantic global industry based on one mistaken and deadly philosophical assumption: that there is such a thing as a right to be a parent.  One can clearly see how this commodification of human life has led us down the slippery path to embryonic stem cell research and cloning.

One suspects that IVF is not opposed on the same level as abortion because there are many couple who struggle to carry the difficult cross of infertility and who desperately want to have a child.  Even while remaining sensitive to the great suffering of such couples, we must recall that no one has a "right" to a child.  There is no "right" to a child, whether that child be conceived through normal conjugal marital relations or through reproductive technologies. IVF turns children into commodities. Above all, each and every child is a gift from God.  Children conceived through IVF have no less dignity than those conceived as God intended. "God allows children to be conceived through IVF because He respects human freedom." (American Life League) Be that as it may, "cooperating with God's plans for human procreation ensures that all children are accepted as gifts. Using IVF is not accepting a child as a gift, rather, it is manipulating a child into existence." (American Life League) 

Locally, the WVU Center for Reproductive Medicine in Morgantown, WV, makes the claim that it "provides help for infertility and more."  According to the Center's website, they "offer a range of health services for both males and females, from infants to seniors, with problems that affect the reproductive system, including help for individuals with gender identity disorders." One has to wonder in particular about "gender identity disorders." Sadly, we are becoming all too familiar with recent stories of individuals who desire to "change" their gender from that which they were given by God, their Creator.  Most tragic are the cases that involve children who under the guidance of their parents and doctors are reassigned a "new gender."   

The philosophy of the WVU Center for Reproductive Medicine is "a single, healthy infant." The Center claims to be dedicated to working with clients to reduce their potential for multiple birth.  What we know from this statement is that the center employs the technique of "selective reduction" -- which is simply another word for abortion. Because of the high cost and risk inherent in the IVF procedure, doctors generally implant several embryos into the mother's uterus, thus leading them to later abort some of the embryos if more than one implant and if the parents desire the birth of a single child.  For each child born through IVF, many siblings are lost through "selective reduction." For those embryos fortunate enough to live, studies are emerging which reveal a higher percentage of birth defects and health problems in children conceived through IVF. (Catholics United for Life)  

The Center also provides the following insights into their lucrative business of "baby-making."  Many of these procedures read like a bad science fiction novel...sadly, they are a reality:

-- "Our goal is obtain high-quality embryos that will allow us to meet or be more stringent than the recommendations of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in the hope of obtaining a single healthy pregnancy. Extra embryos will not be transferred during that cycle but can be frozen and saved for later use.  In cases where there are multiple embryos, we offer cryopreservation (freezing) and frozen embryo transfer."

-- "Specimens are frozen in separate, labeled, specially developed catheters or straws and are stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of about -196°C."  (PJ: Many embryos die as a result of the freezing and/or thawing process.)

-- "Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) - This procedure is used for couples who are carriers for serious genetic conditions that might be transmitted to their offspring. After embryos are available as a result of IVF, one of the cells from the developing embryo can be removed and submitted for genetic evaluation while allowing the remaining cells in the embryo to continue developing normally. The couple then has the option of transferring only the unaffected embryos."  (PJ: PGD is another word for euthanasia, where embryos of an undesired gender or with undesirable traits are destroyed.)

It is time for all those who call themselves pro-life to speak out against this horrible violation of human life. Because of our silence and inaction, an untold number of human lives have been lost through IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies. We must not ignore and abandon these least among us, our brothers and sisters in Christ, whose very lives are at the mercy of science and technology.

For further information on the dignity of the human person, marriage and family, see: Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) by Pope Paul VI, Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Familiaris Consortio (The Family in the Modern World) by Pope John Paul II

There are natural methods which can help couples who are struggling with infertility to better understand the cycle of fertility and the optimum time for conception. 

For information on help with infertility from a Catholic perspective and within God's design, see:

The Pope Paul VI Institute at http://www.popepaulvi.com/

NaPro Technology: http://www.naprotechnology.com/

Creighton Model Fertility Care System: http://www.creightonmodel.com/

Patricia Johnson

 

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