Many of the complicated questions we have about faith come from how the Church teachings fit into the larger conversations in areas like public policy, news, and scientific advances. This week’s question is a great example: “I’d like to know a little more about the Catholic Church’s stand or thoughts on reproductive technology and families seeking the help of technology in conceiving.”
It’s a big question, and it seems as though popular discourse on reproductive technology is always changing, so it’s helpful to look at official Church policy to answer in cases like this. In 1987, a group of cardinals, bishops, priests, lay theologians, and canon lawyers came together to issue a document called the Donum Vitae (“the Gift of Life”), which addressed the ethics of modern fertility treatments. It had two important conclusions: first, it is not wrong to seek the help of technology to overcome fertility; and second, only some of the available fertility treatments are moral. A treatment is immoral if it violates the dignity of the human person or the institution of marriage.
One popular reproductive technology is in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF, the woman takes a medication to cause several of her eggs to mature simultaneously while the man provides sperm; these materials are then cultured in a Petri dish in a lab to allow embryos to form. Thus, the life created through IVF is not created by a deeply personal act between a man and a woman, but through a laboratory procedure done by a third party, an act violating the dignity of one of the acts of marriage.
Additionally, in order to increase the chances of the procedure’s success rate, several embryos are formed at once. Many of these embryos never go on to be used in the implantation procedure (where the embryos are transferred back to the woman’s uterus in the hope that at least one will implant), instead being frozen, used for scientific research, or labeled as medical waste. Because the Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception, the disrespect for the embryos throughout the process violates the dignity of the human person.
It is critical to note that any children conceived through IVF are still children of God to be loved, cherished, looked after, and nurtured always. Also, if parents conceived via IVF not knowing that the Church views it to be immoral, they are not subjectively guilty of sin.
However, other methods of reproductive technology, such as the tracking of one’s natural cycles, the use of fertility drugs, lower tubal ovum transfer (LTOT), and gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT) are all deemed morally acceptable by the Church.
Like many applications of Church teaching to the wider world, everyone seems to have a different view and the conversations are so multifaceted. In everything, remember that our greatest commandment requires us to act wholly and completely from love, of ourselves, of our friends, and of those who are not yet friends. Any learning or discussion that comes from love will be the right kind, and we will all be better for it.
Note: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has some excellent resources for answers to “faith application questions,” with scriptural and canonical reference, for further exploration.
--Claire Kosewic, Parishioner
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