The Catechism of the Catholic Church on IVF
Nowhere else on earth except on a skinny white plastic stick can two vertical lines create such immense joy. What’s represented by those two lines—the culmination of marital love and unity—is the fulfillment of long-held hopes and dreams. Indeed, they often evoke tears of happiness and maybe even a little victory dance. These two lines tell us that a baby has been created.
Genesis 1:28 says: “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “by its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory. Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves.” It is therefore only natural that couples long to have children.
For many, the desire to have a child, or many children, is immense. Children are wonderful blessings. Children give us hope for the future. Children make families whole. And, for most people, this desire for children is easily fulfilled. But what happens when that desire to have a child results in negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test? That void in a mother or father’s life—and in their hearts—seems bottomless. They begin to feel despair, a lack of hope, and desperation.
It is this despair, coupled with the fierce desire to conceive, that leads people to seek out the help of in vitro fertilization to create a child. After all, they think, why does it matter how our child is created if we love and take care of him? However, the Catechism and our faith teach us that it does matter.
What Is IVF?
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.” (CCC 2376)
In vitro fertilization is a method by which a male’s sperm and a female’s eggs are collected by a physician, then mixed in a Petri dish in the hopes that one or more of the eggs will become fertilized. Science teaches us that, from the very first moment an egg is fertilized, it becomes an embryo—and an unrepeatable human being now exists.
The Church teaches that the only moral way to conceive a child is through the loving embrace of the marital act. The dignity of the child requires this of us. This beautiful, wonderful expression of love between the husband and the wife works in cooperation with God to create a totally separate human being. That is why we call it procreation rather than creation.
According to Donum Vitae, IVF is considered sinful partly because it dissociates 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 under God’s embrace, but instead it…
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.
In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.”
IVF Is Morally Unacceptable
What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say about IVF?
Children are not a given. They are “the supreme gift of marriage” (CCC 2378). When children are created within the confines of a Petri dish, they become a commodity.
As human beings created in the image and likeness of God, we are never to be something bought or sold. God freely gives us life, and we are to cherish that life, never profit from it or purchase it. We must never put a price on a human being, but that is exactly what IVF does. At around $15,000 to $20,000 per round of IVF, this medical procedure often sucks bank accounts dry, depletes retirement accounts, and takes advantage of desperate potential parents. And, with a success rate at only about 42% for women under 35—and much less for older women—IVF is no guarantee or easy solution.
Setting cost aside, let’s look at what happens when embryos are created in a dish. A doctor will determine which of these embryos have the greatest potential to grow further if implanted, so he will choose those. That leaves the remaining ones to be either frozen or discarded. After a few potential embryos have been selected, the parents can choose how many will be implanted in the mother’s uterus. If, for example, five babies were deemed to have the best potential, the mother might choose to have three implanted and save the other two for a future time. If the parents so desire, these remaining embryos will then be frozen. But they have other options as well, including donating them to another infertile couple (CCC 2376), donating them to science for research, and disposing of them. All of these instances are highly immoral. For instance, any of those “extras” – having been fertilized – are human beings. Generally multiple embryos are implanted because not all of them (or any) may “take.” And then – you guessed it – the doctor suggests “extras” be eliminated for the good growth of one or two. Any “disposal” of embryos is an early abortion.
So, none of these options afford a baby the dignity and respect he deserves as a child of God. Furthermore, when we use science to create children, we are usurping the role of God and putting our wants and desires above His. We are telling Him that we do not trust His plans and that we refuse to follow His laws in search of our own selfish desires.
In 2008, in an attempt to address issues related to the dignity of every human being, including IVF, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote Dignitas Personae. In it, we read:
“The blithe acceptance of the enormous number of abortions involved in the process of in vitro fertilization vividly illustrates how the replacement of the conjugal act by a technical procedure—in addition to being in contradiction with the respect that is due to procreation as something that cannot be reduced to mere reproduction—leads to a weakening of the respect owed to every human being.”
Babies created in IVF labs are human beings. They are somebody’s children. They have souls. To discard them, give them up for research, or to leave them frozen indefinitely is a sickening prospect.
Hope for Infertile Couples
Yet there is hope for infertile couples who desire to find a moral and natural way to have children.
The Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction is dedicated to helping infertile couples by using natural fertility regulation. According to its website, its natural techniques “provide effective, morally acceptable, and sexually healthy options for women and couples” so that they can achieve a successful pregnancy. It has had tremendous success with its patients over its 34-year history.
The devastation, the loneliness, and the sadness that couples feel when they cannot conceive a child is real (CCC 2374). But we must remember that the desire to have a child cannot take precedence over the life of a human being. Our faith calls us to cherish and respect life—at all stages—even in its tiniest form.
The Church understands the anxiety and the grief that come with infertility. It weeps with you in your desire to have children, but it cannot change its teaching, because to do so would be to disregard the sanctity of human life. And, because we are all created in the image and likeness of God, not a single one of us is expendable.
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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. Since 2003, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials, and website content. Fourteen of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of its Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program, an educational nonprofit program for k-12 students.