Skip to comments.Pope says arrogance drives infertility field, tells couples to shun artificial procreation
Posted on 02/26/2012 1:22:06 PM PST by NYer
In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful of the Pontifical Academy for Life during a private audience at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, Handout)
VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday urged infertile couples to shun artificial procreation, decrying such methods as a form of arrogance.
Speaking at the end of a three-day Vatican conference on diagnosing and treating infertility, Benedict also reiterated church teaching that marriage is the only permissible place to conceive children. Matrimony "constitutes the only 'place' worthy of the call to existence of a new human being," he said.
The pope pressed the church ban against artificial procreation, saying infertile couples should refrain from any method to try to conceive other than sex between husband and wife.
"The human and Christian dignity of procreation, in fact, doesn't consist in a 'product,' but in its link to the conjugal act, an expression of the love of the spouses of their union, not only biological but also spiritual," Benedict said.
He told the science and fertility experts in his audience to resist "the fascination of the technology of artificial fertility. Benedict cautioned the experts against "easy income, or even worse, the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator," an attitude he indicated underlies the field of artificial procreation.
Sperm or egg donation and methods such as in vitro fertilization are banned by the church for its faithful.
The emphasis on science "and the logic of profit seem today to dominate the field of infertility and human procreation," the pope said.
But he added that the Church encourages medical research into infertility.
More and more frequently I am meeting Catholic women who have undergone in vitro fertilization (IVF). Just as I am gushing with congratulations for the pregnancy, I choke to discover that IVF was involved. Moreover, these are church-going Catholics. On one occasion, when I informed a friend that the Catholic Church condemns IVF, I was met with disbelief. "How can that be? Doesn't the Church encourage having children?" she asked. As she didn't believe me, my friend investigated it herself, not by asking her pastor, but by searching the Internet. With that confirmation she explained, "I have never heard that there was anything wrong with IVF."
I wasn't surprised. After all, I have never heard a homily on the subject. Yet it is a growing phenomenon among Catholics. Endemic rates of infertility are part of the reason, but more importantly, the libertarian notion among Catholics that every man is the arbiter of his own truth: "I think God would want me to have a baby, otherwise he wouldn't have put this desire within me. This is the only way to have a baby. I don't need to seek counsel on this."
Among well-educated Catholics this is perhaps a more common attitude. As IVF is such a common procedure, it does not seem to demand any fresh moral analysis. As with contraception, the moral authority of the Church on this subject is frequently neglected: "I don't need the Church telling me what to do, I know what is right for me." When it comes to IVF, if one has the funds to afford the procedure, that is analysis enough. In fact, infertile couples represent a particularly lucrative market. They are more likely to be older, better educated, better off financially, and desperate to have a child. They can be easily exploited.
IVF is not only a means to have children, it is also a means to have better children. Part of the moral analysis of IVF would have to deal with the eugenic measures that are an inevitable part of the process. Part of every IVF procedure entails the screening of embryos to determine their fitness prior to implantation. The process excludes those embryos with undesirable characteristics ranging from genetic diseases to the wrong sex. Unused embryos are either destroyed or placed in frozen storage for later use. For hundreds of thousands of these embryos, "later" never comes. They languish in storage for years and are eventually forgotten or abandoned.
Couples who begin the IVF procedure do not start off intending to abandon their embryos. Many times they are not aware that "extra" embryos are going to be created. Excess embryos have become the standard of practice in the United States. Fertility clinics are highly competitive, and in order to produce higher rates of pregnancy they must create and implant more embryos. "Wastage" of embryos is the price to pay for a greater number of successful pregnancies. If a couple is investing an enormous amount of money in the procedure, they are going to choose the clinic with the best statistics. While in some countries legislation allows the creation of only that number of embryos that will be implanted, the U.S. has no such restrictions, and therefore abandoned embryos become a problem. Most couples who have embryos in storage consider them saved for future use. Unfortunately for the embryos, once a couple has gotten pregnant and delivered a child, going through the procedure a second time becomes unlikely. They are happy with their baby and that's enough. The procedure is unpleasant and humiliating and the results so often disappointing that most couples are not willing to endure it more than once.
