Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The case of Nadya Suleman giving birth to eight children after having already given birth previously to six children conceived through in-vitro fertilization has raised many questions surrounding the whole process of in-vitro. Some ask if so many babies should have been implanted, others wonder if some should have been “selectively reduced” – a euphemism for the violence of abortion. But few are asking the question is in-vitro fertilization ethical in the first place? This case provides us with a teachable moment in which faithful Catholics can teach others about the sacredness of human life from its very beginning and God's wonderful plan for marriage, sex and family life.
The primary reason the Catholic Church has opposed in-vitro fertilization from the beginning is that a child has a right to come into the world as a result of an act of love between his or her father and mother not as a result of a laboratory process. Thousands of embryos have been frozen and deprived of their mother's care. Many don't survive the freezing and unthawing. Others are discarded or subject to further abuse and experimentation. Often more are implanted that are intended to be brought to term, so they are "selectively reduced" - a euphemism for killing. But these reasons are secondary to the fact that a child enters the world not as a result of an act of love, but through a third party in a laboratory process.
Until the 1930's all Christian Churches were united in opposing contraception. The widespread use of contraception led to a utilitarian view of the body, increasing promiscuity and far more, not less abortion, and now euthanasia.
God is the author sex. Sex is something beautiful and good when we respect God's plan for it. God intended for sex to be an expression of total self giving love and open to the transmission of life in the context of a marriage between a husband and wife who have pledged themselves to each other for life.
Contraception and sterilization are immoral because the procreative (life-giving) dimension of the conjugal act is deliberately separated from the unitive (love-giving) dimension of the conjugal act, so that actions by which God may choose to give life are deliberately rendered infertile. In-vitro fertilization disassociates the love-giving dimension from the life-giving dimension.
In-vitro fertilization is the flip side of contraception. Contraception is sex without babies. In-vitro is babies without sex. While the Church is often accused of being anti-sex, we teach that the actions by which a new human being comes into the world are a reflection of Trinitarian love. What we oppose is the degradation of sex. Karl Marx said that sex was no more significant than drinking a glass of wine - a mere satisfaction of a bodily appetite. The Church sees sex as an act of love by which God, if he chooses, can bring forth a new human life made in his image and likeness.
But whatever way a child comes into the world, their lives must be respected and protected. Pope John Paul II asks in Evangelium Vitae "How can you have a human individual without having a human person." Science shows us that at the moment of fertilization a new human life has begun. This is not a potential human being, but a human being with great potential. As we grow from that point to adulthood, there is no change of nature or gradation of value. Life must be respected at every stage of development.
For couples who are suffering from fertility problems, there is hope. Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. is a pro-life obstetrician and gynecologist. Dr. Hilgers is the Director of the the Pope Paul VI Institute. He has a developed a system called NaProTechnology to help couples to manage their fertility while both respecting God's moral law. NaProTechnology works with and not contrary to nature.
Dr. Hilgers has been very successful in helping many couples to have children including a couple I know personally who now have a beautiful baby daughter after many five years of infertility. Dr. Hilgers says that too many doctors today skip over the underlying problems causing infertility and immediately recommend in-vitro fertilization.
Behind every "No" is a great "Yes" to the dignity of the human person, respect for innocent human life, the sanctity of marriage and reverence for the love giving actions by which new human beings enter this world.