JUNE 1, 2018
In their desire for a child, couples who struggle with infertility sometimes turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF). The rapidly growing industry that provides IVF offers fulfillment of a couple’s dream of becoming parents. For some, the dream turns into a nightmare after multiple IVF attempts fail to produce a child. Torn between cycles of hope and heartbreak, these couples suffer from the effects of what Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City recently called a “God crisis,” which he described as “the most serious crisis” facing our country. As Archbishop Naumann highlighted, when we sever our relationship with God and reject His plan, we view people as things.
How is in vitro fertilization a rejection of God’s plan? Consider the process: the mother’s eggs are collected from her ovaries, fertilized by the father’s sperm in a lab, and the new life is implanted in the uterus. In the words of Robert Edwards, one of the scientists who created the first “test-tube” baby 40 years ago, “I wanted to find out exactly who was in charge, whether it was God Himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory.” His answer: “It was us.”
It is admirable when couples seek to overcome infertility, but not all acts are morally acceptable. Many couples are unaware of the Church’s teaching that IVF is wrong. The creation of the child in the laboratory eliminates sex as the means of procreation. It is in a loving, sexual union that God desires to gift a husband and wife with biological children. This is essential for respecting both the fullness of the love the couple is called to, as well as the right of the child to be conceived from the physically-expressed union of loving parents. With IVF, couples “take charge” and view the child as a thing that achieves their goal of having a family, rather than as a gift bestowed according to God’s will.
Contrary to Edwards’ words, God is in charge. It is truly God who lovingly created the world and all of humanity and, in every moment, holds us all in existence. Our attempts at controlling life and death are as old as Adam and Eve, who freely chose to act as if they were God.
Sold a bill of goods by fertility clinics, women have increasingly begun to tell heartbreaking stories of mourning their children who were conceived but later destroyed or permanently frozen from IVF. Recent stories detail the sadness and anger of parents whose frozen embryos and eggs were lost after a power loss caused the unexpected thawing of freezing tanks. Some are turning to the Church for help after they discover the realities of IVF.
How do we remain faithful to the truth but merciful toward those who mourn children lost to IVF? We respond by acknowledging their loss and expressing our sympathy. We always affirm the goodness of children conceived through IVF. Consider that it may be more appropriate in educational settings to make the crucial distinction that IVF is morally unacceptable.
Those struggling with the unfulfilled desire to bear a child might find solace and guidance in the prayers of the Church and Scripture. In the Nicene Creed we profess faith in the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life…” In Galatians, we see the Spirit creating physical life, but also bestowing grace and spiritual life (Gal 5:5). St. Paul speaks of hope, of waiting with endurance, and of the “groanings” of mankind as we wait for our ultimate fulfillment—union with God (Rom 8:26).
Let us pray for all who mourn their children, for those struggling to conceive, and for God’s plan for creating life to be accepted in our hearts, our families, and our culture.
Mary McClusky is Assistant Director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.