The question we will explore today is whether homologous in vitro fertilization is morally licit.
For those a bit confused, let us first make it known what homologous in vitro fertilization is, before we proceed.
First, in vitro fertilization is a reproductive technology, whereby human beings are literally created in laboratory Petri dishes. There “test tube babies,” as they are commonly called, had their lives begin when the gametes of sperm and ovums (or eggs) were mixed in a laboratory. The resulting tiny human embryos are then later stored until one or more of them are implanted into a woman’s uterus to be gestated and to be born later.
In vitro fertilization can be split into two categories: heterologous in vitro fertilization and homologous in vitro fertilization. First, heterologous in vitro fertilization involves the mixing of gametes where either one or both gametes come from someone who is not married to the couple intending to raise the child. A common example of this scenario is when a couple learns the man is infertile, so they use sperm from a “donor” in order to achieve pregnancy. Heterologous in vitro fertilization has enormous moral problems and should never be practiced.
But what about homologous in vitro fertilization? Here a married couple, unable to achieve pregnancy the normal method, hires clinicians to help them achieve pregnancy using the couple’s own gametes. The husband’s sperm is mixed with the eggs of the wife and the resulting embryos are implanted back into the wife’s uterus to be gestated and born. Is homologous in vitro fertilization morally licit?
To help answer that specific question, let’s see what the Vatican has to say about this. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a department within the Vatican, produced a wonderful document in February 1987 that Pope Saint John Paul II approved and ordered to be published. The document is called Donum Vitae (‘The Gift of Life’).
The CDF takes on the task of determining the moral licitness of different forms of reproductive technology. The entire document is definitely worth reading. Today I will draw largely from a section pertaining to the question of homologous in vitro fertilization. I will give you the highlights, as we see what the Catholic Church teaches on this topic. To get an even deeper answer, though, I encourage you to read the document in full.
(Please note: When it refers to “IVF and ET,” the Congregation is using shorthand for in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer.)
“5. IS HOMOLOGOUS ‘IN VITRO‘ FERTILIZATION MORALLY LICIT?
“…The desire for a child—or at the very least an openness to the transmission of life—is a necessary prerequisite from the moral point of view for responsible human procreation. But this good intention is not sufficient for making a positive moral evaluation of in vitro fertilization between spouses. The process of IVF and ET must be judged in itself and cannot borrow its definitive moral quality from the totality of conjugal life of which it becomes part nor from the conjugal acts which may precede or follow it.
“It has already been recalled that, in the circumstances in which it is regularly practiced, IVF and ET involves the destruction of human beings, which is something contrary to the doctrine on the illicitness of abortion previously mentioned. But even in a situation in which every precaution were taken to avoid the death of human embryos, homologous IVF and ET dissociates from the conjugal act the actions which are directed to human fertilization.
“For this reason the very nature of homologous IVF and ET also must be taken into account, even abstracting from the link with procured abortion. Homologous IVF and ET is brought about outside the bodies of the couple through actions of third parties whose competence and technical activity determine the success of the procedure.
“Such fertilization entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.
“Conception in vitro is the result of the technical action which presides over fertilization. Such fertilization is neither in fact achieved nor positively willed as the expression and fruit of a specific act of the conjugal union. In homologous IVF and ET, therefore, even if it is considered in the context of ‘de facto’ existing sexual relations, the generation of the human person is objectively deprived of its proper perfection: namely, that of being the result and fruit of a conjugal act in which the spouses can become “cooperators with God for giving life to a new person”.
“These reasons enable us to understand why the act of conjugal love is considered in the teaching of the Church as the only setting worthy of human procreation. For the same reasons the so-called “simple case”, i.e. a homologous IVF and ET procedure that is free of any compromise with the abortive practice of destroying embryos and with masturbation, remains a technique which is morally illicit because it deprives human procreation of the dignity which is proper and connatural to it. Certainly, homologous IVF and ET fertilization is not marked by all that ethical negativity found in extra-conjugal procreation; the family and marriage continue to constitute the setting for the birth and upbringing of the children.
“Nevertheless, in conformity with the traditional doctrine relating to the goods of marriage and the dignity of the person, the Church remain opposed from the moral point of view to homologous ‘in vitro‘ fertilization. Such fertilization is in itself illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union, even when everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo. Although the manner in which human conception is achieved with IVF and ET cannot be approved, every child which comes into the world must in any case be accepted as a living gift of the divine Goodness and must be brought up with love” (sec. B.5, emphasis original).
Later in the document, the CDF adds this:
“On the part of the spouses, the desire for a child is natural: it expresses the vocation to fatherhood and motherhood inscribed in conjugal love. This desire can be even stronger if the couple is affected by sterility which appears incurable. Nevertheless, marriage does not confer upon the spouses the right to have a child, but only the right to perform those natural acts which are per se ordered to procreation.
“A true and proper right to a child would be contrary to the child’s dignity and nature. The child is not an object to which one has a right, nor can he be considered as an object of ownership: rather, a child is a gift, “the supreme gift” and the most gratuitous gift of marriage, and is a living testimony of the mutual giving of his parents. For this reason, the child has the right, as already mentioned, to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents; and he also has the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception” (sec. B.8, emphasis original).
What do you think?
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