12-Part Series on Morality (Part 9: In-Vitro Fertilization and Artificial Insemination)

Although human life is intrinsically valuable, how we go about creating human life can be good or bad.  Feeding the poor is definitely good, but robbing a bank in order to feed the poor is bad.  Using science to end famine or malnourishment is good, but killing people to achieve this end is bad.  Further, nothing is wrong with using science to help infertile people become pregnant.  Doctors routinely prescribe medications and therapies to help people become pregnant.  These medications and therapies do not destroy the unitive function of the sexual act.  Artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and the like, however, do not assist the marital act, they replace it.  In these types of procedures, a technician becomes a substitute for the marital act, even if a husband’s sperm and his wife’s ovum are used.  Thus, the “technician [becomes] the principal cause of generation, acting through the instrumental forms of sperm and ovum.”[1]  This intervention turns the act of procreation into a mere act of reproduction.  With procreation, the unitive act of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife loves a child into existence.  With artificial fertility procedures, there is no unitive act.  Rather, a child becomes the end product of a series of actions in which people outside the marital bond manipulate the sperm and ovum to create a final product. 

Turning a prospective child into a product is illustrated by the following standard artificial insemination/IVF-ET (embryo transfer) procedure: technicians overstimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce several ova for fertilization by sperm, usually obtained through masturbation (another mortal sin).  Some of the new embryos are frozen in the event implantation and gestation fail.  It is also common to implant multiple embryos in the womb to increase the likelihood that at least one of the embryos will continue to develop.  If too many embryos develop, the “excess” embryos are destroyed.  Finally, embryos before and after implantation are monitored for defects.  If defects are discovered, abortion is used to kill the product.[2]  Thus, we get “the most efficient, time-saving, and cost-effective means available to deliver the desired product….”[3]  Even if the parents love their new child, and I’m sure they would, the fact is that the child began as product of science rather than as the fruit of its parents’ unitive act.  Many children who are created as a result of rape are loved, but that does not make rape good.

For more on IVF, read Catechism paragraphs 2373-2379.

[1] William E. May, Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life (Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor: 2013), 99.

[2] May, Catholic Bioethics, 97.

[3] May, Catholic Bioethics, 97.