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IVF may have brought joy – but it’s also brought misery and ended lives

With Sir Robert Edwards’s death we should still remember that ‘playing God’ brings problems

By on Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The IVF process Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The IVF process Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images

On Thursday April 11 the Telegraph published a long obituary of the late Professor Sir Robert Edwards – “Nobel Prize-winning IVF pioneer whose work attracted controversy but brought joy to millions.” Despite the widespread acceptance of his methods, the controversy has not gone away. The Catholic Church has always maintained that IVF – the in vitro fertilisation of sperm and egg to make a baby – is unethical because it undermines the dignity of the sexual act designed by God for married couples. Even typing this will raise an outcry among those who don’t think God has any place in their lives, for marriage, for sex or for babies. But it still needs to be said that there are disquieting features to the late Professor’s “pioneering” work.

Anthony Ozimic, communications manager for The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has done a very good critique of the obituary on the SPUC blog of 15. 4. 2013. He points out that “IVF has resulted in the ending of the lives of millions of embryonic children, outnumbering over 20-fold the number of children born following IVF.” Those who don’t regard embryos as human beings can live with these figures; for those of us who see the technique as involving the wanton destruction of human life on a huge scale, they are a sobering statistic.

The Telegraph obituary states that “early attempts [by Edwards] to fertilise eggs from ovarian tissue – using his own sperm – proved fruitless…” As Ozimic makes clear, sperm used to fertilise the eggs in IVF “is almost always obtained by masturbation assisted by the provision of pornography”. This again attacks human dignity. As Ozimic puts it, “Edwards’ activity highlights the violation of marital sexuality which is part of IVF.” Not only did it involve masturbation; the doctor was “trying to conceive children both outside of wedlock and via women (using their ovarian tissue) other than his wife.” You can begin to understand why the Church has very serious reservations about IVF and why it considers it unethical.

Edwards himself comes across as hubristic, proclaiming that human beings were now in charge of conception – indeed, they had replaced God; he stated, fatuously, “The Pope looked totally stupid.” This shows up his ignorance about the Church, as well as God; as Ozimic explains, “God works through His creatures to bring about new life; this is what is meant by “procreation”. This God-given power of human beings can be used in an ethical context (marriage) or an unethical context (IVF in the laboratory…).”

From a very human perspective, Ozimic’s critique is supported by an article in the Mail Online for by Samantha Brick. Aged 42, she and her husband have now undergone two failed cycles of IVF. She describes the “physical and emotional anguish” she experienced during “this roller-coaster of treatment” which was both “expensive and invasive”. She emphasises that IVF is an industry worth £500 million, a “business, and one which has a depressingly low success rate.” There were ongoing side-effects, physical and emotional. Significantly, Brick thinks that if the “carrot” of IVF had not been dangled before her, she would have undergone the natural grieving process of not being able to conceive and then adjusted and got on with her life.

She concludes, “I believe there are some things we simply shouldn’t meddle with – and artificially creating life is one of them.” Even more controversially, she adds “Not all women are destined to become mothers.” There you have it. Are we entitled to fulfil our dreams at any cost – and here the cost is very high, both for the adults involved and for the discarded human embryos – or, instead of “playing God” in Edwards’ offensive phrasing, should we take a long, hard look about what human dignity is really about, in terms of sex, marriage, fidelity and in pondering the possibility that “not all women are destined to become mothers”?

  • Kevin

    I think you are a little too apologetic in what is an excellent, if admittedly courageous, article (including Ozimic’s analysis).

    I would add that the frozen storage of embryos has the quality of a dystopian novel.

  • paulpriest

    insert the word ‘biological’ into that phrase Francis and I might agree…
    given the present vicious ideological dismissal of adoption as an alternative

    [even among misguided 'pro-lifers'] and a Church that is gravely negligent in its duties to the unborn on a wide variety of fronts [where previously they would have at least done something - even if historically shameful in its cruel actuation of the best motives]

    Support for pregnant women [married or unmarried]
    With adoption being available for those whom support would not be enough to sustain a family unit [with potential provisional biological parental recognition and visitation rights]
    SHOULD return to being a viable option…
    Yes – every amount of available support should be made available to help a mother keep their child but sometimes it isn’t enough and if no other provision is there? The abortion clinic is all too easy an option especially when bombarded from all corners by pro-death ideologies.