A typical example may be illustrative. I met a woman who had undergone IVF and delivered twin daughters. They were premature and one was beginning to show signs of progressive hearing loss. The woman was in her early forties. The pregnancy with the twins was horrible, and she was always sick. But now she was left with eight frozen embryos. She hadn't been aware that they were being created, believing that only the eggs and sperm would be frozen for future use. At the time of our conversation she was particularly anxious because she had to decide whether to pay for another year of storage for these embryos. She struggled terribly with this decision, as she had no alternative plans for them. She didn't think she could survive another pregnancy. She had even asked her sister to take some of them, but her sister's children were older and she was enjoying her freedom. She looked upon the lifestyle of this woman with her little twins and didn't want that again for herself.
The most telling part of her struggle came from her husband, the father of these embryos. "He doesn't understand what the big deal is," she said. It seems he had watched her go through a dangerous pregnancy and said, "Never again." He dismissed her indecision regarding the eight embryos with contempt. "Forget them! We have our daughters, and I have my wife back, that's enough," he said. She explained away his attitude with, "After all, all that he did was squirt in a cup. He just doesn't get it." She was not surprised with his detachment.
"I just look at my beautiful daughters, and I realize: I have other children out there!" she said. "I just know that my daughters are going to ask me one day, 'Were there others?' By then it will be common knowledge how this was done. I don't know what I'm going to say to them. I love my daughters, but I regret how they came to be." Her suffering was real.
So why does the Church condemn IVF? The first principle explains all the others: a child has a right to be conceived within the loving embrace of his or her parents. To be conceived outside of this holy embrace is an injustice to the child. With IVF the child is "conceived" through the manipulations of a third party: a laboratory technician. Does this nullify the infinite value of the life so conceived? Certainly not! But it exposes the child to all kinds of evils, not only of freezing but also abandonment, or "exposure."
In ancient Rome a newborn infant was allowed to live or die according to the decision of its father. If a father acknowledged the infant as his own he or she would live. Otherwise the child could be "exposed" literally left in the gutter or sold into slavery. The bastard child was destined for this. It was a terrible injustice to the child: the bastard son would never be king, nor educated, nor enjoy the privileges of the legitimate son. Now, no one today would deny the child conceived out of wedlock the same dignity as his legitimate siblings. He or she does not belong in the gutter regardless of his father's irresponsibility. We have progressed this far at least as a civilization. However, with IVF we can see the dramatic return to this ancient practice of exposure. This is what then-Cardinal Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict XVI, called the "absurd fate" of the abandoned frozen embryo. It is absurd because nothing morally legitimate can be done to secure its survival.
Some would argue that Cardinal Ratzinger never considered the option of embryo adoption when writing Donum vitae. This could hardly be the case. At the time of its writing surrogacy was already a well-known practice. In Donum vitae he condemns surrogacy under the same terms as heterologous IVF: that is, obtaining either the egg or sperm from someone other than the married couple desiring a child. Heterologous IVF would be employed in the case of aspermia of the husband, or anovulation of the wife, or if one or the other partner carried an undesirable genetic trait. The child so conceived would not be the biological child of this couple, but of another pairing of biological/genetic matter. Surrogacy implies the possibility of gestating an embryo in the womb of a woman who is not the biological mother, i.e. an "adoptive" mother. Surrogacy is making oneself pregnant with a child who is biologically unrelated to oneself, and doing so apart from the conjugal act. It is similar to heterologous IVF inasmuch as there is a third party involved apart from the married couple themselves.
Many argue that embryo adoption should be available for an embryo who has been abandoned and whose own mother's womb is not available. The argument is compelling as it offers a chance of survival for an embryo, rescuing it from a fate of becoming fodder for experimentation. Such "rescue" adoption should be a morally acceptable option, shouldn't it? While the intention of a couple to offer themselves as "rescue" parents is laudable, intention alone does not suffice in judging moral actions. The act itself must be good, or at least morally neutral, in order for the act to be morally acceptable. In this case the woman "makes herself (1) to be pregnant with a child who is biologically unrelated, and (2) apart from the conjugal act." It is surrogacy. We are left, therefore, to examine exactly why surrogacy is unacceptable.
