31 Days of Writing with the Nester, Abortion, Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, IVF, NFP

What does the Catholic Church say about IVF?

October 30, 2014

Mouthful of a title, right? Let’s just say I’m doing it for Google’s sake.

So, painfully obvious disclaimer: I am neither a bioethicist nor a theologian. Well, not officially, anyway. I’ve got 2 semesters of grad theology under my belt, but the only letters associated with my name are Mrs. So read on, knowing that I’m just a girl with an internet connection and a voracious appetite for moral theology and science. (In other words, these here are layman’s – or laywoman’s, as it were – words.)

I have been blessed with 3 beautiful, exasperating children in just under 5 years of marriage. In other words, I am in no position to talk to anyone about the heartache of infertility, or about the devastating sorrow of losing a baby to miscarriage. But here’s the thing: I have friends. And I’ve watched their pain and I’ve seen the ache of longing in their eyes. And I see the messages the culture is sending out to women (and men) who suffer from the desolating poverty of infertility, and they are being fed a steady diet of bullshit that only adds to their suffering.

I want to offer the truth. Anything less than the truth is an affront to their dignity, and to the dignity of the children who they long to conceive.

The Catholic Church has that truth. She holds it in sacred trust, the inalienable belief that every human life is sacred, from conception until natural death, and that the creation of human life itself is holy. Hallowed ground.

So that’s where I’m speaking from.

There’s one more thing I want to say before we dive in. And it’s about authentic reproductive technology: NAPRO.

I have a dear friend who was pregnant when we first met, back when I was a full time office gal. I was only months away from my wedding and couldn’t get enough of her pregnancy stories and baby kicks. As our friendship grew and her belly expanded, she shared more details. This was actually her fourth pregnancy, she explained, and she’d had three previous miscarriages. But she couldn’t get a referral to a high risk OB until after that third loss.

And then, do you know what the solution was for her body to carry that fourth precious baby safely to term? Progesterone. One pill by mouth daily, for the first trimester. Cheap, simple, readily available… and an option she didn’t even realize she had, because she wasn’t yet “high risk” enough to be referred to a doctor who knew what the hell he was doing.

That kind of dismissive, laissez faire medicine, practiced all too often in ob/gyn groups around the country, is the worst kind of insult to women.

So do yourself a favor and google around for a NAPRO doc near you.

Because you deserve to be served by a doctor who understands how your body works, and why, and who isn’t content to write you an annual scrip for birth control to try to shut your reproductive system down.

(And then happily write you another scrip for fertility drugs when you change your mind 3 years down the road but it turns out, your body didn’t like being messed with. So now rather than worrying about getting pregnant, you’re having to worry about getting pregnant. Because it seems like now you can’t.)

But what if it’s more serious than that? What about couples who have no other means of recourse than IVF or even surrogacy? How can the Church tell them no, when all she speaks of is the goodness of children and the sanctity of life?

For those very same reasons. Because children are good, and because life is sacred.

Children are good. And they are gifts. We vow to accept them lovingly from God, but the converse does not hold. We cannot demand them angrily, desperately, when they do not come. No matter how great the longing. His ways are not our ways, and oh how easy it is for me to write this while my 3 little gifts lie snug in their beds down the hall.

I haven’t felt the pain of infertility. It is a pain I will never know, intimately. But I do that the Church, as our mother, never asks of us that which would harm another person, and certainly not that which takes another person’s life.

Many of our current reproductive technologies are harmful, and some – IVF in particular – depend specifically on creating a number – sometimes a large number – of “backup” embryos, both to ensure the success of the couple’s efforts to conceive initially and for future use, should they desire more children.

From the get go, IVF is problematic because it violates the dignity of those children created in a laboratory setting. A child has the fundamental right to be conceived in the dignity and privacy of her mother’s womb, the fruit of the love between two parents who are committed to each other and to her.

Anything less is poverty for that child, no matter how well reasoned or rationalized the motives of the adults involved. Does that sound crazy? If it does, it’s only because our technology has so rapidly outpaced our morality that we accept just about anything at face value, simply because it is possible.

