By Judie Brown
Many people see in vitro fertilization as an acceptable means to an end—a baby who could not previously have been conceived. But what all does IVF really entail? What happens to the babies created who are not implanted? Today’s commentary addresses why the Church condemns this practice and offers hope to those who cannot conceive—hope that does not involve the death of an innocent child.
ART: Assisted Reproductive Technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF)
A friend recently sent an article my way with this interesting headline: “Number of ‘ART’ Babies Reaches 5 Million.” The article explained that, according to statistics, there are around 1.5 million ART cycles every year with a resulting 350,000 babies. This means that the success rate for artificial fertilization is roughly 30 percent. This also means that 70 percent fail. The failures are defined in the industry as “left over” embryos—babies who are not implanted in their mothers and are either frozen or killed.
Not a very appealing picture, but accurate nonetheless.
Further proof that something about this subject smacks of disregard for human dignity comes from the practice of designing your own baby by using ART. By using a procedure known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, a clinician can examine the characteristics of an embryo and decide which genes are good and which are undesirable or detrimental to the baby’s health.
The result of assuring hopeful parents that they can literally select all the traits they want in a future child is somehow skewed. As one writer puts it, “We should be able to accept that not one person is a perfect mix, as that’s the whole point of our species. We’re diverse, and it is our diversity that allows us to develop as an international species. Remove the diversity, and we wouldn’t be half as interesting or adept.”
Such facts of life in today’s techno-culture provide a sobering testimony to the reasons why Catholic teaching on in vitro fertilization is not only wise but also lifesaving. The fundamental reasons why the Church set forth her teaching in Donum Vitae, and reaffirmed it a few years ago in Dignitas Personae, are best articulated by a doctor who left the practice of reproductive technology. His name is Anthony Caruso. During an interview Dr. Caruso explained that he was concerned about the kind of procedures that were being used. He was disturbed by “the way in which everybody looked at the embryos that had undergone pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.” He went on to say, “Finally, it was the realization that the embryos that we were producing were just as important as the embryos that were transferred. I could not change my practice to accommodate the way I was looking at the process.”
In other words, Dr. Caruso began seeing embryos created in the laboratory as human beings—each as unique and unrepeatable individuals.
But perhaps Caruso’s most profound insight, which echoes Catholic teaching perfectly, is this:
One of the basic purposes of marriage is blurred with IVF. Children as gifts from God have become desires and pawns in the life process. IVF breaks the very tenet of the principle of double effect. The nature of the act is not good. The good effect is a wanted child. However, that desire does not outweigh the negative nature of the act. One need look no further than the way in which embryos are treated to see this.
The Catholic Church in her wisdom understands and teaches that there is no such thing as a right to a child, as that argument would be “contrary to the child’s dignity and nature.” At the same time, the child has the right to be the fruit of the conjugal act of his mother and father.
Yet, sadly, the facts presented here are not well known, particularly among couples who are desperate to have their own children and have discovered they are infertile. For them we know the good news—that there is help for infertility that does not involve unethical, deadly practices such as IVF.
IVF needs to be exposed. As Arland Nichols, national director of Human Life International America, recently wrote, “At the end of the day we may rely upon the words of Blessed John Paul II to answer the questions we are asked about Church teaching on IVF: We are in the midst of a ‘dramatic clash between good and evil’ and we have ‘the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.’”
Judie Brown is president and cofounder of American Life League and a three-time appointee to the Pontifical Academy for Life.