What does the Church teach about In Vitro Fertilization?

Q. I know there are very good reasons for the Church to teach against IVF (in vitro fertilization), but what are they? Also, what forms are allowed, and what is the difference?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. The Church hopes and prays that God will bless married couples with children, but knows very well from experience and stories in the Bible that not every married couple receives the gift of children. So, to begin to answer your question, it needs to be stated that “children are a gift from God” — they are not a right. While every married couple has a right to try to have children, it is important to respect God’s law and the law of nature for procreation. In this regard the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead. 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.’ The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others” (Nos. 2378-79).

There are several reasons why IVF is unethical. The first reason is that in the attempt to create new human life, IVF results in the disproportionate risk of loss of innocent human life. Innocent human lives are lost through IVF because “excess” human embryos created in the process are either discarded or placed in cryo-preservation (deep freeze). Since human embryos are human lives, and human beings have an inherent right to life which is denied by cryo-preservation or by being discarded, IVF is unethical. Pope Francis has been remarkably strong in his condemnation of our modern “throwaway” culture. Up to 90 percent of the human embryos that are created never make it. They never had a chance.

Again, the Catechism, based on the instruction on respect for human life in its origin (Donum Vitae, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1987), states: “‘It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.

“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity’ which are unique and unrepeatable” (No. 2275).

The second reason IVF is unethical may be difficult for people to understand if they do not have an appreciation for natural law, but here it is anyway. Because IVF invades the sacred space of interpersonal human sexual relations and relies too much on technology, it winds up separating the spouses from each other and often separating the real parents from their offspring. Here it will be helpful to reprint what the Catechism teaches us in this regard:

“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’” (Nos. 2376-77).

Finally, reproductive medical assistance or techniques allowed include any which respect the life of the embryo and the exclusive sexual union of the married mother and father. LTOF (lower tubal ovum transfer) and GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) are methods that the Church does not condemn.

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, "Fr. Rocky" is the Executive Director/CEO of Relevant Radio and a priest of Opus Dei.