Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why In-Vitro Fertilization is Wrong

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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Father, it was a great blog.

Anonymous said...

Dear friend,

The reason for writing this is to direct you to a special site for
prayers and devotions so badly needed for these end times. Remember
the wise words of st. Augustine: understanding is the reward of
faith, so seek not to understand so as to believe but to believe so as
to understand.
Please do not mock.

Sr. Helena of Mary said...

Thanks Fr. Peter for a thorough explanation. It was a good read.

Anonymous said...

what if the life of the child was a result of incest, rape or any other savage sexual activity that could not necessarily be characterized as an "act of love"?

What if a couple who truly love each other and are not able to have children on their own look for assisted reproductive methods and finally realize their dream of having a child?

Taking an extreme example and generalize it might not be a very good strategy. Particularly for the Catholic Church...

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Father. But are you saying that if a couple can't conceive naturally (or through the method you recommend as an alternative), it is God's will that they not have children and they must reconcile themselves to a life without children, even though science provides a solution?

I agree with you 100% as to your second reason against IVF, the creation of extra embryos that too often are disposed of (i.e., killed)--or, worse, that are frozen, thus locking up their souls (which I believe, and I imagine you do too, are present from the moment of conception) until they are either born at some indeterminate date in the future (highly unlikely for most frozen embryos) or until they ultimately die, perhaps because of a breakdown in the freezing process or a decision by the parents to let them die.

However, I find it hard to agree with your comment: "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." If a couple is trying to get pregnant but can't do so naturally, that act of love is there. Maybe even more so than the act of "love" that creates babies like Sarah Palin's granddaughter. (Not trying to get political--name a prominent out-of-wedlock Democrat baby born to a teenager and I will agree there as well.) There was no love there--only teen sex. But for couples that will pay out the tens of thousands of dollars that IVF costs, there is surely a greater degree of love than that which created Trig Palin and thousands or millions of other babies. I agree with you and the Holy Father that we must provide love and nurturing to these babies, however they came into the world, of course. (As an aside, what if the father is an IVF doctor and can do it himself in a lab--does the elimination of the third party make it more of an act of love?)

I was excited to see this blog entry as IVF is one of my "pet issues" that we, as Catholics, should speak out against more--like abortion, it results in the killing of innocent life. And I did enjoy reading it, and thank you for your effort inwriting it. But I was disappointed to see your primary reason against IVF. The fact of the matter is that without IVF, there would be no embryonic stem cells on which to perform research. (I'm sure you and I split on the following comment--I say it is better to do the research on these embryos if it will help cure diseases than to let the souls remain locked up until who knows when. Best not to create those embryos at all, however; something we can agree on.)

Anyway, I hope you will take my commentary as a thoughtful attempt at an exchange on your piece rather than an attack, which it is most definitely not meant to be. Thank you, and having just discovered this blog, I intend to return to read your future posts (but probably not respond with so much commentary each time!)

Steve, a Catholic in Philadelphia

Anonymous said...

Many blogs and articles tout the success of IVF. Few seem to include the tangled ambiguities that exist behind the scenes for families involved intimately with IVF situations.
Our 20 year old (at the time) daughter was asked to donate eggs to my 45 year old sister. Though I counseled her against it her motive at that age was about doing a loving thing for this much loved Aunt. Little did she understand the future heartache this would cause. She should never have been asked this.
My sister gave birth to twins. Our daughter was one of the many nannies employed to help with these babies. This gave our daughter many moments of anguish since she did not agree with the parenting approach. The children were virtually raised by young women...more energetic and focused than my sister.
Now, 7 years later my sister wants to donate the remaining 5 embryos to others. Our daughter never anticipated this. Her intentions were for my sister to have a child...for her and her husband ONLY. My sister now says our daughter signed away any rights to the embryos and has no say in the matter.
The challenges here include using human will instead of trusting the divine will...even if it means the answer to "having" children is "no". Sometimes Love does say no because there is another purpose in mind. Also, there is now almost a pride of "ownership" in my sister...that she can proudly "give" life to someone else...this would then lead to another story of someone using IVF instead of perhaps listening to another plan from God...a right plan.
My sister confided that she felt on the "outside" of this process originally and that her husband and our daughter had the "inside" track....that may contribute to why she must wield power over the embryos now as a continuation of the need to feel she has the power as a "mother" would to decide the fate.
God is the giver of life-not man. Indulging this IVF procedure is another way that distracts people from plunging under the surface of things to find God's will and their true purpose and motives.
Just as -besides the idea of not killing-having an abortion is a quick "fix" which does not allow the individual to "sit" with their situation for 9 months-learning and growing and gaining the lessons that will further their journey as a child of God- before they may give the child up for adoption.
The ambiguities include that our daughters own 2 children will also now have to ask--when they fall in love in the future- how their loved one was be sure they are not about to marry their sibling!
Also, our daughter is not interested in having some future "offspring" come knock on her door.
Our dear daughter and her husband have learned the hard way a false premise always includes appears in many ways.
There are more examples of how we have all been affected...I won't go longer here.

