Why does the Church oppose in vitro fertilization?
The reasons for the Church’s opposition to in vitro fertilization are twofold. First, the Church teaches that human dignity is best respected when the beautiful sexual union of two people conceives a child. This does not happen when a human being is created in a laboratory. As the Catechism teaches: “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.” There is also another reason. Human life begins at conception. This is not just Church teaching, but science supports this claim. Modern genetics has established that a human being’s DNA is created when the sperm fertilizes the egg. At this moment of conception, a unique identity of the human person is created. Unfortunately, in vitro fertilization does not fully respect human life. For the process to be effective, several human embryos are created, and the overwhelming majority is destroyed in the process. It is also worth noting that in vitro fertilization is a process that is relatively ineffective (less than one-fourth of treatments are successful) and causes much physical pain to women. Research also indicates that children conceived in this way are more prone to genetic defects.
So does this mean that the Church essentially teaches that infertile couples cannot share in the great joy that is having children?
Absolutely not! The Catholic Church celebrates human life and the family more than perhaps any other institution in today’s world. The Church recognizes that infertility can be a great cross for couples to carry. The Church is a compassionate and loving mother, and thus she encourages infertile couples to nonetheless try to form a family. In particular, the Church encourages infertile couples to try two options. First, there are millions of children in the United States and all over the world who dream of nothing more than to have parents. It is a great act of Christian charity, and one that brings much joy, to decide to adopt children. This does not mean, however, that the Church is against science in its efforts to help infertile couples. Pope Benedict XVI has said: “The Church pays great attention to the suffering of couples with infertility, she cares for them and, precisely because of this, encourages medical research.” As the Catechism affirms: “Research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged, on condition that it is placed “at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God.” In other words, the Church is not against medical advancements that would help infertile couples as long as they do not interfere with God’s vision of human sexuality and do not disrespect human life. For this reason, the Church is an enthusiastic supporter of NaProTECHNOLOGY. This pioneering method, developed by world-renowned gynecologist Dr. Thomas Hilgers, allows physicians to diagnose the causes of fertility and help couples find a time when they can engage in intercourse with the greatest chance of getting pregnant. In fact, NaProTECHNOLOGY is much more effective than in vitro fertilization, not to say much cheaper and safer. To learn more about NaProTECHNOLOGY and find a doctor who will lead you through the process, click here.
Since the Church is against in vitro fertilization, does this mean that the Church sees people conceived this way as somehow worse or evil?
Absolutely not! If a priest tells you this, then he is blatantly going against Church teaching. The Church believes that every human life is a beautiful gift from God, even if that life was not necessarily conceived in accordance with God’s plan. For this reason, the Church celebrates life and is pro-life in the case of every pregnancy, regardless of how it was conceived. When Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby” was born in 1978, Cardinal Albino Luciani, who would become Pope John Paul I a few weeks later, said: “From every side the press is sending its congratulations to the English couple and best wishes to their baby girl. In imitation of God, who desires and loves human life, I too offer my best wishes to the baby girl. As for her parents, I do not have any right to condemn them; subjectively, if they have acted with the right intention and in good faith, they may even obtain great merit before God for what they have decided on and asked the doctors to carry out […] Getting down, however, to the act in itself, and good faith aside, the moral problem which is posed is: is extrauterine fertilization in vitro or in a test tube, licit? […] I do not find any valid reasons to deviate from this norm, by declaring licit the separation of the transmission of life from the marriage act.” The future pope essentially sums up the Church’s position: while she opposes the process of in vitro fertilization, she condemns no one.
I have tried in vitro fertilization. Does this mean that I cannot be a part of the Church?
Absolutely not! Our Church believes in the doctrine of original sin, so it realizes that all people make decisions that are not necessarily in accordance with God’s plan. Our nature inclines us to do so. Every single human, except Christ and Mary, is a sinner. Even the holiest of saints were sinners. The Church does not exclude people simply because they had made decisions not in accordance with Catholic morality. If that were the case, the Church would literally have zero members! The point of being a Catholic, rather, is to recognize that certain decisions we made were not the best, apologize to God and make an effort to live better. For this reason, we are blessed with the great gift that is the sacrament of reconciliation. Thanks to this beautiful sacrament, God absolves us of our sins and gives us a new chance to try to live as Christians. If you have gone through in vitro treatments, then the Church will embrace you with its loving arms as soon as you recognize that that was not the best decision, confess and seek alternatives in the future. Don’t feel that you are somehow a “worse” Catholic. There are many saints – including people without whom Christianity would be inconceivable, like St. Paul and St. Augustine – who did much more morally troubling things before their conversions.