A couple of months back, I did a spinal and postural check just to see if things were functionally okay. From the front, things appeared to be in alignment and good, but from the side, the advanced Scientific scanning equipment revealed that my posture was destabilised and tilted off a couple of angles. This resulted in a forward thrust of the head, which led my head to now effectively putting a load of 21kg, thanks to the laws of Physics, on my neck. A further x-ray revealed that the bones of my neck and upper back had began to either become irreversibly eroded or ossified due to decades of terrible postural habits.
On one level, Science and medical advancement are gifts of God, that allow us insight into our body and the mechanics of how things work. We are today, able to do many things that were deemed impossible as recent as fifty or sixty years ago. On another level, the structural flaws in my person also help to serve as a point of reference for my own spiritual life. Are things appearing fine and dandy from the front, but upon closer examination seem to be tottering on the edge of collapse?
Interestingly, Catholic Bioethics reveals this thin line of what appears fine on the frontal side, but in reality, is not so sound or good, and should not be practised as all.
In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF)
A Catholic woman, M. is aged 36, is married to a Protestant man, C. aged 45. M. and C. have been married for around 5 years, and have tried unsuccessfully to conceive, given the naturally occurring low spermatozoa count of C. The couple have tried all methods possible from the supplementation of vitamins, to acupuncture, without success. Their doctors have recommended that they utilise In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF) via Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI, where a single spermatozoon cell is injected into the cytoplasm of the egg as a strategy to supersede the motility and mobility issue of C.’s spermatozoa. The couple is contemplating the procedure and to use only M.’s ova, and C.’s spermatozoa, so no doners are involved. Surrogacy is not an option for them (cf. Brugger, 2019).
In-vitro Fertilisation is the process by which the spermatozoon of a man is artificially inseminated into an ovum of a woman. Fertilisation occurs outside of the body, and usually in test-tubes. The fertilised ovum, is then reinserted into the woman’s body.
While on the surface, IVF appears to be a good thing, yet, even without surrogacy, which in itself poses a whole lot of ethical issues, is not morally right.
The problem arises because many Catholics are not aware of the Church’s teaching about the use of Reproductive Technologies. As such, they are not aware that IVF is immoral, to the extent that some have used it to obtain children. At this stage, it must be clarified that if a couple is unaware that the procedure is immoral, they are not subjectively guilty of sin. Children conceived through this procedure are children of God. Like all children, regardless of the circumstances of their conception and birth, they should be loved, cherished and cared for (Haas, 1998; Cook, n.d.).
The issue of IVF can often be something difficult to accept as what is wrong with a married couple wanting to have children and using the available technology to have these children? Scripture provides touchpoints of empathy, where we see many parents longing to transcend their barrenness and conceive a child in the cases of Sarah, Hannah, and also of Elizabeth for instance. Nonetheless, Scripture also tells us that there are limits to acceptable ways of conceiving a child. Lot’s daughters getting their father drunk, so that they may lie with him and conceive a child by him, is a big oh-dear for instance.
Human life begins at the moment of conception. This means that any fertilised ovum, is already considered a human person. In that light, a human foetus, or an embryo needs to be treated with the same dignity and rights of a human being outside of the womb.
The sexual act is a gift from God that is both pro-creative (biological) and unitive (emotional and spiritual). This sexual union is a foretaste of God’s original vision of man and woman in the creation:
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” (Genesis 2:24)
Artificial insemination and IVF are immoral, because these involve acts of procreation wherein the unitive acts are removed. When these reproductive technologies are deployed, Man also plays God, and claims a right and an entitlement to have a child, which makes a child an object and a property that is owned. As human life is sacred, and man and woman made in the image and likeness of God, human beings, cannot and must not be used as a means to an end. Nor is a human being owned by any person (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1987).
Other degrees of immorality are also found in IVF.
- To extract the spermatozoa, a man has to masturbate, an act that removes the unitive element between husband and wife of the sexual act.
- In the process of obtaining the highest success rate of fertilisation, many ova are usually artificially fertilised, resulting in many embryos.
- One of these is selected and the rest are usually destroyed and disposed off. This is an act of killing.
- A number of these living embryos are donated to Science for scientific experimentation.
- Life becomes a commodity to exploit and to dispose off.
- Some of these embryos are frozen to be used for future insemination, which deprives the embryo of the basic human right of being born. This has further implications. Overtime, these frozen embryos may lose the viability of life and will eventually be discarded. Couples also pay up to $600 a year to keep these embryos frozen and may choose the easier path of simply discarding them (Keane, 2020).
In summary, life is a gift from God, and not an entitlement. God does not owe us children. IVF substitutes the marital act for a clinical collection and deposit of spermatozoa and ova. The natural co-operation between God and Man and Woman is replaced with technological intervention. Man through his actions in IVF upends the Divine work of Creation and usurps the place of God. There are also unintended consequences of IVF that lead to grave ethical implications as IVF is not merely accessible to married couples, but also couples in same-sex relationship through surrogacy, and polygamous relationships, embryonic research, human cloning, and eugenics. The many fertilised embryos undergo selective reduction – the aborting of extra embryos, or discarding. Frozen embryos, of which number the millions, are also stored in ways that go against the grain of human dignity. These frozen embryos are often used in Scientific experiments like cloning (Aglialoro, 2014).
What Methodology to Aid Conception is Accepted by the Church?
To date, the Catholic Church accepts two methods to help conception and which are deemed morally acceptable:
The first is the Billings Ovulation Method used in Natural Family Planning, and the second, is NaProtechnology (Ong, 2018). NaProtechnology was developed by scientists from the Saint Paul VI Institute. More information about NaProtechnology can be found by clicking here: The Result of 30 Years of Research and Education (naprotechnology.com)
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Aglialoro, T. (2014). The Hardest Teaching of Them All. Catholic Answers. Retrieved September 7, 2022 from https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/the-hardest-teaching-of-them-all
Brugger, E. C. (2019). Can In Vitro Fertilization Ever Be Morally Permissible? National Catholic Register. Retrieved September 8, 2022 from https://www.ncregister.com/blog/can-in-vitro-fertilization-ever-be-morally-permissible
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (1987). Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Replies to Certain Questions of the Day. Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19870222_respect-for-human-life_en.html
Cook, M. L. (n.d.). Guest Editorial: Reproductive Technologies and the Vatican. Santa Clara University. Mark Kula Center for Applied Ethics. Retrieved September 7, 2022 from https://www.scu.edu/mcae/publications/iie/v1n3/homepage.html – :~:text=Artificial%20insemination%2C%20in%20vitro%20fertilization,meanings%20of%20the%20sexual%20act.
Haas, J. M. (1998). Begotten Not Made: A Catholic View of Reproductive Technology. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved September 7, 2022 from https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/reproductive-technology/begotten-not-made-a-catholic-view-of-reproductive-technology
Keane, J. T. (2020). Why Does the Catholic Church Object to IVF? It’s more complicated than you think. America The Jesuit Review. Retrieved September 7, 2022 from https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/12/09/vitro-fertilization-catholic-church-infertility-ivf-239432
Ong, C. (2018). Understanding the Church’s Teaching on in-vitro fertilisation. Catholic News. Retrieved September 8, 2022 from https://catholicnews.sg/2018/10/28/understanding-the-church-s-teaching-on-in-vitro-fertilisation/