Couples Ask: What’s Wrong With In-vitro Fertilization?TIM DRAKE
Catholic teaching has called in-vitro fertilization techniques immoral for decades. But most Catholics still haven’t heard the news.
attorneys Anthony and Stephanie Epolite found out the hard way that in-vitro fertilization
wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After years of marriage, and facing her 39th
birthday still without a baby, Stephanie turned to a fertility clinic.
years and $25,000 later, the couple had nothing but frustration and embarrassment
to show for the time spent on in-vitro fertilization.
“We were emotionally,
financially and spiritually spent,” Stephanie Epolite said. “The clinic did no
diagnostic tests. They loaded me up with fertility medication and determined the
right time for retrieval of my eggs.”
But, after the retrieval and the
mixing of the eggs with Anthony’s sperm in the laboratory, still no embryo developed.
“In the end, they told me I just had old eggs,” Stephanie said.
she had known at the beginning what she has since learned: The Catholic Church
forbids fertility techniques that try to make babies outside of marital intercourse.
“There is no education out there about the alternatives,” she said, “so Catholics
are flocking to the fertility clinics.”
According to the American Society
for Reproductive Medicine, infertility affects more than 6 million American women
and their spouses, or about 10% of the reproductive-age population. About 5% of
infertile couples use in-vitro fertilization.
As to how many Catholic
couples are among them, figures are hard to come by. But many Catholics seem unaware
of the immorality of the procedure.
“Anecdotally, from our consultation
experience here, Catholics using reproductive technologies are generally unaware
of the Church’s moral teaching in this area,” said Dr. Peter Cataldo, director
of research with the Boston-based National Catholic Bioethics Center. “They’re
not hearing it from the pulpit or elsewhere.”
In her teaching on human
reproduction, the Church seeks to safeguard human dignity. God wants life “to
be the result of an act of love by those committed to loving each other,” philosophy
professor Janet Smith has written. Anything that assists the conjugal act achieve
its purpose of procreation is licit; anything that substitutes for it is not.
In No. 2377, the Catechism explains why the Church opposes methods
that separate marital love-making from baby-making.
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’
In successful in-vitro fertilization, a human life comes into
existence outside the conjugal act and outside the womb. Conception is the result
of a technician’s manipulation of “reproductive materials.” The process for the
collection of sperm often necessitates masturbation, which is itself immoral.
Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic
Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, explained that the Church teaches that the procedure
is immoral for several reasons. “It undermines the meaning of sex. It violates
the exclusivity of the couple’s marriage covenant,” Father Pacholczyk said. “It
says that it is okay to manufacture life in a laboratory as if it were a commodity,
when it should be the result of human love.”
“There’s also the ancillary
evil of freezing embryonic humans that are later abandoned or poured down the
sink if they are not useful,” he added.
In addition, Father Pacholczyk
noted that babies created through in-vitro fertilization have an elevated risk
of birth defects.
“Studies have shown a sixfold elevated risk for in-vitro
fertilization children contracting an eye disease called retinal blastoma versus
normally conceived babies,” he said. “In-vitro fertilization is very unnatural.
You’re extracting ova from the woman, culturing them and inspecting the developing
embryo in a laboratory setting. They are in a completely unnatural environment
for a very long time before they are put back into the womb.
interests offer in-vitro fertilization as standard practice,” Father Pacholczyk
said. “The Catholic Church is the only voice opposed to it.”
are morally acceptable alternatives to in-vitro fertilization, and Dr. Thomas
Hilgers is trying to let more Catholic couples know that.
to Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reaffirming the Church’s
opposition to contraception, Hilgers devoted his life to the study of human reproduction,
developing the Creighton Model System of Natural Family Planning and eventually
opening the Pope Paul VI Institute for the
Study of Human Reproduction.
In 1991, Hilgers coined the term NaProTechnology
(Natural Procreative Technology), a reproductive and gynecologic medical science
that seeks to evaluate and treat a host of women’s health problems without the
use of contraception, sterilization, abortion or artificial reproductive technologies,
thereby making it consistent with Church teachings.
identifies the causes of infertility and then seeks to treat them. That’s not
always the case at fertility clinics.
“The aim of most fertility clinics
is to skip over the abnormality to try to get women pregnant,” Hilgers said. “Yet
when you skip over the causes, you end up dealing with them one way or another.
“It’s ludicrous to promote in-vitro fertilization as the help for the
vast majority of 6.62 million with impaired fertility,” he said. “When you listen
to the national news and morning television shows, you think that in-vitro fertilization
is the only thing available to infertile couples, yet less than 0.5% of infertile
couples in the U.S. are helped by in-vitro fertilization each year.”
theologians and ethicists would agree that NaProTechnology is morally acceptable,
Cataldo pointed out that “certain drug therapies and egg-stimulating
medications at doses that don’t have disproportionate risks for the children engendered
or for the mother” also are acceptable. But other technologies, such as intrauterine
insemination (IUI) and gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) fall into a “gray
“Some moral theologians and ethicists see these techniques as
assisting the conjugal act. Others see it as replacing it,” he said. “Until such
time as the Vatican speaks, Catholics contemplating the use of IUI or GIFT should
inform themselves of both sides of the moral and theological argument and then
make a decision in good conscience.”
Regardless of the artificial method
chosen, the cost of such techniques remains high and the success rates low. According
to the 2001 Assisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates report compiled by
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a survey of 384 fertility clinics
showed a clinical pregnancy success rate of 32%.
In a 1990 article published
in Social Justice Review, then-associate director of the U.S. Catholic
bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat Richard Doerflinger noted that a survey of in-vitro
fertilization clinics discovered that half of the clinics had never had a live
birth after being in business at least three years, collectively treating more
than 600 women and collecting $2.5 million for their services.
with the extraordinary emotions that engulf infertile couples are extremely vulnerable,”
Hilgers said. “They are easy prey.”
Not only do natural and morally acceptable
alternatives such as NaProTechnology cost far less, but they also are more successful.
The Pope Paul VI Institute boasts success rates ranging from 38% to 80%, depending
upon the condition being treated.
Following the Epolites’ experience
with in-vitro fertilization, Stephanie learned about the Pope Paul VI Institute
from a Natural Family Planning counselor. In the fall of 2000, the couple applied
to the institute, gathered charts they had kept that outlined vital signs related
to fertility, and underwent diagnostic testing.
As it turned out, both
had reproductive issues that their previous fertility clinic had never diagnosed.
Anthony’s sperm count was low, and Stephanie suffered from endometriosis and blocked
Six months later, following treatment of their conditions
at the Pope Paul VI Institute and at the age of 42, Stephanie conceived naturally.
Their daughter, Claire Marie, was born Oct. 31, 2002.
“At the Pope Paul
VI Institute, we saw compassion, concern, help and love,” Stephanie said. “They
provided individualized treatment, versus the empty feeling that we felt from
the fertility clinic. Whereas the fertility clinic bypasses all the laws of nature,
the Pope Paul VI Institute works with the laws of nature.”
Tim Drake. "Couples Ask: What’s Wrong With In-vitro Fertilization?"
National Catholic Register. (August 14, 2004).
This article is reprinted
with permission from National Catholic Register. All rights reserved.
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Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist and author. He has published more than 600 articles in publications such as the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Faith and Family Magazine, Catholic World Report, CatholicExchange.com, Columbia Magazine, Gilbert! Magazine, This Rock Magazine, and many others. He serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Magazine. Tim is the author of There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots, Saints of the Jubilee, and Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow's Church. He resides in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. See his website here.
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