The morality of in vitro fertilization

North Texas Catholic
(Jun 21, 2024) The-Shepherds-Corner

A gloved hand picks up one of many frozen test tubes, illustrating the number of unborn children stored away as spares.   (iStock/TopMicrobialStock)

Recent court cases in Alabama and here in Texas have reintroduced conversations into the public forum about the dignity of human embryos who have been conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) but remain frozen awaiting implantation into the body of a woman that they might be carried through pregnancy until birth. On Feb. 16, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the frozen embryos were persons allowing parents to claim civil damages for the deaths of their children if the embryos were to be destroyed in the IVF clinic. The court also cited a 2018 constitutional amendment passed by the State of Alabama that says, “It is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.”

In Texas, the law banning nearly all abortions that went into effect last September after the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision defines an unborn child as “an individual living member of the homo sapiens species from fertilization until birth, including the entire embryonic and fetal stages of development.” Both the Alabama and Texas laws and subsequent court cases have prompted legal and moral considerations of the process of IVF and whether frozen embryos should be treated as persons or property.

While these issues might appear to be new to contemporary courts and legislatures, they have been addressed with sensitive and pastoral reflection by the Catholic Church for many years. In 1987, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (now known as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith — DDF) published the Instruction, Donum Vitae. This document considered the various procedures involved with IVF considering the moral teaching of the Church regarding the dignity of the human person and the principles of natural law. The document considered such varied issues as surrogate motherhood, the harvesting of embryos for the purposes of experimentation, and the morality of IVF itself. The teaching presented in Donum Vitae has been further developed in subsequent papal encyclicals and teaching documents, including most recently Dignitas Infinita, promulgated by the DDF on April 8.

The reasoning of the Church regarding the issue of IVF and the human embryos brought into being through IVF is that IVF mistreats the dignity of the personhood of the embryos conceived. Embryos are human beings and unborn children. IVF also mistreats the dignity of the biological mothers and fathers of these unborn children and the dignity of the adoptive mothers and fathers because the technology of IVF replaces the human relationship of the marital act between one man and one woman as designed by God for the just and respectful procreation of human life. IVF invites third parties into the intimate marital relationship while exploiting the emotions of couples naturally desiring to conceive and welcome children into their family.

IVF, because of financial costs and the high possibility of failure involved with implanting a frozen embryo within the body of a woman, requires the conception of more than one embryo, which goes beyond the number of embryos that a woman could safely carry through her pregnancy. This places an unfair distinction between implanted embryos and “spare” embryos who are frozen in case they are “needed” as replacements in case of miscarriage.

As the conversation about the morality, legality, and advisability of IVF continues in our courts, legislatures, and public discourse, it is important for Catholics to realize that the Church teaches that unborn children brought into being through IVF, frozen or implanted, are human beings to be accorded the same respect and rights of any other born or unborn child and should never be treated as property. We should also remember that the strong and natural desire to conceive and have children that married couples experience when sadly frustrated by infertility should not be emotionally or financially exploited by the false promises of IVF clinics who incorrectly but sincerely claim that a couple has a right to a child on their own terms.

dignity of human embryos, in vitro fertilization, IVF, pregnancy, Alabama Supreme Court, frozen embryos, sanctity of unborn life, rights of unborn children, right to life, trending-english