In most cases of IVF, multiple embryos are created and introduced into the mother’s uterus, with the hopes that a few good ones will implant. The remainder who survive remain in limbo, kept frozen in a lab until their parents decide whether to implant, destroy, or donate.

Once inside mom, if too many “successful” embryos implant, the joyous event of a longed-for pregnancy is now marred by the dark shadow of “selective reduction,” aka abortion. The parents and doctors must now choose which of the baby(s) have the best chance at making it to term, and abort the remainders.

Do you see a common thread running through it all? It’s all about the adults. None of this is done for the sake of the children, or with consideration for the dignity – or the suffering – of the children.

Conceived in a petri dish, selected from an unlucky crop of frozen siblings, perhaps the survivor of an early abortion on other siblings…and finally, against all odds and many thousands of dollars and hours of pain later, brought into this world, on demand.

Loved, yes. But demanded, first.

Openness to life, we talked about earlier in this series, means openness to loss. But it can never mean intentionally causing the loss. It doesn’t mean going to any extremes to obtain life, to demand it and wrench it from God’s hands and fit it into our own script.

Is it fair?

Hell no it’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have children while some couples who don’t, can’t.

But life isn’t fair. And there are all kinds of sufferings and different-shaped crosses we’re asked to bear. It sounds so crazy but it really boils down to this: just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

Just because we can harvest sperm and egg from willing and desperate would-be parents, willing to shell out thousands for a baby of their own, doesn’t mean we should.

Just because we can create new human life in a petri dish, coaxing the requisite genetic material together and then discarding the chromosomal losers, doesn’t mean we should.

Just because we can implant a half dozen viable embryos into a woman’s uterus with the selective reduction of as many of 5 of them as the failsafe backup plan, does’t mean we should.

There are all kinds of things human beings are capable of. But not all of them are good. And in this case, as in so many others, the ends do not justify the means.

For couples who are suffering this incredible pain, the Church has a message of love and of mercy, and more than anything, of being a safe harbor where you can rest and not be further harmed, or cause harm yourselves.

IVF is a terrible poverty to the children involved, first and foremost. But it exacts a terrible price from their parents, too. No parent wants to willingly participate in the harm, destruction, or death of their child. It’s unfathomable. And yet we have this billion dollar industry, rushing grieving couples through their office doors and helping them to do exactly that.

There’s so much more that could be said, and much more eloquently, but this is long enough. 

There is no judgement here. Only truth, and sorrow, and a genuine desire to bring clarity to a deeply problematic and painful suffering that is rampant in our culture. 

The world promises relief from suffering through denial, manipulation, and force. But Christ says something different. 

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Easier said than done, right?
Click here for the rest of the series.


20 Comments

  • Reply Micaela Darr October 30, 2014 at 6:43 am

    Oof. Such a difficult truth, but truth nonetheless. You said it well. I am in your boat and will never fully know the pain of infertility, but I see it in loved ones and I see it in friends. Thank you for speaking on such a difficult topic.

  • Reply Mary Wilkerson October 30, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I find this stuff incredibly difficult to talk about. Not because I don’t agree with every word you wrote, but because we are talking about children, many many children conceived this way. And parent’s who cannot hear they have somehow done something wrong when they look at the faces of their children. I do wonder if the internets is the best forum to do this particular truth telling, because it is a truth telling that needs to be wrapped in so much gentleness in order to enable the people who really need to read the message, to hear the message. Because it is a REALLY hard message to read. It’s that thing with digital evangelization that I constantly roll around in my head/heart- what is appropriate and what isn’t? Maybe everything is? I don’t know. Anyway, that’s my two sense. Of all the reads that I have done on this particular subject, yours has been the most concise, which is good. But man, is this stuff hard.

    • Reply Jenny October 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      I agree wholeheartedly that the internet is an imperfect medium. My hope is always that by putting good information out there, it will find its way into the hands and hearts of people who need to hear it. I’ve had a lot of feedback along these lines, and, even better, from people who found a jumping off point for conversations they needed/wanted to have with their friends/spouses/etc.

