Pope Benedict XVI’s call for more research into ethical treatments for infertility as an alternative to in vitro fertilization is being applauded by a leading Catholic bioethicist.
“The Pope is quite right when he says that IVF is a profit-making business; they make a lot of money, and their success rates are not great,” Dr. Edward Furton of the National Catholic Bioethics Center told CNA on Feb. 27.
“The profit motive here is not good. There are lesser known, more ethical, more effective methods which are being ignored because these labs are making money telling couples that IVF is the best or only option.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks on Feb. 25 at a workshop hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life to discuss ethically treating infertility. He said he is concerned that the field of human procreation seems to be dominated “by scientism and the logic of profit,” which often “restricts many other areas of research.”
The academy was holding its 18th General Assembly in Rome on the theme of “The Diagnosis and Treatment of Infertility.” The body consists of 70 specialists appointed by the Pope and drawn from different branches of the biomedical sciences.
“The Church is attentive to the suffering of infertile couples,” the Pope told academy members, “and her concern for them is what leads her to encourage medical research.”
“Research into diagnosis and therapy is the most scientifically correct approach to the question of infertility, as well as being the most respectful of the human condition of the people involved,” Pope Benedict said.
He also underscored the Catholic position that IVF is an unethical means of treating infertility and that “that community of love and life which is marriage represents the only worthy ‘place’ for a new human being to be called into existence.”
The Pope’s IVF comments drew criticism from some sections of the global media in the following days. “Pope Benedict XVI Faces Backlash Over Rant Against IVF Treatment,” read a typical headline in the Australian Herald Sun newspaper.
“I think part of the difficulty is that most people do not think about governing principles, but they look simply at results. So: IVF produced a beautiful baby, and so it must be good, they think,” Furton said.
“But, over time, people will begin to see clearly, even those who pay no attention to principles, the damaging effects of IVF,” he asserted, pointing to the use of IVF to produce children of a certain sex or genetic disposition.
“We are playing with very strong natural forces which we think we can control but cannot,” explained Furton. “For example, we should not be deciding how many boys and how many girls there are in world.”
Furton also believes that many sections of the media fall prey to the erroneous assumption that “technology can solve moral problems.” But “human problems” will always rely upon “making sound moral choices,” he noted.
“Otherwise, you end up with the kind of solutions that only produce further problems,” such as introducing the human hand “between reproduction and new human life,” which introduces “moral chaos and extra difficulties.”
The Catholic Church also objects to the killing of human embryos during the process of IVF treatment. The Pope also called for treatments that are the “expression of the concrete possibility of fruitful dialogue between ethics and biomedical research.”
Furton said “a lot of good work is being done” across the globe in developing treatments that are both ethical and more effective than IVF. He particularly praised the work of Milwaukee’s Marquette University and Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb.
On Saturday, Pope Benedict also wished to console infertile couples who cannot be helped by science. He reassured them that “their matrimonial vocation is not thereby frustrated.”
“The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation of self-giving, and this is something which no bodily condition can impede,” he said. “Therefore, when science cannot provide an answer, the light-giving response comes from Christ.”
Meanwhile, legislation to prohibit abortions based on gender or race has passed a U.S. House committee by a significant margin.
“The very bedrock foundational principle that gave birth to America was the conviction that all human beings are children of God and created equal in his sight,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who introduced the bill.
He explained that an “innate sense of human fairness” should render it “abundantly clear” that aborting babies based on their race or gender is “fundamentally wrong.”
On Feb. 16, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act by a vote of 20-13.
The legislation would prohibit abortions based on race or sex and make coercing women to have an abortion for those reasons illegal.
It would not prosecute women seeking abortions, but would instead hold accountable those who perform, finance and coerce those types of abortions.
The bill has been endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee and gained the support of 87 co-sponsors in the U.S. House.
It has been adamantly opposed by abortion advocates, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
Franks, who introduced a similar bill in 2009, said that the legislation is necessary because such abortions are happening, largely unnoticed, in America.
He pointed out that minority babies in America are aborted at five times the rate of white babies.
In addition, his bill references a 2008 study indicating that some segments of the U.S. population have “unnatural sex-ratio imbalances,” which are likely the result of sex-selection abortions.
“By definition, sex-selection abortions do not implicate the health of the mother or the unborn, but instead are elective procedures motivated by sex or gender bias,” the legislation says.
It also points to a 2006 Zogby International poll, which found that 86% of Americans believe that sex-selection abortion should be illegal.
Franks described abortions based on race and gender as “a betrayal of the precious truth that all men are created equal and are stamped with the imago Dei on their souls.”
He said that opposition to these types of abortion is something “upon which all Americans should be able to find agreement, regardless of our party affiliations or even our beliefs about abortion.”
The congressman is now looking forward to advancing the legislation on the House floor: “I am convinced this is the civil-rights battle that will define our generation.”