Please pray for the repose of the soul of Lesley Brown, who died in the UK on June 4th after a brief illness. Lesley Brown is better known as the mother of the first “test tube baby”, Louise Brown. Technically Louise was not conceived in a test tube, but I guess it does sound better than “petri dish” baby. This is in no way meant to minimize Louise or question the love and commitment of her family.
What does the Church say about assisted reproductive technologies? Directives 38-42 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services state:
38. When the marital act of sexual intercourse is not able to attain its procreative purpose, assistance that does not separate the unitive and procreative ends of the act, and does not substitute for the marital act itself, may be used to help married couples conceive.
39. Those techniques of assisted conception that respect the unitive and procreative meanings of sexual intercourse and do not involve the destruction of human embryos, or their deliberate generation in such numbers that it is clearly envisaged that all cannot implant and some are simply being used to maximize the chances of others implanting, may be used as therapies for infertility.
40. Heterologous fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve conception by the use of gametes coming from at least one donor other than the spouses) is prohibited because it is contrary to the covenant of marriage, the unity of the spouses, and the dignity proper to parents and the child.
41. Homologous artificial fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve conception using the gametes of the two spouses joined in marriage) is prohibited when it separates procreation from the marital act in its unitive significance (e.g., any technique used to achieve extracorporeal conception).
42. Because of the dignity of the child and of marriage, and because of the uniqueness of the mother-child relationship, participation in contracts or arrangements for surrogate motherhood is not permitted. Moreover, the commercialization of such surrogacy denigrates the dignity of women, especially the poor. Doesn’t leave too much available does it? Drugs regulating ovulation are permitted as are surgeries to correct physical dysfunction.
Some ethicists believe that the money spent on assisted reproductive technologies would be better spent on the leading causes of infertility, i.e., diagnosing and treating sexually transmitted diseases. Social justice would lead us to consider the plight of women of color and those who occupy the lower rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. These women suffer from infertility at greater rates than their white, more affluent sisters.
In 2010, 58,727 babies were born through IVF in the U.S. Janice Evans, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is quoted in the aforementioned article, “It’s remarkable to think that if you look around a preschool classroom, a big chunk of those kids may have come from IVF.” I think this is a bit disingenuous. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates there are 7,701,024 children aged 3-4 in the US and of these 49.3% attend preschool, or about 3,795,049. Please feel free to correct me, but my calculation puts this at about 1.54% of students in preK in 2013. I don’t think this qualifies as a “big chunk”. Of course, calling this number a “big chunk” does allow us to believe that ART is more prevalent then it is, thus normalizing it.
Do we have a right to have children? A right to ask for or even demand access to ART? Rights are categorized as either negative or positive. A negative right is a right to be left alone, or to not be interfered with. I, or the state, cannot interfere with your decision to have a child or remain childless. A positive right is a right of entitlement, I or the state have an obligation to assist you. A positive right might be the right to a public education through the 12th grade. Conception is not a positive right. Individual infertility does not interfere with the continuity of society as a whole nor is infertility something that requires correction.
Unlike a nonfunctioning kidney or poorly functioning heart, infertility does not shorten your life or impact your ability to function productively. It is certainly painful and heart-wrenching to be infertile or have a loved one struggling to conceive a much wanted child. And those who struggle would say that those of us who have not cannot have a true understanding of this pain and suffering. What are your thoughts? If you have experienced infertility, how do these directives speak to you?
I’d like to thank Jen for hosting 7 Quick takes. It is a blessing to be included and a pleasure to visit so many other blogs. Have a great weekend!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!