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No one wants to talk about the morality of IVF

We, too, are complicit in this silence when the question comes up with friends and we say nothing

By on Friday, 13 July 2012

Embryos are placed on to a CryoLeaf ready to be frozen (Photo: PA)

Embryos are placed on to a CryoLeaf ready to be frozen (Photo: PA)

One of the aspects of the Coalition’s drive to legislate for same-sex marriage which should cause deep uneasiness is the fact that artificial reproductive technologies (ART) will necessarily be involved if such couples have a wish for children; people of the same gender cannot have babies together. In the summer edition of Humanum, the quarterly review of the Centre for Cultural and Pastoral Research, there is an excellent article by Michael Hanby, entitled “Begging the Human Question”, which carefully and sensitively explains why ART does damage to a couple seeking it, to the children thus conceived, and to society in general, which not only approves these procedures but prevents any real debate about their morality.

Hanby’s article was prompted by the decision to award the Nobel Prize to Robert Edwards, the British clinician who developed in vitro fertilisation, “a procedure now responsible for the birth of some four million children worldwide and a sine qua non for contemporary redefinitions of family independently of sexual difference and biological motherhood and fatherhood”. He makes it clear that those conceived through ART, usually by IVF, are “no less a child, no less a gift – and thus no less worthy of his life or worthy of love – than a child conceived through procreation”. He also recognises a couple’s natural longing for a child and their suffering when this longing is unfulfilled.

The question for Hanby is whether ART involves an “original violence”, harmful both to parents and children thus conceived. He points out that the technology turns babies into artefacts to be engineered, “fragmenting the unity of the person into affective and ‘merely biological’ dimensions”. As well as this, separating the unitive and procreative dimensions of love “divides and reduces the persons who undergo IVF”. When embryonic life is merely “matter to be controlled, selected and worked upon”, it leads inevitably to the creation of multiple embryos, cryopreservation, embryo selection and embryonic research. He concludes: “Contrary to the loving intentions of parents who undergo these procedures, IVF and similar techniques insinuate into the act of conception a multi-layered act of violence.” They also make sexual difference and marriage incidental to the definition of family.

Hanby points out that IVF parents can find themselves “haunted in retrospect by unanticipated anguish over the fate of their ‘spare’ embryos”, and mothers in particular worry about the long-term impact of ART on the health of their children. He says: “It is difficult to acknowledge the violence inherent in IVF without feeling at the same time the need to repent of what no parent should ever be asked to repent of, namely the child that she loves more than she loves herself.” Unable to face the anguish of such questions, everyone involved in ART joins a conspiracy of silence so as not to raise them. We too, are complicit in this silence when the question comes up in conversation with friends and we say nothing. I once tried to do so, and the woman in question marched out of the room and refused to speak to me again.

As Hanby indicates, children born of IVF also experience doubt and confusion: what about their “spare” siblings who were not “selected” for implantation? What about siblings sacrificed through selective abortion – or kept alive in a state of limbo through cryopreservation? There is also the bewilderment when “the daddy’s name is donor” and when IVF is undertaken for single women, those of same-sex orientation, where a surrogate is involved or where a “global baby” has been assembled. What about “lineage, kinship and descent”? The author speaks poignantly in place of the child when he asks, “Who am I – what am I?” when all these relations have been circumvented and made superfluous by technology. To bear the pain of such questions you either have to avoid them altogether or you “will have to find the grace to confront and transcend this original violence”.

A friend once asked a priest: “What do you say to children born of ART who can never know their father?” The priest replied: “You have to help them come to know that God is their father.”

I have only briefly summarised here the themes of this important article and urge readers to check out Humanum for the whole of it. The questions it raises are pertinent to us all.

  • JessicaHof

    Good questions on a neglected topic.

  • daclamat

    And geriatric celibates should mind their own business.

  • Bob Hayes

    You are neither challenging nor amusing. Time maybe to grow up?