When a woman and a man exchange marriage vows, thereby becoming sacramentally one, they commit themselves to each other body and soul, exclusively, until death. The properties of Christian marriage are permanence and exclusivity. When we consider embryo adoption, the woman turns herself over bodily to a very different kind of relationship in which her husband takes no part. It is not analogous to traditional adoption for this reason. Hers is an intimate bodily union, quite apart from her relationship with her own husband. They are not equally partners in welcoming this child as they would be in traditional adoption. The husband is merely a bystander contributing nothing to this arrangement. She, in the meantime, is a surrogate mother until the child is born, and only then do they become adoptive parents together.
In the real-life practice of so-called "rescue" adoption, embryos are donated for adoption. Oftentimes the biological parents choose the adopting parents who apply for the process. Embryos do not come to be available for adoption except by the intention of the biological parents. Embryos who have, instead, been offered by the biological parents for research purposes are not involved. Their fate is sealed. They cannot be "rescued."
Adopting parents make arrangements with their own fertility clinic, and the frozen embryos are delivered by overnight courier. The practice is much less costly for the adopting parents than if they were to go through IVF for themselves. It is a promoted not only for its cost effectiveness, but also for the control that embryo adoption provides as compared with traditional adoption. Adopting parents can see the children already born to the biological parents. They control the gestational period and don't run the risk of prenatal exposure to such things as drugs and alcohol. With the exception of the hormonal stimulation and retrieving of eggs and sperm, the adopting parents endure the same procedure as the biological parents. They work with the same kind of clinic and the same kind of team of physicians and technicians. The embryos are screened with the same selective process.
From a "pro-life" point of view these may seem like hair-splitting details of little import when a human life is at stake. However, and this deserves some pause: the fragility of the marital relationship has been all too easily compromised in our current culture. We, as Catholics, have become somewhat jaded about permanence in marriage, as divorce and "serial monogamy" are as endemic among Catholics as other Christians and non-Christians. Marriage is one of those things that "can take it"; in this case "it" is a challenge of enormous proportions. In the case of embryo "rescue" we may be all too ready to put sacramental marriage at risk for the sake of "saving a baby." But are we really talking about "rescue"?
In the case of truly abandoned embryos for whom biological parents are not available, we can look at the experience of Spain, which made abandoned embryos available for adoption a few years ago. Most couples coming forward for adoption were from outside Spain. Many were homosexual couples for whom adoption was illegal their home country. Now, American fertility clinics have started recruiting surrogate mothers for homosexual couples that desire children. This is a way to get around the difficult traditional adoption process for some, but is it a solution to the problem of abandoned embryos?
One can hardly expect that the practice of embryo donation and adoption will not become commercialized. Already one Texas businesswoman, frustrated with her own struggles to adopt a child, started a business in "designer embryos." Customers choose from a variety of "pairings" depending on the price they are willing to pay. Eggs and sperm from college-educated donors cost a bit less than those from master's and doctoral degreed donors. Ivy-league donors are in a category of their own. She recruits donors, has a fertility team make up "batches" of embryos, and markets them online. She explains that she was tired of having to be at the mercy of biological mothers who could change their minds at the last minute. She was "sick of begging." She wanted a "quality product" to be available for those who could afford the price. She found a ready number of donors among university students seeking to fund their education. And she found a market share in the competitive reproductive technology arena.
As long as embryos can be frozen and shipped they will be treated like any other commodity. The freezing process itself must be considered morally illicit. No being should be submitted to freezing, regardless of its stage of development. Storage of embryos by cryopreservation should be considered extraordinary and disproportionate care. It is not done for the good of the human being so treated, but for the convenience of others, and only in others' good time will it be suspended. It is sheer will to power of one human being over another. While cryopreservation is the means by which hundreds of thousands of human embryos are maintained, it is not for that reason any less deplorable a treatment.
