Treading on Sacred Ground: Why NOT IVF or Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

Last week my friend Denise published on Catholic Exchange an account of her IVF experience, which is entitled “Treading on Sacred Ground.”  If you’re considering this type of assisted reproduction … or are still on the fence with how you feel about embryonic stem cell research, this article is for you.

One line in the article that gave me pause  was the obvious pain the author felt over venturing beyond the ethical boundaries the Church has established for family life — in this case, satisfying the desire to conceive a child.

As I wrote to Denise in the comments:

[You wrote in your article,] “My husband and I talked about it later. We had come face to face with the earliest moments of our children’s lives. We had peered into something that only God should see. We didn’t deserve what blessing might come despite our serious sin.”

I’m sure you must realize the sin was not in the looking … the looking was a kind of grace, for it gave you an opportunity to contemplate the seriousness of your actions. And in the contemplation, to express the lesson in words that even now may change a life.

“[God makes] all things work together for good…” the Scriptures tell us. By walking as closely as possible to truth, we spare ourselves untold heartache. And yet, in our failures we often catch an unforgettable glimpse of the mercy of God.

We were made for love, to participate in the divine and creative love of God. But for every true and good gift, the evil one conjurs a deceptive counterfeit. Your story shows just why the Church is right to speak against these kinds of assisted reproductive technologies. The cross of infertility is both real and painful … but perfect love always works according to God’s design, not our own.

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No More Snowflakes: On “Dignitatis Personae”

From “Dignitatis Personae” (“On the Dignity of Persons”), published by CDF on the 20th anniversary of “Donum Vitae” in order to address certain questions pertaining to reproductive technologies and the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death.  Paragraph 13 addresses the parameters of options available to married couples who want to become parents:

“[T]echniques aimed at removing obstacles to natural fertilization, as for example, hormonal treatments for infertility, surgery for endometriosis, unblocking of fallopian tubes or their surgical repair, are licit. All these techniques may be considered authentic treatments because, once the problem causing the infertility has been resolved, the married couple is able to engage in conjugal acts resulting in procreation, without the physician’s action directly interfering in that act itself. None of these treatments replaces the conjugal act, which alone is worthy of truly responsible procreation.

“In order to come to the aid of the many infertile couples who want to have children, adoption should be encouraged, promoted and facilitated by appropriate legislation so that the many children who lack parents may receive a home that will contribute to their human development. In addition, research and investment directed at the prevention of sterility deserve encouragement. ”

And from paragraph 16:

“The Church recognizes the legitimacy of the desire for a child and understands the suffering of couples struggling with problems of fertility. Such a desire, however, should not override the dignity of every human life to the point of absolute supremacy. The desire for a child cannot justify the ‘production’ of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.”

One aspect of artificial reproductive technology of particular interest to those who have considered adopting one or more of the abandoned embryos through the “Snowflakes” program, was also contained in this document:

“The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;[38] this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

“It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of ‘prenatal adoption.’ This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.”

While this development may be troubling to some, we must be willing to accept the Church’s authority to shine the light of truth on this and other matters pertaining to the seamless garment of family life. When a couple is struggling to find God’s will for their lives, these teachings provide practical, providential boundaries to protect both the marriage and the individuals … as well as their future children.