  • paulpriest

    This is an extensive ethical minefield and one which will confront the Church head-on over the next decade.
    When we have so many contravening Castii Connubii, Pius XII’s allocutios & Humanae Vitae in their ‘new-defence of Catholic morality’…
    …we’re now in a situation where GIFT is seen as acceptable [and promoted by moral theologians as well as senior clerics]
    ..where NFP is no longer seen as contraception by omission in recourse to the double-effect for the primary intention of having a more secure natural family – but as a good-in-itself [hence along this train of thought - by default - there is something 'lesser 'ordered' ' in the lovemaking of the infertile/menopausal!!!]
    …where the ethics of the beginning of life and the notion of personhood is being compromised to the extent that post-conception stages are being used as determinants for the beginning of life [e.g. implantation or genetic holism] – opening the doors for the evils of ANT & OVA – the genetic modification of gametes to form non-developmental zygotes/concepti that can’t implant or develop brain tissue [thus - the arguments go - are readily available for experimentation!!!]

    …then there’s the crunch factor round the freezing of embryos and their legal destruction after a designated time period, or court decrees ordering their destruction after a civil divorce or the death of a spouse, or the simple destruction after a couple decide they don’t want any more kids or decide to give up the IVF procedure…

    how do we stand on surrogacy for these frozen embryos?
    e.g. an australian convent offered its young sisters’ wombs to bear the children to prevent their destruction and save their lives…

    spuc leadership ave already spoken out against this…as has Luke Gormally and other leading moral theologians & ethicists….

    …but that isn’t Catholic teaching – although we may not commit a direct evil no matter what the end or the intention -  in the critical juncture of a moral dilemma we have recourse to an intrinsic morally disordered act [surrogacy] in order to prevent an objective evil occurring [destruction of embryos]

    Interpretations of Catholic teaching…?

    We already have certain ‘individuals’ arguing that contraceptives aren’t contraceptives if there’s a prophylactic intention…
    …what happens when instead of childhood vaccination to prevent disease the child’s genetic make-up is altered to form a chimera where plant or animal DNA is incorporated to provide natural immunity or enhanced atributes?

    where are the great moral theologians?
    where is all the literature?
    2000 yrs of Catholic moral teaching – yet take a look on amazon & you’ll find most of the book lists hijacked by Curran & McCormick!!!

    take a look on Ignatius Press – they don’t publish any comprehensive book on ethics or moral theology

    go to the cathedral bookshop and the majority of the stuff in the moral theology/ethics section should be burned!!

    When it comes to our own moral education – and the lack of moral educators – we’re in trouble!!

    I’d love to go off-issue and discuss what’s happening at the moment re the LCP & our so-called illustrious ethicists..but it’ll have to wait…


  • theroadmaster

    IVF is the technical instrumentalisation of both the mother and the human embryos which are implanted in her womb.  They are all victims of an industrialized, conveyor belt process, with a finished product(s which is/are viewed in wholly, scientific, materialistic terms with the humanity and spiritual aspect of the growing child/children in the womb omitted from the debate.  This mindset seems to characterize the terminology that is employed to describe the application of ART.  The children who are conceived as a result of such techniques, are in danger of being viewed as possessions or trophies, rather than as concrete signs of God’s Providence, to be loved for their own sake.   Couples often enter into the traumatic business of IVF with the best of intentions, but the long-term moral,, physical and financial costs,can have devastating consequences for them. 

  • JRMartyn

    Do you, therefore, reject in-vitro fertilisation and pre-implantation genetic testing when they are used to prevent the transmission of genes that predispose to breast and ovarian cancer?

  • Nesbyth

    I agree and I read the other day of a young woman conceived by IVF who has asked to find out who her father is.
    She was told that she shouldn’t be asking such questions and “that she was lucky to have been born” …
    When she said it was her human right to know her parentage (genetically. if for no other reason) she was again denied any facts…..maybe there was no record of her father, but she said that she and other IVF children have to face this sort of attitude; there is no sympathy with her situation or the many other IVF children.

