A Consideration of the Facts of In Vitro Fertilization and the Human Tendency to Demand What We Want, No Matter Who Gets Hurt.

Alabama’s state Supreme Court ruled last week that embryos created by In vitro fertilization, (IVF), are considered children. and this has raised concerns that embryos that are destroyed or damaged could lead to civil liability. So some Alabama fertility clinics are halting operations, and even some, otherwise pro-life advocates are are opposed to the decision.

But why should they be opposed. If life begins at conception, a foundational belief of the pro-life movement, should not embryos be protected from deep freezing and frequent discarding once they are no longer “needed?”

The Church has long opposed IVF. But why? Lets consider the concerns that are properly raised with IVF and the mess we have gotten ourselves into by our many attempts to play God.

All pro-lifers agree that we clearly play God by sentencing innocent life to death by abortion. This is life God has created (cf. Jer 1:5; Psalm 139 ). Through abortion we snatch the life from God’s creative hands and say, “This shall not be.”

But we also play God by insisting that infertile couples have a right to conceive and bear children, when nature and God have said no. It is not always clear why couples cannot conceive and even less clear why God might say “no” or “not now”  to a couple who wish to conceive a child at some given moment. The desire for a married couple to have children would seem always to be a good thing.  But simply because we deem something good, does not gift us the absolute right to overrule God to whom human life owes its first cause. With in vitro fertilization we go beyond assisting fertility and the marriage act. and we, in effect, sideline the God given manner for conception and turn it into a technology in a petri dish. This amount to telling God “This shall not be” in reference to infertility when it occurs.

Let’s consider the problems with In Vitro fertilization that has caused the Catholic Church to forbid it.

  1. Life becomes like a Consumer Product – In IVF,  fertilizable ova are removed from a woman’s ovary and put in a petri dish (the Latin for dish is vitrum) to which a few concentrated drops of sperm are added. This removes human conception from the marriage act, its sacred and proper place, where God acts to bestow life.  IVF puts it in the laboratory where man controls the process and conception is treated as a technology and a kind of sought after consumer product, rather than as part of a mystery of fruitful love caught up in the marriage embrace and the love God.
  2. It conveys the wrongful idea that a person or couple has a right to a child. A child is a person with rights; he or she is not merely an object, a possession, or a technological product. Further, life is something God grants, not something he must give simply because we want or demand it.
  3. God is Wrong! From a faith perspective, IVF simply refuses God’s failure to act in accord with the wishes of the parents, and removes the decision from God. God may be teaching something to the couple due to their infertility. Perhaps he wants them to adopt, perhaps he has a special work or cause he wants them to be devoted to. But IVF suspends such discernment, and forces the solution.
  4. There is a strong bias today toward only caring about what is best for adults. This is widespread in our culture. Hence, if adults are unhappy they can divorce, not matter what this does to children, the children have no legal voice or say in the matter. Further, if a child comes at an unexpected or inopportune time, many just abort. Again, it is the adults who matter. In IVF there is also some of this thinking since what seems to matter most is that the adults want a baby. Never mind what IVF may do to how we think of life, as a technology to be exercised at our whim, rather than a sacred mystery. Never mind that imperfect embryos are discarded or frozen. Never mind that many IVF procedures selectively abort later. Never mind that IVF children are more often born prematurely, or suffer higher rates of birth defects. What matters is what adults want and demand.
  5. Discarding Embryos – As already stated, it is a usual practice that more eggs are fertilized than the woman will need. This is because not all embryos survive. Thus, more than one egg, usually several or numerous eggs, are fertilized. If “too many” embryos survive the rest are either discarded (i.e. killed), frozen or mined for stem cells (i.e. killed). In some cases as well, if “too many” embryos are accepted by the woman’s womb, they may be selectively aborted later so that the “desired number” of children is not exceeded.
  6. For reasons such as these, the Church considers IVF to be gravely sinful.
  8. There are certain procedures allowable to Catholics which enhance fertility but do not remove or replace the marriage act. But IVF is far beyond what is approved for the reasons stated.

So here we are with another cultural show-down. But but please consider that IVF and abortion have this in common: Playing God and saying that I have a right over life, that I call the shots. Abortion demands the right to end life, IVF demands the right to produce it. Neither is a right we should claim. God is the author of life. IVF goes beyond assisting what God has set forth (i.e. the marriage act) and seeks to force an outcome, in effect, removing God sovereignty over human life.

Further, while many of its members and “consumers” of IVF services may choose not to think so, discarding of embryos is killing, is aborting. Freezing them is a cruel delay and a further indignity. Imagine keeping children “on ice” until their arrival is more convenient. And what if they never become convenient? The big chill continues until they become stale (i.e. dead).

Disclaimer – Now, there are likely many well-intentioned couples who may never have thought through all this, or have been misguided, or are just so desperate for a child that they’ll do almost anything. But in the end, IVF is problematic and morally wrong for the reasons stated.

We live in times where too many think that they can just have what they want. Many think that, if we can do something, we should be free to do something. But there are more things at stake than just what people want. There is reverence for the sacred mystery of life, there is concern for the common good, there is what actually happens to imperfect or superfluous embryos.

2 Replies to “A Consideration of the Facts of In Vitro Fertilization and the Human Tendency to Demand What We Want, No Matter Who Gets Hurt.”

  1. As a married man (over 15 years) with no children of our own, the cross of infertility we have had to bear has opened our eyes and hearts to the great gift that life it. I tell people that life is not a burden to be destroyed (as in abortion or other murder) nor is it a right to be had.

    Yes there’s always the possibility of adoption or foster care or natural God-based means of correcting fertility (which I’m sure we could look into); however, this is the cross we bear and if it be God’s Will, He’ll give us a child as He sees fit.

    Please pray for me and my beloved wife.

    1. Russell, it is very heartening and inspiring to come across a faithful Catholic who is willing to bear the tremendously painful cross of infertility while maintaining fidelity to traditional Church teaching. Thank you so much for your Christian witness.

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