National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Ethical and Moral Implications Of Reproductive Technologies

BY Joseph Esposito

July 5-11, 1998 Issue | Posted 7/5/98 at 2:00 PM

 

Among reproductive scientists, there has been a fundamental shift in philosophy from assisting the begetting of children in a loving family environment to manufacturing a product — and the “manufacturers” can dispose of the “product” if it does not meet their rigid specifications.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2376-2377) describes the major moral problems of most of the assisted reproductive technologies in use today — corruptions of both the unitive and procreative functions of marriage between husband and wife:

“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 that brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another....”

Determining Whether a Procedure Is Licit

There are currently more than 100 different assisted reproductive techniques available to couples who are suffering from infertility. Couples may be uncertain whether the procedure( s) they are considering are morally acceptable.

According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's Instruction Donum Vitae (the gift of life), the determination of whether a technique is licit depends upon its relationship to natural intercourse: “If the technical means facilitates the conjugal act or helps it to reach its natural objectives, it can be morally acceptable. If, on the other hand, the procedure were to replace the conjugal act, it is morally illicit” (II, B,6)

Donum Vitae also states that an assisted reproductive procedure must meet these five specific criteria in order to maintain the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act, as well as to avoid other grave sins:

(1) All assisted reproductive procedures should be performed upon married couples only: “Respect for the unity of marriage and for conjugal demands that the child be conceived in marriage; the bond existing between husband and wife accords the spouses, in an objective and inalienable manner the exclusive right to become father and mother solely through each other” (II, A, 2).

(2) The wife must contribute the egg and the husband must contribute the sperm. No other person must be involved, as this constitutes “technological adultery”: “Recourse to the gametes of a third person, in order to have sperm or ovum available, constitutes a violation of the reciprocal commitment of the spouses and a grave lack in regard to the essential property of marriage which is its unity” (II, A, 2).

(3) Masturbation must not be required: “Masturbation, through which the sperm is normally obtained, is another sign of this dissociation: Even when it is done for the purpose of procreation, the act remains deprived of its unitive meaning (II, B, 6). (Note that sperm collection may be accomplished licitly by means of “home collection,” which consists of the use of a perforated condom during normal marital intercourse.

(4) Fertilization must take place inside the woman's body: “The origin of the human being thus follows from a procreation that is ‘linked to the union, not only biological but also spiritual, of the parents, made one by the bond of marriage.’ Fertilization achieved outside the bodies of the couple remains by this very fact deprived of the meanings and the values which are expressed in the language of the body and in the union of human persons” (II, B, 4, c).

(5) “Spare” embryos must not be discarded, frozen, or experimented upon, and procedures such as “selective abortion” (pregnancy reduction) must not be used: “[T]hose embryos which are not transferred into the body of the mother and are called ‘spare’ are exposed to an absurd fate, with no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival which can be licitly pursued” (I, 5).

Source: The Facts of Life: An Authoritative Guide to Life and Family Issues, by Brian Clowes PhD (Human Life International, Front Royal, Va.) Reprinted with permission.