Infertility and the Catholic Church

As physicians, we are taught that to alleviate one's suffering is our most noble gift and certainly, infertility is one of the greatest hardships one can face. Many methods of Artificial Reproductive Technologies (ART) hold the power to alleviate this burden and fill the void for a couple facing infertility. Thus, the stories; the men, women and children; and the intensity of the pain experienced by our patients pull us in many directions. Therefore, it is so easy to understand why even the most ardent of Catholics face difficulty when trying to accept the Church's teachings pertaining to the bioethics of infertility treatments.

"Thanks to the progress of the biological and medical sciences, man has at his disposal ever more effective therapeutic resources; but he can also acquire new powers, with unforeseeable consequences... Various procedures now make it possible to intervene not only in order to assist but also to dominate the processes of procreation. These techniques can enable man to 'take in hand his own destiny', but they also expose him 'to the temptation to go beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature'"

Donum Vitae (1987)

To help us appreciate the Catholic perspective, we must look at the soul-searching and scientifically-sound written instructions, Donum Vitae (1987) and Dignitas Personae (2008). Both documents examine specific medical interventions and provide a direct answer to the question: "Is this act licit with regard to Natural Law?" During the times we waver when a heart-breaking story convinces us to compromise these teachings provide an objective path to follow, allowing us to regain a moral perspective.

This is not to say that the Church's response is without emotion, compassion or understanding of the sufferings of man. In many ways, by placing The Passion as the cornerstone of our Faith, the Catholic Church understands suffering in a more perfect way. The Church not only acknowledges the role it has in our salvation, but also understands that our ignorance may encourage us to more highly position the healing of one aspect of our being while forsaking another we may chose to heal our bodies without understanding that, possibly, the meaning of this adversity was to more fully integrate our intellect and will to those of God.

Thus, even though the Church aches with the sufferings of a couple facing infertility, it must base its moral directives on objective fundamental principles principles that do not change over time, situation or place. After reading Donum Vitae and Dignitas Personae, we can conclude that with regard to the bioethics of infertility, the following holds true:

  1. All life begins at conception and deserves equal dignity to all other human beings: "the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality. The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception."

  2. "Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person." "The child has the right... to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents." Thus, any act that assists in the conjugal act is considered morally licit, where those acts that replace the conjugal act are considered morally illicit.

From these conclusions, it is apparent that many of the methods of ART are in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. However, it must be stressed that no child is a mistake. The Catholic Church may discourage the use of many of these methods, but there is no doubt that each and every child, regardless of how he or she came to be, is a true gift. And just as these lives are cherished, the Church positions all individual lives above all else. Thus the Church only endorses infertility treatments that respect the dignity of woman and man, respect the dignity of the sexual act, and respect the dignity of each child, regardless of how far developed, that is brought to life in the process.

Click here for pdf version of Dignitas Personae or Donum Vitae.

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