  • Therese

    Absolutely.    For starters, this is an imposition of human will over the will of God.   It is also a technology that ultimately sacrifices humans in the search for “perfection.”   This is all part of an extensively growing selfish mind-set.
    Remember, not every act of sexual intercourse results in a zygote.   Not every naturally conceived zygote continues to grow to full development.  God allowed a specific living sperm cell to fertilize a specific living ovum.  God maintains life in all living things as He desires.
     Each human being is the direct result of having been loved into existence by our Creator.   Who, then, are we to decide that God made a mistake and any individual shouldn’t be allowed to exist?!?!?!?

  • Parasum

    For those interested, the Linacre Centre published a book with the title “IVF and Justice” some years ago.

  • Tracyspenst

    What I never hear anyone discuss is how the children of donors will even know if they’re marrying a half-sibling or not?  I know a couple who used donor sperm for one of their children, but have no intention of ever telling the child. He could easily marry his own sister when you consider how many children such donors end up fathering.

  • Parasum

    “For starters, this is an imposition of human will over the will of God.”

    ## Is it that, or, is it a God-given technology ? And how does one decide ?

    Would it not follow that the objection quoted applies to organ transplants, artificial limbs, and all drugs other than those made using purely natural ingredients ? By what right do we allow ourselves to use prosthetic limbs in order to repair damage done to ex-servicemen; or design anti-convulsants for epileptics, or antibiotics for hay fever sufferers; or have medical procedures to remove cancerous organs ? Maybe those who regarded Simpson’s use of ether in childbirth  as contrary to & forbidden by Genesis 3, had a point.

    At what point & for what reasons do the permissible artificialities of medical & pharmaceutical practice end, and the impermissible artificialities of those practices begin ? Is it even possible to draw a clear line between the two ?  If so – on what principles ?

    “Who, then, are we to decide that God made a mistake and any individual shouldn’t be allowed to exist?”

    ## The problem there is that that question is compatible with the position that X is justified by being the case. Someone holding such a position could argue that, if a child is born with a degenerative condition, the degenerative condition would not happen apart from Divine Providence; therefore, it is sinful to attempt to remedy the condition. It would be presumptuous even to make the attempt. Why should someone presume  to seek to remove an illness God has in His Wisdom seen fit to send ? So, the practice of medicine is inherently sinful and unnatural; true Christians will accept being ill, and will not attempt, relying on their own reason, to alter (in themselves or in others) a condition that God, Who makes no mistakes, has brought about. 

    I can’t imagine any Catholic holding that position. No Christian could so without having to explain away the miracles of healing in the gospels. But how does it differ from (to quote the OP): “reject[ing] in-vitro fertilisation and pre-implantation genetic testing when they are used to prevent the transmission of genes that predispose to
    breast and ovarian cancer” ? Logically, your position seems to amount to, or to be based on,  some kind of fatalism.

  • Parasum

     This may be of interest:

    - which has moved to

  • whytheworldisending

    There is a difference between a gift and a purchase. Both – in their own way – may be loved, but one is received with humility and gratitude, and cherished as irreplaceable.

  • Elaine

    Don’t be deliberately obtuse. Accepting divine providence in the creation of imperfect beings does not preclude treatment of conditions, it only precludes ending a human life because he or she may at one point face cancer or some other malady. 

    The line is clear as day if you choose to see it. The fact that 90% of Down’s babies in the US are killed in the womb shows that many, many go out of the way to deny the existence of the line in the first place.

  • whytheworldisending

    “Is it that, or, is it
    a God-given technology? And how does one decide?”

    We may regard healing,
    that does not involve harming another, as Gods’ will, since it follows the
    example of Jesus, even if it involves human ingenuity. Of course it goes
    without saying that the exercise of human ingenuity must not itself go against
    God’s Laws.

    “At what point & for
    what reasons do the permissible artificialities of medical & pharmaceutical
    practice end, and the impermissible artificialities of those practices begin?”

    It is not “artificiality”
    per se which determines whether a practice is acceptable or not. The wilful destruction
    of human life by human beings is wrong, and the consumerisation of human life
    by human beings is wrong. You cannot serve God and Money, and IVF is at the
    service of Money, not God.

     “Who, then, are we to decide that God
    made a mistake and any individual shouldn’t be allowed to exist?”

    The question is not
    whether God is mistaken, when human beings kill spare embryos.