Before a group of evangelical Christians, I was asked how we got to the point of having to deal with hundreds of thousands of abandoned embryos. My answer was simple: contraception. As long as we could separate the unitive and procreative aspects of conjugal love we were destined for this situation. At one time contraception offered the promise that one could have as much sex as he or she wanted, and with anyone he or she wanted, and never fear a pregnancy. Now we don't even have to have sex and we can be made pregnant. Ours has not become an overly sexualized culture, but an asexual culture. This same group of evangelicals asked where they could find the Catholic explanation of contraception. I told them about Humanae Vitae, but said, "Don't bother to ask your Catholic friends about it, because they've never read it."
Sheila Diamond is a master's prepared registered nurse and is currently a doctoral candidate at the John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family in Rome, Italy. She has studied in the bioethics program in Rome and wrote her thesis with Msgr. Livio Melina on whether or not it could be morally licit for a Catholic couple to adopt an abandoned frozen embryo. This article, her first in HPR, offers a condensed synthesis of that paper.
I like the Pope. But this is insane. Something you would expect to hear from Islam, not Christianity !
Conflict between religion and science is a given. Disputes will never end.
As someone who went through the experience of infertility, I can appreciate your comment. However, in reading through church documents on this topic, I can to appreciate the loving concern the church has for its members. For that reason, I posted the lengthy article from Catholic Culture. I presume you did not read it or you would not have posted your subsequent comment regarding Islam.
Without any understanding of your religious upbringing, I would refer you to an excellent treatise on this topic. Given at St. Peter's, Rome, on the 25th day of July, the feast of St. James the Apostle, in the year 1968. While that particular encyclical specifically addressed contraception, it also applies to IVF.
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beingsand especially the young, who are so exposed to temptationneed incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
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This is awfully hard advice to follow. My husband and I struggled with this question and prayed about it. We decided not to try for IVF as it would violate our beliefs if there were fertilized embryos we could not bring to term. We are childless and I am now in menopause :-(
Meanwhile, my sister in law decided to go with IVF, and has 2 beautiful children. Everytime I see them I wonder what might have been. I am a devoted aunt, I can only hope that God has a plan for me there.
The church is really shooting themselves in the foot over this. Lot's of IVF pregnancies out there today.
I'm not knowledgble about this procedure but maybe find a way where the unused embryos won't be discarded or harmed??
Church needs to find a scientific solution in this case.
Read "Brave New World," and stop to reflect that we're already well, well beyond the sick society Huxley envisioned.
What is the teaching on treatment for those with medical issues preventing pregnancy, such as laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis?
> I’m not knowledgble about this procedure but maybe find a way where the unused embryos won’t be discarded or harmed??
The problem is that even providing adoption possibilities is that there are not nearly enough takers... people want their own genetics for their children, after all. Some takers are (as stated in the article someone quoted above) homosexual, so that’s an issue too. And part of the problem when you have “excess” is that the embryos are considered as “things” and not people. This propels society into cheapening life.
It’s a tough, tough, issue to struggle with and I would never say anything to anyone who chose to have a child this way. I still have 2nd (3rd, 4th, infinitieth) thoughts about it. I laid awake crying so many nights when I first learned I was in perimenopause and that I would be childless. I’m hoping God continues to give me the strength to fulfill his plan for me in some way where my childlessness either teaches me something or fulfills some purpose. I pray every day about this.
I think the Pope should focus on his homosexual priests and their attraction to little boys. I reckon that’s a bigger problem than IVF.
There’s nothing in Catholic doctrine against a surgery for coping with endometriosis. Though we’re not supposed to have procedures for the specific purpose of making ourselves infertile, like vasectomies or tubal ligations, there are times when a surgery is medically necessary and it has infertility as in unintended consequence. A hysterectomy is a good example of this; another would be radiation treatment for cancer that renders one infertile.
If you know someone who has or you have experienced infertility, comments like yours will wound them.
It is a heart breaking thing, and many doctors will start pushing for IVF. The hoped for child will outweigh the priests warnings.
We didn’t go this route, because we don’t believe in killing unborn children. But there was a time when we feared that meant we would never have a child. Many will go the IVF route in desperation.
Treat infertile couples with care. They get slammed enough.
The Church is not shooting itself in the foot on this one. People say the same thing you did about: gay marriage, women priests, abortion, homosexuality and a bunch of other things that are morally unacceptable.
Women priests are “morally unacceptable”? Hilarious...
