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Holy Unsatisfying

Posted by Ken Mosesian on with 2 Comments

A colleague and friend wrote to me a couple of days ago, asking if I was in Rome for the conference on treating infertility hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

While I’m extremely flattered that someone thinks I have that much power, I’m under no illusion that the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), especially in-vitro fertilization (IVF), will be changing any time soon.

I always try to look for common ground with those with whom I disagree, and initially I found some. Father Renzo Pegoraro, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life, spoke of the importance of infertility prevention. This is an issue that Path2Parenthood has been advocating for years.

Our infertility prevention handbook has been extremely popular, and we’ve spent the past three years touring the country, discussing the very same topics that Father Pegoraro points to: maternal age, the effects of smoking, alcohol, nutrition, exercise, and the importance of preventing sexually transmitted infections (and other infections), as well as the role of stress.

So far, so good.

At the conclusion of the conference, Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement reaffirming the Church’s opposition to IVF.

He spoke of a concern for “the logic of profit” which he stated dominated the field of human procreation. The Pope also said “The Church is attentive to the suffering of infertile couples,” the Pope told academy members, “and her concern for them is what leads her to encourage medical research.”

But then he added “Temptations leading scientists to offer unacceptable infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization include “easy money or, even worse, the arrogance of replacing the Creator.” 

The press picked up on the use of the term “arrogant” and stated that the Pope had used that term to describe those who use IVF. To be fair, he did not.

But for many, it did not matter. If I’m using a technology that the Pope describes as replacing the Creator, by extension, he is speaking about me.

He continued by stating “that community of love and life which is marriage, represents the only worthy ‘place’ for a new human being to be called into existence.”

Again, I think of single women who may have been abandoned after becoming pregnant, and who choose to carry their children to term. I think of loving LGBT couples and singles, and straight singles, who desire to have a biological child. How must it feel to be told that you did not call your child into existence in a “worthy place.”

Perhaps most significant is the effect on children born as a result of IVF. The best you can construct from all of these statements is “You’re worthy, but you were conceived in a manner that is sinful and unethical.” It’s really hard to find comfort in that.

I can hear some readers murmuring “would the author please get to the point!”

The point is the issue of ART is beyond complex. It touches religion, morality, finance, family, sexuality, sexual orientation, marriage, sex selection, abortion, and much more.  

Yet in my six years of working in this field, I’ve never met anyone who used IVF to create their families to be anything but humble and deeply appreciative. I have never known amyone to enter into this lightly, but rather with the greatest of care, thoughtfulness, and in many cases, prayer.

 If I did have the power to “talk some sense” into the Pope, I would ask only one thing of him: to err on the side of pastoral care.



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David Hickman Feb 29, 2012 8:44pm

If the Pope and the Catholic church were truly "attentive" enough to encourage "medical research" then they would not be so hypocritical as to not let women use it. We have medical advances that can truly help women have a child but since it is in the realm of IVF, it is not allowed or condoned. In fact it is ruled immoral by the church regardless of the good intentions.

Ken Mosesian Mar 2, 2012 6:42pm

David - thanks for commenting. There are multiple pieces at play for Catholic theologians, not the least of which are the significance of the conjugal act and the disposition of embryos. You raise an interesting point, regarding good intentions. It seems a case can be made that the greater good could be served by helping a woman to have a child.