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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Family Planning and Fertility Procedures

As a follow up to my post this week, “Politics and Pro Life”, I thought I’d confront something of a problem within official (?) Catholic doctrine that is indirectly related to the pro-life issue they brought against Republicans and their budget that disfavored the poor. This alleged contradiction of a consistent pro life position makes an important distinction of anti-abortion rights versus pro-life as a whole in terms of overlapping but distinct principles, since consistent pro-life usually implies also being anti capital punishment and anti war to a great extent. But now we confront an issue that’s deeper with Catholic family values and how technology can conflict with it at times.

The article’s author says that he and his wife feel condemned after an incident where another couple’s embryos were mixed up with theirs and a difficult decision was made to give the child up to their genetic parents. The process of in-vitro fertilization was how this problematic set of circumstances came about, but I certainly don’t see it as a problem if they were willing to give up the child. But the Catholic diocese the article’s author belonged to called what the family had engaged in morally unacceptable. It’s ironic since one can argue, as the author does, that he and his wife were actually trying to advance their family and affirm the sanctity of life at the same time. This is a twofold issue: 1) the couple was trying to expand their family through different means, since, as explained, they are infertile and have had no success through normal routes, and 2) they chose not to abort the fetus because it happened to not be their biological child and was instead another couples’. This is another choice of dual import; since first, they didn’t abort, which affirms the value of life in Catholic doctrine, and secondly, they valued the wishes of the family who wanted a child themselves and carried that child, willingly giving it up, with some trepidation.

The reason the Catholic Church opposed this practice by any Catholic family has roots in old doctrines that say, in simple terms, that children should be conceived in natural ways, not through any procedure that negates the conjugal act. This is also why they oppose birth control, as this disrupts the natural act of sexual intimacy that produces a child under normal circumstances. With this family in question, they had two children, either from a previous marriage or from their present one (or possibly adopted). The church had two potential lines of attack here: 1) The couple could be said to be ungrateful to God for the two children they already have; or more directly 2) They were trying to usurp God’s natural order by using science to have a child through means that were actually more practical and would also advance their family, as Catholics tend to be called to do (you know, have as many kids as humanly possible?) The author agrees with Catholic doctrines concerning abortion and the like, but this singular opposition to IVF as a method for conceiving and bringing a child into the world is a source of deep opposition on personal and moral grounds.

I cannot sympathize either as a Catholic or a father, but as a human being, his insights and observations are spot on. There is no reason the Catholic Church seems to be opposing this except to maintain a status quo of their tradition and teachings on the issue of fertility and the correct ways to have a child. But, like many would observe, this seems an unjustified pressure of the Church to its adherents for conformity to their teachings even against advice that would appear to benefit their overall cause. They are, for lack of a better expression, missing the forest for the trees. In emphasizing strict obedience to such antiquated and narrow ideas about how a child should come about, they exclude many still valued children that could come about through uncommon methods. The issue of rape or incest is not pertinent here, since, as I understand it, Catholics tend to permit abortions in these extenuating circumstances. But with a couple that is infertile, Catholics suddenly oppose any methods that might help them add to their family, merely because it isn’t the “natural” way.

In general, one shouldn’t prejudge an entire group on any issue, like Catholics on IVF’s moral permissibility, because of isolated incidents like this, but allegedly this is official doctrine and would require more effort to change this policy in the Catholic Church. If anything, the best argument is that this is depriving infertile couples of a chance to do what God supposedly ordained them to do, have sex (in the bonds of marriage) and conceive. But since they can’t do that, God apparently forbids them from using science that God also supposedly had a big hand in and conceive a child artificially. It’s not as if the child is less valuable in God’s eyes, so why oppose it except for what amounts to a mechanical view of human sexuality and extended functions, such as family? There’s no real reason, except that stereotype that Catholics are afraid of change. If anything, they seem threatened by changes through technological advances, but, (from what I understand) are not always threatened by change, but are for the most part, as evidenced from their activism against the Republican budget, a group that tries to spur change, at least when it synchs with their overall pro life position. This issue isn’t seen as very important, and even though I tend to shy away from activism on these issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other Catholics that have these sympathies. Perhaps the Anglican Church would welcome them into their church, mirroring the Catholic Church taking in Anglicans not happy with the permission of gay marriage in the denomination recently. It wouldn’t be a bad solution, if Anglicans have no problem with IVF. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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Moral status of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).: An article from: Catholic Insight

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