The Hard and Sad Stuff about IVF

Perhaps you’ve heard about a flap and a ban of a certain fashion house by a certain musician about IVF. (Interesting…all the individuals in this are homosexual.)

Here’s what the Catholic Church has to say on the subject:

2373    Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity.163

2374    Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly. “What will you give me,” asks Abraham of God, “for I continue childless?”164 And Rachel cries to her husband Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”165 (1654)

2375    Research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged, on condition that it is placed “at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God.”166 (2293)

2376    Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other.”167

2377    Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.”168 “Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union…. Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person.”169

2378    A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.”170

2379    The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others. (CCC 2373-2379)

I’ve suffered infertility, both primary and secondary. Obedience has been not only difficult but painful. Particularly when I see fellow Catholics talk about IUI, IVR, surrogacy etc as being compassionate to those suffering the cross of infertility or pregnancy loss or both. Because I know that pain from separating oneself willfully from God’s will. Perhaps not through those means, but I still know how painful that feels.

For me, though, IVF raised questions for me before I even delved into exactly why the Church taught it was wrong. Questions like, “are rich people the only ones with a ‘right to a child?'” Or “what about the couples who go through all the procedures and still end up childless?” “Why are we so eager to kill one unborn child rather than give it life?” “What about the extreme multiple situations?” “What about the left over embryos?”

I know people who have pursued the gamut of infertility treatments. Their results are a mixed bag. But one thing they all believed, was that it was their “right” to have a child. No one could deny them that right. Unless, of course, science completely failed them. And for many of them, God, in a way, was responsible for their plight, so they did not owe Him any obedience. Well, God was responsible, but perhaps that’s because His divine will is far superior to our puny human will. And while God will work and does work through all things and conditions…that’s no reason to flaut His will outright.

Ironically, it is the “rights” of the parents that are used to justify both artificial pro-creation, artificial birth control and abortion. In all that, the rights of the child are ignored. What about the embryos that are never implanted and later destroyed? The children who were the “back-up” plans if you were. Where are their rights? Oh, that’s right they are objectified and “owned” as such. What about the child who is “reduced” in order to give his sibling the “right” to live? Or simply because the parents did not want a second or third child. The parents in their rights, acted as judge, jury and executioner in deciding which child should go and which child should live.

And even in seemingly happy cases, there are unforeseen problems. Remember this case? The out of work single-mom thought that surrogacy was the solution to everyone’s problems. A couple gets a baby and she is able to feed her children. But when the chips were down, when the child had special needs and the “parents” didn’t want her, she ceased to have any rights. Only the woman carrying her fought for her. And then there was the additional complication of the biological mother not being the biological mother. Look, regular old pregnancy is complicated enough, but this is what we have wrought with our insistence that everyone “deserves” a child.

And it also makes me wonder how many children conceived via IVF (surrogacy or not) are aborted because of birth defects and potential disabilities. A recent episode of Jane the Virgin (where the premise is Jane went in to the doctor for a pap smear and was artificially inseminated in error with the only sperm sample of a cancer survivor) showed an ultrasound where Jane and Rafael’s unborn baby had what is known as an echo-cardio focci…a white spot on his or her heart that could be a possible indicator of birth defects. One of my children showed an echo-cardio focci on an ultrasound. That child was born with autism. When Jane’s mother delicately asked her if she would consider aborting her baby if an amniocentesis revealed complications, Jane was resolute, she was going to do the amnio to better prepare as a mother if she had a special needs child and so that she and Rafael could together line up specialists etc. But many parents are not as open to giving birth to a child they painstakingly planned if he or she is not perfect. When a recent study showed an uptick in incidences of autism and cognitive and intellectual disabilities in children conceived via IVF and ICSI the report was very careful to list only the children who were born. We have no idea the number of parents who were given any variety of bad news from an echo-cardio focci to a triple scan result or nuchal fold test and decided to abort. That number has the great potential of being very high.

I do not think of those who chose IVF as bad people nor of their children as wrong or defective. No human life is wrong or defective. As a pro-life woman, I believe that with every ounce of my being. But I do think we need to stop kidding ourselves and saying it’s all roses and rainbows. No, there are some very serious consequences in many ways. God never intended that everyone who should want to become a parent would. Yes, there are beautiful stories as the face of artificial conception but there are many untold stories of loss, pain, confusion and profound sadness attached as well. I know well the cross of inferfility. I know the pain of seeing others having babies when you do not. I have known the profound sense of loss in a miscarriage. And I don’t wish it anyone. But I do hope that people will not see infertility as a punishment or betrayal from God and therefore seek to take matters into their own hands. I pray that all will know God’s love and mercy.