      The best evangelization (and really, the only effective kind, as you know from your own incredible ministry) is relational. I don’t have a relationship with most of the people reading this, but hopefully, it can be a first step as they wrestle with and discuss and seek answers to hard questions. I just want to be an option on the Google search results, you know? I think it’s an imperfect ministry, but a ministry nonetheless.

      P.s. one of my friends is herself a product of IVF – one of the very first. She struggles with a lot because of it, not just physically but mental and emotionally. It’s fascinating and hard to hear it, and it’s a perspective that is almost entirely absent from the conversation about assisted reproduction: what about the children?

    • Reply Mary Wilkerson October 30, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      Yea, it’s really interesting. I spent years (literally six years) trying to figure out the best way to approach homosexuality in ministry, because it was obvious to me that people weren’t doing it right. People were either crazy pastoral with no truth, or crazy truthful, without a bit of tact. After praying for years, I think the Holy Spirit gave me a good formula, and it was only then that I began to teach on it in a public setting.

      And honestly, our teachings on sexuality are so hard to grasp because people don’t understand fundamental points about the human person…so homosexuality is tough to discuss, but IVF…I have NEVER seen it done well, especially in the digital forum. Your blog is probably the closest I have read to being a good balance of what is needed to preach this particular teaching.

      Isn’t that funny, with the internets, how the relational piece is so needed, and so lacking in the digital forum? I guess I just roll this around from time to time, how do we best approach that problem? I crazy give you kudos for what you are trying to do- I am certain I wouldn’t have the words or the ability to weave such complexities in love through the written word.

      It’s all just so very tough.

  • Reply Annery October 30, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    This is a really hard topic. As a secondary infertility sufferer, I agree whole-heartlessly with the Church and what you’ve written here. However, I think that a good voice to add to this mix would be someone who could speak from the same cross as the men and women suffering infertility (perhaps someone of primary infertility). It’s hard to hear these words, spoken with care and love though they are, from someone who carries a much different cross. God bless you and thank you for sharing the truth and a beautiful series 🙂

    • Reply Annery October 30, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      *heartedly obviously 🙂

  • Reply bibliophile October 30, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Jenny, you write so eloquently. As a couple who faced down infertility in our first several years of marriage, we know the heartache. We also knew that we could never do IVF for the reasons you state above. Enter NAPRO; thank God! Five years later, we have four beautiful children:) It is a wonderful path that you MUST explore if you are facing infertility.

    AND, why oh why does the Protestant churches never EVER address this?!

  • Reply Tia October 30, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    I am a bit curious how theologically the Catholic church views children conceived via IVF. Obviously they have souls and I’m sure are considered just as valuable as humans conceived the old-fashioned way. But if having children is viewed as a gift from God — i.e. God is the one who always makes that decision — then what’s going on in IVF? Is God sort of having his hand “forced” if you will, into ensouling individuals, or does that occur automatically if the sperm and egg meet? In Catholicism, doesn’t God make the ultimate decision of when to bring a new soul into being? And does that mean God is essentially going along with this process with the intention of bringing good from it, even if the act is sinful? I don’t mean to be combative or hostile, I am just genuinely confused.

    • Reply Ari Mack October 30, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      To answer your question, “Is God sort of having his hand “forced” if you will, into ensouling individuals, or does that occur automatically if the sperm and egg meet?”…God goes along with all kinds of acts that bring life into existence – some of them sinful (rape, incest, fornication, adultery) and some of them not. Life is a gift. God chooses to provide each life with an eternal soul, regardless of how they were conceived. To me, this is as true for IVF babies as it is for children conceived in rape. They are valuable, wanted, and loved by God, regardless of the sins of their parents. The soul they get from God is a gift to all humans.

  • Reply Lizzy October 30, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Are there any official (or unofficial) Church teachings on the children of IVF and how they should look at their own conception? I was an IVF baby (triplets, no frozen siblings thank God, but one little brother did die in the womb) and I understand the Church’s teaching and agree with it, but I’ve always wondered if there are any resources or advice for children conceived through IVF.

