You’ve heard the maxim, ‘Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences.’
In my estimation, Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges (2022)i is rife with bad ideas. This 530-page volume collects the Proceedings of a 2021 interdisciplinary study seminar that was held in Rome under the sponsorship of the Pontifical Academy of Life.
One of the goals of TEL authors is to initiate a dialogue between different opinions on life issues.
After reading TEL, I decided participation in a public conversation over its ideas and proposals is a matter of necessity not discretion. Previously, I addressed the medical and moral errors of paragraph 172 of chapter VI—the authors’ proposal on contraception.ii
Here, I attend to the same in paragraph 173 where, contrary to Church teaching, TEL argues it is morally licit, under certain provisos, for infertile couples to use homologous techniques of “medically-assisted procreation.”
That is, TEL maintains it would be morally acceptable for a couple struggling with infertility to use the reproductive technique of in vitro fertilizationiii if they avoid: (1) the production of spare embryos (clinicians transfer all petri dish-produced embryos to the mother’s uterus), (2) donor gametes (they use their own [homologous] egg and sperm) and (3) surrogacy (the infertile woman gestates her baby/ies).
The flawed ideas behind this TEL proposal?
First, they contradict assisted reproductive medical facts.
In paragraph 173, TEL contributors claim that, when a couple choose to resolve their infertility with IVF using their own egg and sperm,
the [homologous] technique works as a kind of therapy that makes it possible to repair the sterility . . . by permitting procreation.” [italics TEL].
But this is absurd. Since the technique fails to resolve the underlying factors causing infertility, a couple who go through a round of IVF—and achieve a pregnancy—are as infertile after the process as they were before. In fact, should they want to conceive a second child, they would have to undergo another cycle of IVF.
TEL authors declare that IVF does not replace sexual intercourse. This is patently false. The man masturbates to obtain semen; the woman’s eggs are aspirated from hyperstimulated ovaries and these gametes are brought together in a petri dish in a lab. IVF unequivocally replaces the conjugal act.
Paragraph 173 blithely approves (and implicitly encourages) the use of IVF without even a footnote defining its possible risks: multiple births, premature delivery/low birth rate, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and ovarian cancer.
Paragraph 173 fails to acknowledge the decades-long fertility research of Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers.iv His versatile, universal system of women’s healthcare, NaProTechnology, includes protocols that have helped couples around the globe diagnose and treat the underlying causes of their fertility, so they can more readily conceive a child naturally. All accomplished in full accord with God’s plan for procreation, and in full respect for the inextricable link between conceiving their baby and their sexual acts of unitive love.
Second, the ideas behind paragraph 173 deny the full truth of the marital act of sex.
Insistent that IVF does not artificially separate procreation from sexual intercourse, this TEL proposal contradicts the reality that procreation is in se ordered to the couple’s sexual act of unitive love. The couple’s personal act of love—not an impersonal lab technique—is the one context worthy of procreating a new human life with God.
Third, these ideas fail to fulfill the demands of justice.
As God brings everything into being out of his radical self-giving act of love, so, too, ought the life of a baby come to be as the result of his parents’ bodily act of self-giving love. Couples who resolve their infertility with NaProTechnology embrace the truth that their act of marital love is the only reproductive context in which they’re able to welcome and love their child unconditionally—as a gift—as someone whose mere existence is already, per se, a good.
And loving their baby unconditionally is the only way in which these parents are able to accept their child justly, as is his due: as someone equal in personal dignity to them. Only within their embodied act of love and union are NaPro-cured infertile couples able to fulfill the demands of justice: to love their child unconditionally as someone “equal in personal dignity to them.”v
And the bad consequences from TEL’s flawed proposal?
- Theoretically, it disseminates medical and moral misinformation and miseducation facilitating erroneous conscience formation in couples desperate to resolve their infertility.
- Practically, it deprives scores of Catholic couples struggling with infertility information they deserve. Namely, NaProTechnology is an alternative that provides a medical/moral corrective to assisted reproductive technology, one that conforms to Catholic teaching on the full truth of God’s plan for human procreation.
i The original volume, Etica Teologica della Vita: Scrittura, Tradizione, Sfide Pratiche was published by the Vatican Press in July 2022. The following November, I received the English version from Professor Roberto Dell’Oro, Director of the Bioethics Institute, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA.
ii Cf. “Contraception Redux,” The Catholic World Report, December 19, 2022.
iii The text of paragraph 173 does not identify the assisted reproductive technique as IVF but, given its directive that the couple must avoid “supernumerary embryos,” in vitro fertilization must be the particular technology it is referencing.
iv Cf. saintpaulvi.com and naprotechnology.com
v Donum Vitae, Part II, section B, chapter 4C.
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Another example of “twofacedness” from the current administration in the Vatican led by … Francis. But either the willfully blind won’t open their eyes to heresy among those who ought to be models of orthodoxy or they remain ignorant due to unjust censorship.
The hallmark of corruption (in this case defined has official wrongdoing) is the toleration and/or promotion of that which ought not to be tolerated.
By the way the “m-word” is (probably) immodest. I have seen an old work (A Manual of Moral Theology, 1925) for priests and the section “De pollutione” – and others like it – was in Latin.
Better terms would be uncleanliness (from St. Thomas Aquinas), self-abuse, or “solitary sin against the Sixth Commandment.” An interesting term for this that I came across is “the secret sin.”
Sr. Renee provides two invaluable contributions to the public in this article. She points out the deficiency of the study sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Life. Further, she recommends that the largely unknown methods of a first-rate researcher, Dr. Thomas Hilgers, receive universal support.
Both contributions are important. The first maintains the coherence of Catholic natural law ethics. The second promotes natural solutions to biological defects.
Sister, I’ve read several articles by you over the years that mention NaPro Technology without describing what exactly it does. (I gather it involves balancing the wife’s abnormal hormone levels.) Would you please give us a brief definition of the technique? What is its success rate for patients? What proportion of all infertile women would be candidates? Does Dr. Hilgers treat male infertility?
I fully agree that in vitro fertilization is wrong and the Pontifical Academy for Life is offering a false opinion.
You didn’t ask me but perhaps this might help, Miss Sandra:
“NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology) is a women’s health science that monitors and maintains a woman’s reproductive and gynecological health. It provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system.”
Sr Renée Mirkes makes a theologically wonderful contribution to understanding our humanness centered on God’s perfect, pure, infinite love. “The couple’s personal act of love—not an impersonal lab technique—is the one context worthy of procreating a new human life [consistent] with God’s radical self-giving act of love”. Conjugal relations between a man and woman, the sacrosanct, exclusive, means of bringing human life into our world.
She brings out in the open air, amid the stifling perversion of sexuality, the truth and beauty of human love as reflective of the divinity.
Assuming that children conceived with IVF do not receive the same unconditional love from their parents is absurd.