    When annual non-surrogate adoption of babies in this country can be in single figures?
    This is a scandal demanding Church intervention as a critical priority – even if it means significantly raising the financial and resource support of Good Counsel Network, Sisters of the Gospel of Life etc or adopting an England & Wales Winning Project and taking the fight for lives to those who never want to kill their child but feel they’ve no other option -especially when everyone around them is telling them it’s for the best…

    …and although I’ve said it a thousand times already on here…it remains a savage indictment upon the Church of England & Wales that there is no national Church-run, led and funded Catholic Pro-Life organisation when we can squander millions on all manner of less-imperative initiatives, programmes and vanity-projects.

  • Michael Petek

    The line I take is that IVF and other methods of artificial (manual) human reproduction consists in that a human being, by his work of hand and brain, makes another human being.

    If you licitly make something – or someone – then for that reason you own it (or him/her). If Dr Steptoe and Professor Edwards acted licitly in making Louise Brown, then she is not only a person, but also – and in equal shares – a hereditament in the deceased estates of these men. In other words, she is rightfully their slave.

    What is the control of human fertility (by contraception or IVF) but the power to create a human being? To whom could this power lawfully belong but to God alone? This consideration leads to the conclusion that a human being who covets the control human of fertility does not only break the Ten Commandments. He attacks the unique dominion of God in its very foundation, a matter analogous to the high treason of compassing the death of the Sovereign.

  • nebeneinander

    the Catholic church’s perverse opposition to something that has made many many many parents immeasurably happy is nothing short of wicked.

  • James M

    IVF is a sin against the virtue of justice – as Teresa Iglesias pointed out in 1990:

  • Frank

    Anthony Ozimic’s analysis also makes the case that for couples having difficulties conceiving the Billing’s Method can be successful. Just a question but how comfortable are children produced via this procedure at knowing that they were selected at the expense of potential brothers and sisters? Is there any research into this?

  • James M

    “You can begin to understand why the Church has very serious reservations about IVF and why it considers it unethical.”

    ## Does it have reservations about infanticide, murder, and other such delights ? The question answers itself. IVF is a sin – as Teresa Iglesias pointed out in 1990 in a book for the Linacre Centre. One may “ha[ve] very serious reservations about” all the wisdom of doing all sorts of things that are perfectly moral and good & Christian and worthy of praise – but this is an evil that calls for outright rejection.

  • Percy_Fleur

    As a married man who, along with my wife, sincerely wanted children, but have not had the good fortune to have them, I respectfully disagree. The destruction of life which IVF entails is a price which not all of us are prepared to pay for our own happiness.

  • ZuZuLamarr

    IVF has caused endless heartache for couples, almost bringing many to divorce and financial ruin.
    To some women, it becomes an obsession.
    The Roman Catholic Church sees the bigger picture – even if many don’t or refuse to.

  • Francis Miville

    Enough is enough, technology has now gone, with genetic intervention and manipulation, beyond the point after which I can now work only evil. The cause of science is now one together with that of anti-natural sex, such as gay marriage and homo-parenthood, once such forlorn children are adopted at zygote age. All this must be prohibited at once by us humane humans, otherwise darker and sterner forces, such as those of radical Islam, are about to carry out the godly command with grosser tools. In any case this is just the starting shot for the beginning of an anti-science backlash as hasn’t been witnessed since Renaissance.

  • Francis Miville

    Not all women are destined to become mothers, even the most fertile ones biologically simply don’t have the credentials so to speak, it should be considered a trade as grave to embrace as medicine or war. One natural genetic sign one is rather called by God to chastity and some kind of contemplative life is having definite homosexual tendencies, as the modern world loves to interpret them, for grace alone, not nature, can complete the call as to make it one towards such a life of purity and pure fraternal, non-erotic love of one’s equals (agape).

  • $24570317

    The Church has been led into this blind alley as a consequence of its history.
    It must know the absurdity of the present teaching, but, as with some other traditional teachings and attitudes, it sees it as too difficult and risky to change them except through a long process of slow, slow evolution.
    I hope the Church does not miscalculate and misunderstand the new risk, to which this approach is likely to give birth.

  • Micha_Elyi

    …every amount of available support should be made available to help a married mother keep their her child…

  • paulpriest

    ..and what happens to unmarried pregnant women?
    Banished to the prison isle of Rura Penthe?

  • Sashabelle

    Im Catholic and don’t regret undertaking fertility treatment at all. I have a bright healthy son who is worth the treatment. Its my decision and what i choose to do with my body is no other humans right for comment. I thank God for being able to conceive via ivf…

  • Percy_Fleur

    And what exactly is the “new risk, to which this approach is likely to give birth”? (Great choice of words, by the way; really quite appropriate.)
    The only risk which the Church is running is that of upsetting the people who want licence to do whatever they want and on their own terms. You don’t need to worry about the Church miscalculating. She knows very well what she is doing.