    • Reply Jen October 30, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      I’ve researched about this a little bit. I’ve found very little in the way of official documents addressing your concerns. Donum Vitae (can be found on vatican.va), which doesn’t address your questions about children specifically (if I remember correctly), would probably be the one of the best documents to read on this topic. The closest I’ve found to resources and research for children conceived through artificial reproductive technologies is this article. http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/Donor_FINAL.pdf It specifically discusses research findings about children conceived through donors. I don’t know if you’ll find this research helpful or pertinent, but I found it very interesting because their findings support and illustrate the Church’s teachings on why these technologies are harmful for children and families. Finally, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at Catholic University publishes a quarterly online journal call Humanum where they tackle issues related to marriage, family and the culture. This quarter’s issue is on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) and it is entitled “The ART of Reproduction: Reconceiving the Human Person”. http://humanumreview.com

  • Reply diana October 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Thank you for covering this! My husband and I went through all sorts of infertility testing a few years ago and IVF is what the doctors decided was our only answer. We told them we couldn’t because we’re Catholic, etc. and they didn’t understand why it wasn’t even something we’d consider. I’d love if we could get pregnant but know that is highly unlikely. We adopted a beautiful, wonderful, boy at 12 days old (now 19 months) and are just about ready to be listed for #2. There are other options.

  • Reply Ari Mack October 30, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Side note, BTW – the Church has always “believed” (or allowed their followers to believe) in evolution. In fact the man who came UP with the Big Bang Theory was a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître. Catholics have always had the option of believing in a literal creation (the so-called “young earth” theory), in evolution, or in some combination of God’s design and evolution. We aren’t fundamentalists, and we aren’t Darwinian evolutionists. If you’re getting this information based on the media’s interpretation of Pope Francis’ recent comments on evolution, then I’d advise you to probe deeper. Also, you can see Fr. Robert Barron’s video response to the Cosmos series, which made similar (ignorant) claims about the Church’s supposed opposition to science, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Sorry, a bit off topic, but I think it’s important.

  • Reply Ari Mack October 30, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for this series and this post!! I think most people don’t KNOW about NAPRO. They (like I used to) might assume that if it’s the Catholic alternative to IVF, then it might not work as well (because I used to think NFP didn’t work as well as contraception). ANYWAY – what I find fascinating and affirming is that NAPRO, like NFP, works with the female body and systems. It doesn’t shut it down or force a pregnancy on it. I am ASTOUNDED by the rampant ignorance of so many doctors who truly don’t know the slightest thing about female fertility, who prescribe birth control for any ailment (or none at all), and who are no help when it comes to infertility, so they push IVF. I also cannot believe that in the 21st century, more women aren’t learning about their bodies and insisting on better treatment. I hope that the “green sex” and “fertility awareness method” spreads and people begin to apply that to conception and enhance what is already there, rather than playing God and misusing both our bodies and our scientific advancements.

  • Reply Britt Fisk October 31, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Jenny, you are amazing. You have so eloquently tackled such a difficult subject! I love this and am sharing.

  • Reply Schafergal October 31, 2014 at 3:49 am

    Once again, brilliant post! Annery wanted the perspective of someone who has dealt with primary infertility. Here’s my (trying to be brief) story. I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks, then spent the next 3 years unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant again. We did the “traditional” testing, confused my OB with our Catholic stance on many of the procedures she recommended, and then very gratefully were tested and treated at Pope Paul VI Institute – the home of NAPRO. While NAPRO did not result in pregnancy for us, it did start me on a road of deeper understanding of my body and some health conditions I was dealing with. I was not pregnant, but felt SO much healthier. We proceeded to adopt a beautiful newborn girl, and 4 1/2 years later adopted a newborn boy, born one year ago. When he was 4 weeks old, I discovered I was miraculously pregnant! So now we have 2 babies, exactly 9 months apart to the day. God has a very funny sense of humor. I can say that through all of our struggles and our blessings, we have been so grateful for the guidance of the Catholic Church. Infertility is painful, but in my experience the love of God expressed through the teachings of the church was a balm on the wounds of infertility. He truly has amazing plans for us – much different than the plans I had for myself – but much better! I am who I am today (someone I really like!) because of everything we have been through. My marriage is stronger, my will is softer, my gratitude for my children immense because of our infertility and NAPRO experience.

