Young & Curious

Mary Wieser

Q. Why is it against the Church to use fertility procedures to conceive a baby when the point of marriage is to start a family?  — Karissa Alfred (Notre Dame High School, Burlington, Grade 12)
A. Karissa, your question really gets us into ethical issues — right or wrong.
The new reproductive technologies have given rise to new ethical concerns. These are controversial subjects to many and have attracted wide media attention and public debate. However, the law, public opinion and the Church all over the world have lagged behind the advances in artificial conception which have created a “brave new world” of possibilities of giving birth. We never before considered possible a mix and match combination of sperms, eggs and uteri. Today we have the technology to help any couple to get pregnant. However, whether or not to adopt these options is a decision each couple needs to make with a well-informed conscience based on Church teaching.
No reasonable person would question the very natural desire of a couple to have a child conceived in love. One can only imagine the disappointment, and even perhaps the sense of failure and grief which many couples experience, when it is not possible for them to have a child. Against that background, assisted human reproduction therapy, in its various forms, must seem like a godsend.
The Catholic Church has a particular vision of human sexuality, which is rooted in the understanding of the human person found in the Scriptures, as well as in the natural law. Assisted human reproduction gives rise to a number of issues which have to do with fundamental human rights, the sacrament of marriage, issues such as respect for human life and respect for the family.
Human sexuality is designed in such a way that the coming together of man and woman as one flesh is an expression of intimacy, self-giving and the privileged context in which new life begins. This is not simply a statement of religious belief. It is evident from any realistic reflection on the facts of biology, physiology and human psychology. Karissa, remember that marriage is not just about procreation of children, it is also about the love relationship between the woman and man.
One of our fundamental rights is the right of every human being to life and bodily integrity. Although the right to life finds a particularly strong foundation in Christian faith, it is a right which is acknowledged by people of all faiths and none. In the final analysis, respect for the right to life is reciprocal in nature. My requirement that my right to life should be respected by others logically implies that I should afford a similar respect to their right to life.
The Church opposes fertility measures that occur outside of the martial act. But the Church does not object to all fertility procedures. Observation of the naturally occurring sign(s) of fertility (Natural Family Planning), for example, is a way to achieve pregnancy. Timing intercourse on the days of presumed (potential) fertility for at least six months before proceeding to medical interventions is considered necessary. This is generally the first course of action and one that is prescribed by doctors regularly because it helps couples know when they are fertile and maximize the chance of achieving pregnancy. Charting may also be indicative of medical problems that affect fertility. Couples who are diagnosed as infertile may also be offered the following within the Church’s teaching:
1. NaProTechnology
As an approach to treatment, NaProTechnology invariably involves natural (or in vivo) fertilization. It does not place embryos at risk to their life or bodily integrity. NaPro fosters dialogue and cooperation between the couple, with its emphasis on fertility awareness. The emphasis on respect for the natural reproductive process means that NaPro is consistent with the meaning and integrity of human sexuality.
To learn more about NaProTechnology, write to Pope Paul VI Institute, 6901 Mercy Road, Omaha, NE, 68106, or visit the website:
2. Surgery
All surgical intervention is governed by the principle of totality. The element of risk involved is acceptable in so far as it is in proportion to the positive outcome anticipated. No ethical difficulties are specifically associated with the surgical treatment of infertility. The fact that surgery may be required to restore tubal function which has been damaged by sterilization, and that this surgery may not always be successful, does serve as a reminder that tubal ligation as a contraceptive method is invasive of bodily integrity, and should not be carried out unless it is medically indicated.
3. Drug Treatment
The use of drug therapy to stimulate ovulation seems to be perfectly acceptable from an ethical point of view, provided always that the patient is adequately informed and consents to the treatment. The use of clomiphene or gonadotrophin preparations assists rather than replaces the natural reproductive function. Where the stimulation of ovulation is brought about with a view to in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), the ethical issue relates not so much to the harvesting of large quantities of ova, but to the way in which they are subsequently used. The possible effect of the drug treatment on the mother must also be taken into account in arriving at an ethical evaluation.
As I have said, the Church is not against all procedures for fertilization.  We have to look at the purpose of marriage and how the love relation is played out by the man and woman. We need to continue to pray for couples who bear the cross of infertility, and the Church needs to keep up with fertility technologies and the strong desire for couples to have children. So we need to pray for the Church and her wisdom.  Whether or not to adopt other fertility options is a decision couples need to make for themselves with a well-informed conscience based on Church teaching.
— Mary Wieser,
director of Faith Formation
for the Diocese of Davenport
(Students in grades kindergarten through 12 are invited to submit questions about the Catholic Church for The Catholic Messenger’s new Young & Curious feature. Send them to arland-fye@davenport or The Catholic Messenger, 780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, Iowa, 52804.)

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