For the very concerns you expressed, I posted the Catholic Culture article. Also, if you read through the other posts, you may have noticed that, like you, I also had to personally come to terms with the same problem.
Freeper trailhkr1 feels the church should come up with a solution and writes: "I'm not knowledgble about this procedure but maybe find a way where the unused embryos won't be discarded or harmed??"
Weak mortals that we are, our first inclination is to turn to modern science to resolve this problem and then celebrate when one is found. Our inane instinct is to dismiss what the church says as coming from "a bunch of men who don't understand".
As someone who was a teen when Humanae Vitae was issued, banning artificial birth control, I have witnessed the response by women in the Catholic Church, which mirrors the above statement. They attributed it to ignorant old men and proceeded to take the pill. Over the course of time, we have witnessed an explosion in breast cancer since legalization of hormonal birth control. It is also a proven medical fact that 1 in 3 women with arterial blood clots are on hormonal contraceptives.
With the introduction of IVF as a 'cure' for infertility, we have seen a similar response from catholic women. trailhkr1 raised the issue of unused embryos not being discarded or damaged. What is there to prevent this? One group, appealing to a similar view, implemented a program to adopt these "snowflake babies" as they are now being called. Essentially, the IVF problem is now exacerbated by the medical industry which, as Humanae Vitae well noted, the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law..
Insofar as "snowflake babies", the Vatican has also spoken out.
The Catholic Church has been very clear in its teachings touching most bioethical issues. Even though there is much objection by so-called liberal theologians, there has never been a legitimate debate touching the permissibility of abortion or contraception. However, with regard to adoption of frozen embryos, there has been a lively debate even among very orthodox theologians, and today the Vatican settled that debate.
Today, December 12, known in the Catholic Church as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the unborn, the long-awaited document Dignitatis Personae (The Dignity of the Person), was released. The document addresses certain questions in light of recent developments in reproductive technology, adding to a similar document, Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life), which was released in 1987.
The document restates forcefully the Church's condemnation of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and all forms of artificial procreation which substitute for the marital act as the means of procreation.
The document also acknowledges the deplorable situation which has been created by the illegitimate manipulation of man's reproductive powers. One particularly odious problem is the abundance of frozen embryos in storage in countries where IVF is practiced. "There are," says the document, "thousands upon thousands of frozen embryos in almost all countries in which in vitro fertilization takes place."
Although their creation was illegitimate, the document addresses the question of "what to do with them," since they are already in existence.
The document rules out research on human embryos. "Proposals to use these embryos for research or for the treatment of disease are obviously unacceptable because they treat the embryos as mere 'biological material' and result in their destruction." It adds: "The proposal to thaw such embryos without reactivating them and use them for research, as if they were normal cadavers, is also unacceptable."
The debate which has had staunchly pro-life ethicists on either side since the mid 1990s is whether women can offer to adopt the frozen embryos in order to give them a chance at life. While the document notes that such proposals are praiseworthy, it goes on to explain that it is nevertheless impermissible.
"It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of 'prenatal adoption'," says the document. "This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems."
The problems presented have to do with the intrinsically illicit nature of surrogacy, which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declares cannot be used even for a good end.
Thus the Vatican laments and abhors the fact that the current situation of the thousands of frozen embryos in the world represents "a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved."
It was for this reason, says the document, that Pope John Paul II already in 1996 asked the scientists of the world to bring a halt to production of human embryos since "there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of 'frozen' embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons."
See the full document Dignitatis Personae online here: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/dec/08121201.html
When confronted with infertility, the challenge is to turn to God and trust in His response. That is the route I chose. 26 years ago, after years of prayer and a personal pilgrimage, a child came to us through truly extraordinary means and via an adoption that was totally free. Through this humbling and beautiful gift, I learned that trusting in God's plan far outweighs the strategies of man.
Dear VG, please consider this possibility in your life. I know a couple who raised 4 biological children born to them at an early age. When the children had grown and flown the nest, the couple had to decide - sell the house or fill it with other children. They chose the latter and adopted 5 siblings who had lost both their parents. It is never too late to welcome a child or two or three or even five ... into your home :-)
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