    When you say that a “degenerative
    condition would not happen apart from Divine Providence,” you oversimplify.
    Remember the parable of the darnel – Divine Providence includes not destroying but
    patient nurturing so that all may be saved.

    “Logically, your
    position seems to amount to, or to be based on, some kind of fatalism.”

    You seem to confuse faith
    in Divine Providence, with “fatalism.” Remember the parable of the mustard
    seed. It can only be what it is, but give it freedom of choice, a stack of
    cash, and ideas above its station, and where would we be?

  • C_monsta

     Speaking of which, I meant to ask you: if God does not create or control natural disasters, why would a God of love allow the resulting extreme suffering caused by these events to continue?

  • JessicaHof

    I’ll be sure to ask Him when I see Him.

  • C_monsta

    indeed – it just doesn’t make any sense does it? Whatever the quality of waffle, the plain facts are there to see.

  • JMunro

    Ok, that’s enough. get upstairs and clean your room!

  • LocutusOP

    It seems as though you ought to devote time to this issue and write a book yourself (and I don’t write that with any sarcasm intended).

  • JessicaHof

    Why should it ‘make sense’? Does everything in your life make sense? Who do you blame for it?

  • C_monsta

    It doesn’t make sense that people believe in a ‘God of love’ when so many need and have needed his help so desperately, yet he doesn’t appear to have helped anyone in the last 2000 years

  • JessicaHof

    Really, no one – well either you are right and it makes no sense, or you are wrong and millions believe because He does help.

  • C_monsta

    Please give examples of his help

  • JessicaHof

    A 37 year old man I know, who is dying of cancer, is sustained by his faith, and is not only serenely looking forward to meeting his Maker, he is providing all those who know him with an example of how to face death. He is one of many whose faith inspires me.

  • C_monsta

    It must be terrible to be facing death at such a young age, and it would seem that a belief in a wonderful ‘afterlife’ would help greatly in dealing with such a position. But what you are relating is how this man’s belief of God helps him to cope with his illness – as it does to the dying people of all religions.
    Have you heard of the placebo effect? Research has found that the more ritual involved in administering the treatment, the more effective it becomes.

  • JessicaHof

    Indeed, but who are you to say it is a placebo effect? This man has been deeply religious all his life, and for him it is going home. You asked, I answered.

  • C_monsta

    I asked you to give me an example of God helping someone, but all you offered was an example of the belief in God helping someone.

  • JessicaHof

    Yes, and if God was not there helpin him …?

  • C_monsta

    God is not helping him – it’s his belief that there is a loving God and a wonderful afterlife waiting that helps him. I’m sure this sort of belief helps people of all religions.
    Can you not give me a clear example of God helping someone?

  • JessicaHof

    I just did, and it seemed not to fit your preconceived view. What did you have in mind?

  • C_monsta

    no you didn’t. As you must be well aware, I was after an example of God actually, directly helping some one – not an account of individual’s notion of a god and an afterlife giving them solace.

  • JessicaHof

    What you were after and what God provides seem to be different things.

  • C_monsta

    I’m just after an example of what he does!
    So all God is is a reassuring and inspirational belief? You admit he doesn’t actually DO anything to help?

  • JessicaHof

    What He has done is to redeem us all through Christ, which brings eternal life to all who believe in Him. Is that not enough – what do you want, magic tricks too?

  • C_monsta

    Did magic tricks finish after Jesus left us? It was the last time God intervened?
    So there you go! He doesn’t do anything to help all those millions of his children who so desperately need his help – now and throughout the history of humankind. Not really the loving God you speak about, is it?

  • JessicaHof

    Well if you think giving all who believe eternal life is nothing, fair enough. When you discover what you have rejected, it will be too late, but that will be your problem for always being right – in your own opinion.

  • C_monsta

    I don’t say I’m right – I’m questioning your claims of truth.
    I have no good reason to believe in eternal life – especially from what we learn about the mind from neuroscience. And going by the way the loving God doesn’t do anything to help all those who desperately need help in this world, I wouldn’t expect too much of the ‘afterlife’ if I were you.

