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IVF leaves hundreds of thousands of embryos abandoned

A medical worker puts a test tube with a frozen embryo into cryostorage. Thousands of embryos are frozen each year.

by John Rziha
Special to The Leaven

Last week, Part 1 of this series explained how in vitro fertilization (IVF) causes the baby in the embryonic stage to be treated as a product and not a person created in the image of God. As a consequence, these tiny persons are treated like property, manipulated and even destroyed to fulfill another’s desires and discarded if they no longer serve their function.

Hence, millions of embryos are killed each year, and thousands more are frozen. Hundreds of thousands of these frozen embryos are further abandoned with very little chance of living a happy life.

For a variety of reasons, very few people have understood the carnage that accompanies the IVF process. Hence, there are many devout Christians who have participated in IVF, not knowing it was wrong. I want to affirm that those who have participated in IVF in the past without knowing it was wrong are often people that love human life and God a great deal.

Furthermore, those who were conceived through the IVF process are also truly loved by God and their parents. Their parents went through a lot of pain, expense and trouble to bring them into the world, and the immorality of the process does not remove and diminish their goodness as children of God.

However, what if IVF is done so that embryos are not killed and abandoned? Would it still be wrong?

In other words, what if the sperm was directly injected into the egg, only one or two embryos were created at a time, and then they were directly implanted into the fallopian tube? Furthermore, the mother would agree not to have a selective abortion if she was pregnant with twins. Would IVF still be wrong if extra embryos were not created, discarded, frozen or aborted? The answer is that it would still be wrong.

God created an ordered world where everything has a purpose, and because God is loving, when we perform actions that fulfill our purpose, we are fulfilled and truly happy.

Hence, to determine the morality of IVF, we must ask the question: “What is the purpose of the sexual act?” The wisdom of the church teaches that the purposes of the sexual act are procreation (having and raising virtuous children) and unity (communion of the spouses from a complete gift of self). The sexual act must always be ordered to both of these purposes, which work together for the benefit of the couple and possible children.

Hence, the Ethical and Religious Directives state that reproductive technology can assist the sexual act but “not substitute for the marital act itself.” If reproductive technology replaces the sexual act, the procreative purpose of the sexual act is separated from the unitive purpose.

Based on this principle — that the marital act can be assisted but not replaced — we can judge that many uses of reproductive technology are allowed, but many are not.

Actions like the use of fertility drugs and use of Napro technology that assist the marital act are allowed. Actions like surrogacy, heterologous artificial insemination and IVF are not allowed because they replace the sexual act with a technical procedure that violates the dignity of the sexual act and treats the embryo as a product.

It is not wrong to use technology to help attain pregnancy; what is wrong is the use of technology in a way that violates the purpose of the sexual act and thus disrespects the dignity of couples and children.

The Catholic Church recognizes the extreme suffering of infertile couples and encourages them to use technology to obtain pregnancy. However, technology can only be used to the extent that it corresponds with God’s purpose imprinted on human nature. As in all cases of using technology, the first question is not “What is technologically possible?” or “What means can accomplish my deepest desires?” but, rather, “What does it mean to be a human person created by God, and how can we use technology to fulfill our purpose of loving God and others more effectively?”

Replacing the marital act with a technological procedure does not correspond with our purpose. The next article in this series will talk about how to accompany infertile couples.

John Rziha, Ph.D., is a professor of moral theology at Benedictine College in Atchison.

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The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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