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IVF remains ‘gravely immoral’ despite increase in births

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Bill and Melody O’Connor of North Sioux City are birth parents of two sons. They prayed for more children, yet were experiencing difficulties in conceiving.

“Desiring to follow the teachings of our Catholic faith, we turned to the gift of adoption,” Melody said of their decision to adopt their daughter.

However, research and statistics are revealing more couples than ever are seeking out technologies that will enable them to conceive.

Particularly, couples are turning to in vitro fertilization to build their families, despite the fact the position of the Catholic Church is that children should be born as the result of intercourse between a man and a woman who are committed to each other in the relationship of marriage.

In 2012, more than 61,000 babies were conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, according to the most recent statistics from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

The U.S. agency posted on its website that number means IVF babies make up 1.5 percent of the 3.9 million births in the U.S. Although that may not sound like much, those numbers make 2012 a record year for IVF births.

Faulty ethics

On the surface, it may seem like a win/win for all. A couple wants a baby. This procedure could make this happen. Sounds logical.

“This is a not a matter of logic,” explained Paul Ermak, assistant professor of philosophy and theology at Briar Cliff University, Sioux City. “Whether the end justifies the means is an ethical issue.  The moral system accepted by the church rejects the notion that a good end justifies a morally objectionable means.”

Ermak pointed out the church’s position has the support of St. Paul in Romans 3:8, “That would be the same as saying: Do evil as a means to good.  Some slanderers have accused us of teaching this, but they are justly condemned.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states artificial reproduction techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person (such as IVF) are gravely immoral. (CCC No 2376).

Church law/natural law

Father Gerald Feierfeil, a retired priest of the diocese who previously was a member of the medical ethics board at Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City, explained much of church law is based on natural law.

“When it comes to procreation, animals reproduce, human beings ‘pro-create,’” he said. “We are drawn into a partnership with God into creating human life.”

Therefore, you cannot separate the nature of life from the intimacy of a marital union, Father Feierfeil stressed.

“The integrity has to be there,” he said. “It is not meant to be a chemical process or scientific experiment. A child should be the loving union of husband and wife in partnership with the act of creation.”

Ermak agreed with that assessment and pointed to a good amount of research which indicates a child born to a loving married couple is the situation that, on the whole, best promotes the welfare of children.

“That position requires that children be conceived as a result of intercourse,” he said. “At least part of the reason is that when children are conceived as the result of technology, we have a greater input into their making and are more likely to think that we have the same rights over them that we have over other things that we make.”

Not an absolute right

Most people acknowledge children are a gift, but others say children are a right. Ermak noted the church acknowledges children are an important human good, but the church also says that having children is not an absolute right.

“In particular, the welfare of the children that would be conceived in particular circumstances or by particular means can trump the rights of parents,” he said.

Steve Pallone, M.D., of Sioux City cited Mother Theresa who said "God created us, man and woman, in His Image and God is Love. As such we are created essentially for two purposes – to love and be loved.”

“When considering the question of children, if you are doing it for your own sake instead of the sake of the child or child-to-be, you are not loving that child, but are using him or her for some other purpose to satisfy yourself,” he said. “That might be a good time to reevaluate your motivations.”

Unfortunately, Pallone admitted the best medical science available does not allow every couple to achieve pregnancy, even including IVF.

“This is particularly devastating to couples wanting children or more children and deeply affects their sense of self worth, both as women and as men,” he said. “Adoption costs are similar to IVF costs and it is worth considering sharing the mutual love of a couple with those children as if they were your own.”

Embracing adoption

It was a choice the O’Connors embraced.

“We feel that adoption is a beautiful gift since ‘technically’ we are all adopted children of God,” Melody said.

The O’Connors felt adoption is a beautiful gift because it involves unconditional love.

“No greater action shows and expresses this than when one enters the adoption process with an open heart,” Bill said. “So, it could be said that adoption allows us to spread our love in a way that goes beyond ourselves.”
The O’Connors mentioned that in today’s society it is easy to find yourself dictating “your family plans,” to God rather than trusting in “his plan,” whether that call be for biological children and/or adopted children.
Furthermore, the O’Connors believe, “There is no distinguishing between our biological children and our adopted child, as they are both born of the Grace of God; one of your womb and one of your heart.”

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