Friday, June 4, 2010

IVF is not Human Procreation

Many people have a very difficult time understanding why artificial reproductive techniques are contrary to the moral law.  I wrote a column in response to a question for the St. Louis Review, May 5, 2010.  The question was this: I have read that there are about 400,000 human embryos frozen and stored in laboratories in the United States that are left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF). Catholics seem to use IVF like everyone else. But hasn’t the Church said it is immoral?

The guidelines for the column include that it must be expressed in a manner that most people will understand.

I would hope that people would come to understand that IVF is simply not human procreation, even though the offspring of human parents are fully human no matter how they come to be. 

One thing that cannot be stated in a diocesan newspaper, however, is that one of the problems for the faithful is that they do not alwasy receive good guidance from their priests.  Over the years I have dealt with numerous infertile couples whose priest told them there was no moral problem with IVF.  When I first started speaking about stem cells, I learned quickly that many Catholics had never heard that IVF is immoral.

From the St. Louis Review:
There are a number of reasons why in vitro fertilization is contrary to moral goodness and identified as such by the Church. A fundamental reason is that IVF replaces the father's and mother's personal gift to each other with a technical act of fertilization in the lab. The gift that husband and wife are for each other is such a morally worthy feature of creating new human life that even the most careful work of the expert in the lab cannot possibly measure up to it. Thus, IVF is immoral because it lacks an essential element of human procreation -- the personal and conscious gift between husband and wife expressed in and through their bodies. The sincere intention of having a child cannot make up for that missing element in IVF.
When confronting infertility, this reason is not always prayerfully considered. Some find the teaching hard to accept because the intended result of IVF, having a child, is the same as human procreation. Undeniably, the gift of a child brings joy. Catholics insist absolutely on the full human dignity of any child born from IVF and all the embryos created.

The many acts of manipulation, destruction, freezing and storage of hundreds of thousands of embryonic humans are glaring examples of and indications of what IVF lacks when compared to human procreation. The unfortunate condition of these embryos presents a frightful contrast to the hopeful outcome for individuals who are born from IVF. Of embryos produced in the lab, as many as 20 or more in each cycle of IVF, only a few are transferred into the womb of the mother. The remaining embryos are usually frozen. This has resulted in the hundreds of thousands in storage today. At different steps in the process, these human beings are often carelessly or deliberately destroyed in acts which are gravely immoral. The Church has said there seems to be no safe solution to the plight of frozen embryos that does not involve moral errors.

Fortunately, a system of treatment and care for those suffering from infertility called NaProTechnology has been developed that avoids all the moral problems of IVF, including the creation of embryonic humans in the lab. Not all cases of infertility can be remedied by medical means, moral or not. In most types of infertility, however, NaProTechnology can assist more couples to have children than IVF. More information about NaProTechnology is available through the Office of Natural Family Planning at (314) 997-7576.

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