Dr Colin Ong explains the moral problems of this method of having children
The desire to have a child is one of the most natural of human desires, and when couples have difficulty having babies it is common to seek medical help. In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is often regarded as the only viable option.
Not only does it seem to deliver the happiness couples long for, but the goals of IVF also appear to be aligned with the Church’s pro-life stance. It is no wonder that many Catholics find it difficult to understand this particular teaching.
This article is written to help us appreciate the gift of the Church’s teaching on this
To understand the moral dilemma behind IVF, we must first explore the miracle of life. A child that is conceived and begotten through the mutual giving of parents to each other in marital intercourse reveals an openness to receive the child as a gift from God.
In IVF, the parents and doctors take on, and in a sense, usurp God’s role. The external manipulation involved means that they no longer remain mere co-operators in the act of procreation but become the final arbiters and manufacturers of the child, who then becomes a product that is made and fashioned solely from the parents’ will.
This begs the question: can Christians really claim to love the child as a gift from God and yet proceed to manufacture him/her in a laboratory as if the child was a commodity?
St John Paul II in his “Theology of the Body” discourses gives us an answer. He noted how Adam and Eve were both “naked without shame” (Gen 2:25) before they disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But after they ate, they realised that they were naked, and hid from God (Gen 3:8-10).
This dramatic change, he explained, stemmed from a fundamental turning of their hearts. While originally open, receptive and trusting towards their creator God and His gifts, they had been tricked to eat of the tree and started doubting God’s loving-kindness towards them. No longer believing that God’s command was really for their ultimate good, they began to grasp for themselves things which seemed attractive but which the Lord had forbidden them to take.
In IVF, this fundamental “turning” from the attitude of openness to God’s gifts to one that doubts God’s love and resorts to what is seemingly good but forbidden, is the essential difference between a child that is begotten through marital embrace, and one that is made through technological prowess in the laboratory.
Not surprisingly, scientific developments have confirmed what theology teaches us, that the removal of the procreation of a human being from the safety of the marital embrace exposes both mother and child to a wide range of threats.
Many women who have experienced failed IVF cycles report frustration, anxiety, depression or a lack of self-worth. The relatively low success rate (about 20 to 35 percent), coupled with the high costs and medical side effects, contribute greatly to this.
There are also the dangerous side effects of the treatment that occur in six per cent of women who undergo hormonal injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce more follicles, and who may develop severe headaches, vomiting, psychiatric disturbances, and rarely, even death.
Furthermore, it is well known that embryo wastage in IVF is extremely high. Those with defects are directly discarded, while those that are not implanted in the womb are either used for research, destroyed or frozen so that a potentially harmful multiple pregnancy may not occur.
Australian data showed that 3.6 per cent of embryos that are created by IVF survive to be born. This means that 96 human lives are damaged, lost, discarded or frozen so that three others can live!
Finally, IVF opens wide the doors towards a dangerous eugenic mentality when embryos formed in-vitro undergo genetic diagnosis, followed immediately by the elimination of those suspected of having genetic or chromosomal defects. This can very quickly lead to the removal of embryos that do not have the desired qualities or sex.
While IVF appears to be good in its quest for life, it is forbidden because it leads to a fundamental “turn” of the heart away from God and His gifts. The scientific landscape of high failure rates, serious psychological and physical side effects, millions of embryo wastage and the spectre of a new “holocaust” in embryonic eugenics in IVF serve to remind us of how true that is.
The writer is head of the Catholic Medical Guild’s Bioethics Committee.
Ethical ways to achieve pregnancy
Currently, there are two methods available that can help couples achieve pregnancy effectively and that are deemed morally acceptable by the Catholic Church. The one that is taught in our churches is the Billings Ovulation Method. For more information, please visit naturalfamilyplanning.sg
NaProtechnology is the other method that is available (albeit on a commercial basis). For more information, visit naprotechnology.com
A seminar titled Overcoming Subfertility – Naturally: Medical and Ethical Perspectives will be held on Jan 19, 2019, from 2-4.30 pm. Speakers: Fr David Garcia, Dr Douglas Ong and Dr John Hui. For more information, please visit hv50sg.info
Waiting Hearts: for couples facing infertility
The pain of infertility is heartbreaking. But sadly, it is a silent pain, borne mostly by the couples alone.
Most couples start trying to conceive a child full of hope and anticipation, looking forward to the day that they too, like so many others, will become proud parents.
However, this seemingly straightforward phase of life does not come easily to all.
For couples bearing the cross of infertility, the days grow into months and eventually into years. Anticipation turns into disappointment, and hope morphs into despair.
Waiting Hearts is a support group serving couples carrying this cross. Through prayer, open sharings and mutual support, the group comes together as fellow pilgrims on this difficult journey, striving to find meaning amidst the suffering, and guided by their spiritual director, Dominican Father David Garcia.
CMG’s Bioethics Centre
The Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore (CMG) provides a resource for those who are seeking help in answering real-life ethical dilemmas on issues ranging from contraception and abortion counselling to that of end-of-life care; in a manner that is both professional and faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.