The U.S. bishops have approved a document regarding the moral use of reproductive technologies for couples struggling with infertility yet desire to have children. The document, titled “Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology,” examines the procreative and unitive aspects of marriage which lead to the creation of children, and analyzes how technology can be used to assist infertile couples.
The document begins by declaring that “in marriage, man and woman are united to each other, body and soul, through a loving physical union.” This union, they explain, is essential to the creation and raising of children.
However, the document continues, simply because the desired end is good, that of having a biological child together, it does not justify “every possible means.” Thus, means of treating infertility which involve third parties, those who donate eggs, sperm, or embryos, or those which make use of another woman's womb to carry the couple's child, are immoral because they violate the unitive aspect of the marital union, “just as its unitive aspect would be violated by sexual relations with a person outside the marriage,” says the document.
The use of donors is also harmful to the third parties, as “fertility clinics show disrespect for young men and women when they treat them as commodities, by offering large sums of money for sperm or egg donors with specific intellectual, physical, or personality traits.” Such cash incentives encourage the donors to abuse the gift of their own fertility and often jeopardize the lives of the women through egg-extraction procedures.
The document also addresses treatments which do not involve third parties, yet are still immoral in their separation of the sexual act from the procreative act. This is why, the bishops explain, substituting the technical procedure of using a syringe to deliver the husband's sperm to the wife's uterus cannot be morally justified.
“Children have a right to be conceived by the act that expresses embodies their parents’ self-giving love; morally responsible medicine can assist this act but never substitute for it,” the bishops state. Therefore, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is also not morally justified, as the procreative act is not performed within the loving context of marital relations.
Additionally, IVF procedures often create extra embryos, which are often frozen indefinitely, disposed as laboratory waste, or used in further medical experiments, despite the fact that each embryo represents a complete human person. Alternatively, IVF procedures feature high mortality rates as well as the moral and psychological pain of “selective reduction” which chooses to abort one or more babies if more than the desired number of embryos take hold inside the womb.
The document highlights the fact that “male and female bodies are made to be able to procreate together.” It states that the use of treatments which help the body function as it should are morally acceptable. Thus, “hormonal treatment and other medications, conventional or laser surgery to repair damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, means for alleviating male infertility factors, and other
restorative treatments,” as well as natural family planning (NFP) techniques are encouraged for infertile couples.
Ultimately, no one, not even IVF clinics, can guarantee the gift of children to a hopeful couple. Their suffering “should call forth the sympathy and support of others and of the whole Church,” the U.S. prelates write.
The bishops also cite Pope John Paul II, who said, “To couples who cannot have children of their own I say: you are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world.” (Homily at Mass for families, Onitsha, Nigeria, February 13, 1982).