Anonymous said...

how do you like this? this seton hall law prof 'helped' obama win, and then they run an article on how smart he is - thanks seton hall! the unborn who are destroyed in the womb can thank seton hall law for its support of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - NOT!

disgusting and depressing

Anonymous said...

Hello father I hope you remember me, Orlando Rodriguez. I just wanted to tell you that your teachings anf faith changed my life. God bless you.


Staten Pilgrim said...

What church are you connected to, Father? I'd love to hear you preach some time.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fr. Peter West said...

In response to Paulo, human life must always be re... In response to Paulo, human life must always be respected even if the child comes into the world through an action that in no way can be considered an "act of love".

Abortion is an act of violence. We don't help either the mother or her child by perpetrating an act of violence against her child. The child should not be punished by death for the sin of his or her father.

In regard to in vitro Fertilization, the prohibition against it is not due to following a certain "srtategy". In vitro violates God's plan for procreation and also involves the killing of "spare embryos". The best "strategy" for the Church is to preach the truth about how truly inhumane and selfish in vitro fertilization truly is.

Couples who desire to have a child should seek out a pro-life doctor who will treat the underlying causes of their infertility. This is something many doctors fail to do today. Instead, they immediately begin the inhumane process of in vitro fertilization.

If the underlying causes of infertility can't be treated, then couples should seek to adopt children. Adoption is a loving alternative to the violence of abortion and more needs to be done to promote it.

Fr. Peter West said...


Many infertile couples have found great joy and fulfillment by adopting children. I meet them all the time.

Science must have ethical limits. Scientists needs to respect God's plan for procreation. They can assist it, by treating the underlying causes of infertility, but must not take a right that belongs to God alone by seeking to "manufacture" human beings as if they were products subject to quality control.

Even if a man were to be able to take his own sperm and ovum of his wife and unite them in a petri dish the act would still not be an act of love, no matter what the intentions behind it.

As Catholics we believe the body matters, actions matter. God designed sexual intercourse to be the way that human beings come into this world. Here the catholic Church which is so often falsely accused of looking down on sex is actually defending the dignity of sex!

In vitro is extremely expensive and often fails. This is why extra embryos are usually produced. The cases in which in vitro is done without producing "spare embryos" are extremely rare and I would say practically non-existent.

Therefore those who participate in it are guilty of the sin of abortion.

Because God wills that a child be conceived through an act of love, does not mean that a child conceived in any other way is less valuable than any other child. The child who enters the world as a result of teen sex, one night stand, casual hooking up, in vitro fertilization or even the brutal violence of rape is just as valuable in the eyes of God as a child conceived through an act of love between a husband and a wife. Once the child is conceived that life must be respected and protected. The parents may not have willed that life into existence, but God did, even if he did not will the actions by which that life came into existence. God commands us never to do evil, but as God, he has the power to bring good out of evil.

I found your comment about Trig Palin to be appalling. I think much of the hatred directed toward Sarah Palin by the Left is due to her pro-life convictions. While other politicians would have swept the problems under the rug by encouraging their teenage daughter to have an abortion, or would have aborted a Down Syndrome child, Sarah Palin stood by her daughter and grandchild and showed the world that a child is not less valuable in the eyes of God because of their handicap. The hatred directed against Sarah Palin may be due to the unresolved guilt that many people have due to their participation in the sin of abortion.