  • Sharon

    I appreciate Samantha Brick’s honesty, and her accurate assessment that IVF has a “depressingly low success rate”. I hope people will help NaPro technology become more well known. Dr. Hilgers in Omaha at the Pope Paul VI Institute has developed a method that treats the underlying conditions that hinder fertility. His work is completely ethical and has a much higher success rate that IVF has at allowing couples to have children. It does not involve the creation of embryos that eventually are either destroyed, given away, allowed to die or used in experiments. Please look into this technology, encourage your OB/GYN to become familiar with it, and especially share it with couples you know who are experiencing infertility.

  • Sharon

    Is it your body being frozen? Is it your body being discarded? I have no doubt that your son is wonderful! But the risk to him and to any siblings conceived at the same time is far too great. Every child conceived by IVF is wonderful yet massive numbers of those wonderful children are discarded or experimented on. That’s not your body we’re talking about.

  • enness

    Friends, the Church does not guarantee our earthly happiness — in fact, quite the opposite. Need a better example than the crucifix?

    One must always be prepared to ask, “At what cost ‘happiness’?” The source of our joy as Catholics ought to be the knowledge and love of God, His justice, His mercy, and His truth; using a child to fill some void in our lives, without which we think we will not be ‘happy’ is extremely problematic.

  • Anna

    First – English is not my mother language. So I apologize
    for my language-faults.

    Some arguments of the catholic church:
    1. “First, it has no guaranteed success”: For many
    things in life – there is no guaranteed success. Did I miss the point?

    2. “IVF costs a lot of money”: Aha – and if I’m buying
    a big car and spend my money for holidays – I’m an egoist as well? So I’m an
    opportunist because I spend my money for children? And instead of investing in
    my career – I’m looking after children? What an egoistic attitude?

    3. “About 30% of IVF patients experience at least a
    mild case of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome”. Not true? Serious? Oh my
    good. In the past – actually relatively seen not long ago – it was common that
    women died in the “childbed”. I mean – think of our grandmothers? Did
    they not have children? And what is with circumstances like 1st world war or
    2nd world war. Did people not have children because it was a dangerous time?
    Nowadays we have other problems to solve – pollution, decreasing fertility and
    so on… Things change…. But children are still important. And parents do all
    for their children. (Like it was always and like it would probably always be).

    4. “However the truth is these embryos are mostly
    unused.” 30% of all pregnancies result during the first 3 month in an
    abort, because nature selects very hard. Thats also the reason why things like
    “down syndrome” is so rare (1:2’000 ore something like that). Somehow
    - nature shows as when we are in a “selection process” and when the
    development of a new life has priority. Women often even don’t know the first 3
    month (in case of an abort), that they were pregnant. It is important to
    discuss those issues. It seems to me not reasonable to take extreme positions.
    You don’t experiment with an 8 months old fetus. And you don’t protect a Sperm.
    (We are not god – we hare humans who have to solve problems).

    5. “Another real concern with IVF is the physical and
    emotional cost”: Actually same argument again as above. In my opinion -
    thats ridiculous . Normally – they say that people are to egoistic and selfish.
    (Career, power, material things)… And no they say that people are investing
    too much in something like children. Really a strange argument.

    6. “Rather, the power of life is entrusted to doctors
    and biologists while the couple is effectively reduced to providers of physical
    matter and mere observers.” Such a nonsense can only write someone who has
    no experience at all. And – the argument is “contradicted”. Above
    they say that parents invest probably too much and no it is an outsourcing
    thing??? (Probably I mist the point again).

    7. “The Church understands the great suffering of
    sterility”: No – actually – they have no idea.

  • Anna

    Such an approach is not practical. There are no relevant risks associated with IVF. And it is also not a respectful way to pass live.
    Who are you to forbid parents to have children? There are many other categories we could discuss:
    1. Children from poor families vs. children from rich families
    2. Children from parents well educated vs. non educated families (by the way – thats also the reason why it is not so simple to accuse people having children to late. Having children with 20 and no money and no education is also no solution).
    3. Children from parents with cancer vs. no cancer in the family
    Should I go on?

    If we talk about responsibility – who at the end will have children? We are confronted with the problems of our time – the only thing we can do is to solve those problems with the instruments that are given to us.

    And the catholic church is a closed system of power. They are in charge with their internal problems. They don’t care about problems in the real world.

  • Josiah

    It’s a shame this article is so biased. Would have been great for my essay.