  • Reply linda November 1, 2014 at 2:53 am

    an USA based woman who was barren for 27 years has delivered baby boy after reportedly being pregnant for 5 years.
    the woman Ana Zick delivered on Sunday at Evangelical church, during church service. Ana who is married to zick said her problem started after she had a miscarriage.
    she said she has been looking for the fruit of her womb since then, she had sought both medical and spiritual help but all seen to no avail, she try everything to make sure she got pregnant again but all her effort bring no good result, till one day a man introduce DROKOJIE to her, who can help her, the man gave her the the DR contact and Email and told her to try and contact the doctor and also have faith. the woman really did, before she noticed that she was pregnant but at the same time, she was observing her normal menstrual circles, she said she waited endlessly to deliver but all expectations was to no avail, this prompted her to relocate, her searching for solution brought her to the church where she eventually delivered a baby boy, according to her, those years were traumatic because he husband was under intensive pressure to send her always, i was rejected by my relations, my husband family who did not give me the chance of bearing a child, my only consolations was god and this doctor called DROKOJIEHEALINGHOME the man introduce to me that help me get the pregnant the first place.
    on how it happen, she explained that she noticed that water was coming out from her private part and she went to a room to check what was happening before she know it, the baby came out alive, she said she raised an alarm which attracted residents who trooped to the church in droves to see the woman and the new born baby.
    when the PM news reports to the place, residents were still visiting the church to congratulate the woman and her husband, zick who expressed shock on what happen.
    zick said he did not believe his wife over the years when she claimed to be pregnant because he had waited in vain, he said he was grateful to god and [email protected] for what he had done and thanked the well wisher for their support, she also advice everybody who had the same problem of getting pregnant or any others problem to please contact the man for help and have faith because that is the most reason she came out to shear the testimony to word.
    the same god that use this man to help me, will also use he to help you too.

  • Reply Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany November 1, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    This is a great post on a very difficult topic. As someone currently struggling with secondary infertility, I’d just like to add that there is an alternative that falls between IVF and NAPRO.

    As another commenter mentioned, it can be very difficult to access NAPRO services, because not many doctors practice this way. There is no NAPRO doctor near me. The closest is 1.5 hours away. And one of the NAPRO practices I contacted would not even allow me to make an appointment until I had four months of charting under the supervision of a Creighton instructor. So I tried to obtain instruction in the Creighton method only to have two of the three Creighton nurses I contacted never respond to my emails. The one who did respond invited me to come to a lengthy course she was offering. . . four hours away from where I live.

    So, NAPRO isn’t an easy option in some cases. It’s certainly not always as easy as just Googling a NAPRO doctor nearby 🙂 Fortunately, my experience with a fertility specialist has NOT been one of being pressured to try assisted reproductive technologies that I am not willing to pursue. Admittedly, my doctor did offer IUI to my husband and me at our first appointment. But after I informed her that I was not comfortable trying to make a baby without doing the act that is intended for making babies, she has not pushed such procedures again and has been good about working with me only using medications to hopefully help me get pregnant.

    That said, I did manage to get an appointment with a NAPRO doctor who doesn’t require the Creighton method in December, if I don’t get pregnant before then. I think NAPRO sounds great. But I just wanted to note that it’s not the only way doctors can assist in achieving pregnancy that follows the Church’s teachings 🙂

  • Reply 7QTs | Infertility Awareness Week | perfectlytara April 24, 2015 at 8:20 am

    […] are people – not things – meant that we were not going to be able to pursue most “secular” routes of fertility treatments. If we couldn’t heal my body and conceive in a way adherent to our belief system, we may not […]

  • Reply Therese June 24, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    Ah, thanks so much for the reference. Again, this really helps to get a better understanding of the whys. I hope you write more on this subject. If this isn’t a bother, do you have any articles specifically about surrogacy?

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