People who fail to see the intrinsic value and worth of every human being are the most handicapped of all.

feldknocker said...

Father, the Church is entitled to its view here. But this teaching (the regarding of in vitro as a grave sin) is the reason I no longer consider myself apart of the Church. My daughter was born via in vitro fertilization. This was after years of trying on our own and then with the aid of many other methods. In the process, no fertilized eggs were disposed of. The Church says that a baby born this way was created outside of love. Quite the opposite, my daughter was created with the greatest of love. And at 3-1/2 years old, she is the face of God to me.

I've hear the Church teach that in vitro is essentially "playing God" or that couples who cannot conceive on their own should play the hand their dealt and adopt. But how can you not say the exact same thing about virtually every medical procedure. Are eyeglasses "playing God".

I wouldn't expect unmarried clergy to understand the love and joy involved in being a father even if the child came as a result of in vitro fertilization. And I will not raise my daughter in an institution that teaches that her conception was a sin.

Fr. Peter West said...

I have no doubt that your daughter is a beautiful person who is made in the image and likeness of God. It is disingenuous to imply that the Church has something against your daughter. Your daughter is not to blame for how she was conceived. Using in vitro fertilization to conceive her is your sin, not hers.

Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, no matter what the circumstances of their conception. God wills that children be conceived in an act of love between a husband and a wife who are committed for life and open to the transmission of human life.

It takes more than a good intention to make an act of love. God designed that there would be an inseparable connection between the unitive and the procreative dimension of the conjugal act. Stimulating the ovaries to produce oocytes, masturbating and mixing the sperm and oocytes in a petri dish is not an act of love. The Church here is defending the dignity the and the essentiality of sex in conceiving a new life.

It is not likely that no “spare embryos” were created that the in vitro process you were involved in. It is far less likely that the fertility clinic where your daughter was conceived does not engage in creating “surplus embryos” that are either frozen, experimented on or destroyed, thus contributing to a culture of death where life is not respected and valued from its beginning. Often, these clinics engage in these practices under the cover of euphemisms, so that their customers are not even aware of what they are doing. But even if no “spare embryos” were created or destroyed in vitro fertilization is still a sin.

But whether a person is conceived through a sin such as in vitro fertilization, fornication, adultery or even rape, the child conceived is not to blame. Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton are just some of the famous people who were conceived out of wedlock.

When God’s plan for procreation is respected, parents cooperate with God in bringing forth a new human life into the world. When doctors use their skills to restore the natural functions of the body they cooperate with God in the healing process. It is not “playing God” to help heal the sick. If a doctor was to try to create a life or if he or she was to decide to end a life by directly killing someone or withdrawing ordinary care that would be ”playing God”, that is unjustly usurping rights that belong to God alone.

Your personal insult about unmarried clergy not being able understand the love and joy involved in being a father would be relevant, if my opinion was a product of my own experience. Even though your insult is unjust, since giving up having a family of one’s own in obedience to Christ’s own recommendation (Matthew 19, 12) is the greatest sacrifice a priest makes.

Many married couples I know agree with the teaching of the Church. They understand that in vitro fertilization is another symptom of the culture of death, the result of a society in which people see children not as a gift from God, but as a product to satisfy their own desires.

While I can understand the pain of infertility and the desire to have a child of one’s own, it does not justify the sin of in vitro fertilization.

Again, your daughter is a beautiful child of God. God can take our sins and draw good from them, but it never justifies the sin. I would advise you to bring this sin to the Sacrament of Penance. Our Lord is merciful and understanding. No sin is beyond his power or willingness to forgive.

I urge you to return to the practice of your faith. Do not add to your sins by depriving yourself or your daughter of the Sacraments and membership in Christ’s Church.

Anonymous said...

Thank You for your explanation Father,

I am writing a letter for my science class about how I feel about cloning. This was just the information I needed! :)