“What is common is a eugenicist mindset and some core actions, including the discarding of human beings at the embryonic stage who fail to be chosen for gestation,” he said.
“It is difficult to cogently describe all the consequences of such practices,” Brehany said. He said some have argued that support for people with Down syndrome is undermined because genetic tests result in targeted abortion of unborn children with the chromosomal condition.
Regarding IVF, the American public once was morally skeptical. Most Americans opposed in vitro fertilization according to a 1969 Harris Poll, but in 1978, after the birth of the first baby conceived “in vitro,” over 60% supported the procedure, the Science article said.
Brehany said it is “certainly a challenge” to convince Americans and even many Catholics that in vitro fertilization is morally wrong.
“IVF has become acceptable for several reasons,” he said. “It is a laboratory procedure in which the full implications of the immoral actions involved can be hard to appreciate. Those who suffer from infertility are desperate to overcome it. And those running the IVF clinics can draw upon everything from noble motives to effective advertising to make the practice appealing.”
Brehany said that the ethical principles behind Catholic objections to IVF include that “it separates the origins of human life from the setting designed by God — the environment of consensual, committed marital love of a man and woman.”
“There is no better place for a child to come into being and develop,” he said.
“Moreover, IVF has increasingly been separated from marriage itself — through practices such as the commercial trade in human gametes and making assisted reproduction available to non-married persons,” Brehany objected. “Once outside this supportive structure, many other considerations take precedence over the dignity of human life and love, from ‘success rates’ to costs to personal preferences.”
Brehany encouraged Catholics to work to “better understand the power of the Church’s teachings and what really takes place within and as consequences of the IVF industry.” He recommended the use of “moral imagination” to help make people more aware of the relevant ethical problems.
“In the short term, however, perhaps the most effective strategy will be to more effectively present the teachings of the Church on life, love, and fertility or infertility during marriage prep,” he told CNA.
Brehany said that Catholic teaching allows genetic editing in some cases.
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“Some genetic editing of human beings is certainly acceptable in principle, although it is still somewhat limited in practice,” he said. The Catholic Church has long defended the validity of “well-designed genetic interventions.” Among these, Brehany listed the introduction of functional copies of some genes, or the silencing of other dysfunctional genes, in the body of a person with a genetic disease.
“This would be an extension of the therapeutic mission of medicine,” he said, provided this does not turn into genetic engineering.
“The Church has rejected efforts to genetically engineer human embryos or future generations, in particular to enhance some people to have advantages over others,” he said.
In a 2022 statement, the European Society for Human Genetics has called predictive embryo tests “an unproven, unethical practice.” It recommended banning the tests until regulations are developed, MIT Technology Review reported.
It is difficult to prove whether the tests work. Even today, accurate predictions of a newborn’s health risks cannot be evaluated until decades from now.
Meyer, a co-author of the Science article, told MIT Technology Review that the Federal Trade Commission should monitor the advertised claims of embryo testing companies.