  • JessicaHof

    What has neuroscience to do with eternal life? If that is where you place your faith, you will gain the insights it offers, but asking it to say anything about eternal life is like asking your washing machine to explain why it exists. I have already explained to you the comfort millions get from God’s presence in this world, but you, poor thing, appear to need magic tricks and not love. Well, so be it. In the afterlife we shall know – if I am right, then I shall know – if I am wrong, neither of us will be any worse off; but if you are wrong – well, you can blame it on your faith in neuroscience. Good luck with that.

  • C_monsta

    Those of faith always seem to keen to accuse others of their own follies i.e. I do not place my ‘faith’ in neuroscience. Do you think science in that area is bogus, while in other forms of medicine clearly it is not? Or avionics for instance?
    Research of how the mind works has shown demonstrably how our personalities are created by the physical/chemical activity of the brain, so if there is an everlasting ‘soul’ how would it resemble what we consider to be us – our consciousness?
    You have told me of the comfort millions get from God’s presence in this world – but most of those believe in different gods to the one you believe in. You also admit that God does nothing to help anyone on earth – not even those who desperately need his help, until they get to the afterlife, where it will be wonderful for eternity, but only for the right thinking Christians, and certain selected other people who have ‘faith’.
    If God gave me my brain, then he should be pleased that I’m making better use of it than certain others.

  • JessicaHof

    You brought neuroscience into this. My point is that it has no part to play in the discussion of eternal life. When neuroscience explains how Christ rose from the dead and how so many saw Him, then it can play a part, until then, not.

    No, I have never admitted God does nothing to help, quite the opposite. His presence in our lives is a huge help in so many ways.

    You may, one day, find what God thinks of your decisions.

  • C_monsta

    You may, one day, find that God doesn’t think at all, as like the rest of nature, and that there is no purpose for you life but life itself, and that the afterlife is just a product of wishful thinking and human vanity.
    How do you explain how your consciousness can be taken to exist in such an afterlife? More magic I suppose? – a magic version of the evolved, earthly human brain, which functions in the same way but is magic and eternal?
    Your perception of God’s presence may be a help in so many ways, but as we seem to agree, He doesn’t actually DO anything does he?
    You seem to imply that God will think I’m bad for making these points, and will want to punish me.

  • JessicaHof

    If you are right, then there will be no ‘me’to know anything, so I shall be no worse off for it. If I am right, well, best of luck, you’ll need it. No, God will not punish you, by separating yourself from His love, you will be punishing yourself. You make a choice, you live with it – forever. You will then get the answer to your question about how the self continues to exist.

  • C_monsta

    “If you are right, then there will be no ‘me’ to know anything, so I shall be no worse off for it” indeed – so you have nothing to worry about. But I’m not saying that IS what will happen (like what you do), but that it appears to be what will happen. But if I do get to experience God, and he is wonderful and lovely, obviously I won’t choose to separate myself from his love.
    As I think I must have told you before, if God does exist, then of course I’m extremely interested in him. What we believe depends on what we experience through living our lives. We cannot choose what we want to believe if it goes against our own reasoning. Surely God would be aware of that?

  • JessicaHof

    Younreally ought to read more than that one book. You don’t get to choose after death, you make your choices in this life. You have plenty of opportunities to acquaint yourself with His teaching and you choose not to.

  • C_monsta

    Do you really not understand? It’s not a choice, as I can’t pretend to believe that which appears to be so clearly contrived.

  • JessicaHof

    by your own admission you’ve spent little or no time studying this topic from Christian sources, so how you can be so sure it is all contrived, who knows?

  • C_monsta

    There is so much to learn about in life, and I find reading quite difficult. But Christian sources are written by Christians, and I want to test my reasons for thinking it’s all contrived. So far everything indicates to me that it is, and I’m sorry to say that my discussions with you have only reinforced this view.

  • JessicaHof

    What you are doing is confirming your prejudices. If you try to find out the truth about anything by reading what it’s enemies think, you will get only one side of things. This is the usual problem with atheists, and I am sorry to say your attitude confirms it.

  • C_monsta

    Then you are wrong, as I am asking you, not atheists – that’s the whole reason why I am asking you!