Recently, I wrote an article on why the Catholic Church is 100% correct on IVF (and other artificial reproductive technologies) from a purely medical/scientific/secular perspective. Click here if you’d like to read that first (recommended).
Now, let’s look at this issue from a moral perspective. As mentioned previously, this is one of the toughest issues on sexual morality to discuss, even with Catholic audiences. If a couple wants a baby, why is that problem? Shouldn’t they be able to use any legal means necessary to have that baby? Isn’t it good to bring more children into the world?
While these are all valid, understandable questions, it’s good to remember that from a moral perspective, the ends don’t justify the means. IVF (et. al.) is all about the means. So, a couple wants to have a baby. They’re having issues with infertility. As explained by Dr. John Haas in an article for the USCCB, in 1987, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document known as Donum Vitae ("The Gift of Life"), which addressed the morality of many modern fertility procedures. The document did not judge the use of technology to overcome infertility as wrong in itself. It concluded that some methods are moral, while others—because they do violence to the dignity of the human person and the institution of marriage—are immoral. Donum Vitae teaches that if a given medical intervention helps or assists the marriage act to achieve pregnancy, it may be considered moral; if the intervention replaces the marriage act in order to engender life, it is not moral. The Church makes it clear that because it eliminates the marital act as the means of achieving pregnancy, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is immoral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2376-77) has more to say on this overall issue:
Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other.
Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that 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. Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union . . . Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person.
God makes it clear to us that sex is a gift (CCC 2378), and that children are a “gift of that gift,” so to speak. As Giver, He also wants us to understand those gifts so we can better appreciate them, and consequently find maximum enjoyment in them. Not everyone is called to receive either of these gifts, though (Matthew 19:12). To demand either as our right will invariably bring about unintended consequences. Sex outside of marriage brings about broken trust, higher divorce rates, greater rates of depression, and a sense that fertility is a disease to be treated rather than a gift to be embraced. Grasping at children at any cost also can lead to many such unintended consequences. Though many have already been spelled out in Part 1 of this two-part series, possibly the worst of those outcomes of all is that children become commodities. Some IVF doctors have even left this field for precisely this reason. They started out wanting to give couples a chance to enjoy the precious gift of life, only to see it cheapened in the process and bringing harm to all involved.
There are moral interventions to overcoming infertility. The Pope Paul VI Institute at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska has had great success with couples in this regard. (And again, see my prior article on this for other medical options.) Adoption is also a wonderful possibility to consider, as I can personally attest to.
Infertility is indeed a cross. (My wife and I have carried this cross – we know.) But, it’s a cross that Christ will help you carry – if you let Him.