Artificial fertility treatments and technologies range from simple fertility drugs to drawn out medical procedures such as In vitro fertilization (IVF), etc.
They are designed to assist couples who are unable to conceive children because of infertility.
What’s the problem?
There are actually several moral problems associated with some artificial fertility treatments and technologies.
Firstly; procedures like IVF result in the destruction of newly created human embryos during the treatment process.
Many treatments also pose serious risks to the health of the females involved. Technologies such as IVF require the artificial stimulation of the female ovaries so that multiple eggs will be released and then harvested from the woman’s body.
This stimulation procedure carries risks such as ovarian hyper ovulation syndrome, which causes nausea, abdominal pain and bloating, respiration problems and in some cases even death.
Research shows that mothers who conceive using IVF are also at much greater risk of experiencing post-natal depression.
There are also health risks for the babies conceived; with multiple studies showing that babies conceived through IVF are at greater risk of birth defects and genetic disorders than naturally conceived babies.
On top of this, many artificial fertility treatments remove the process of procreation from the sexual union between a husband and wife; instead a child is engineered in a laboratory and then reinserted into the female womb.
This process impacts upon the human dignity of any child that is created in this way, because they are no longer a gift that comes about as a result of the loving sexual embrace between their mother and father, instead they are now a product of medical engineering and laboratory technicians.
Finally; we simply have no knowledge of what the long-term effects of many artificial fertility treatments and technologies are for the children conceived or the mothers involved. The oldest IVF baby was born in 1978, which means that there is simply no research available about the long-term impacts of this technology upon the babies produced by it, or the mothers using it.
Are all fertility treatments and technologies immoral?
If a fertility treatment or technology meets ALL of the following criteria:
1. It doesn’t result in the death of human embryos
2. It doesn’t pose disproportionate risk to the health of the parents or baby
3. It doesn’t separate the act of procreation from the act of sexual intercourse
Then it poses no moral or ethical problems.
Basically, a morally good fertility technology or treatment is one that enables a couple to conceive a child through normal sexual relations; and without posing disproportionate risks to the health of the mother, father or baby.
But don’t couples have the right to have children?
While we must have the greatest empathy and sadness for couples who are afflicted with the problem of infertility we must never lose sight of the fact that children are a gift, they are not a right.
Even fertile couples don’t have the right to have children. If they have optimum fertility, their chances of conceiving a child is still only approx. only 20% each month.
Artificial fertility treatments which separate the creation of a new child from the act of sexual relations turn children into commodities that can be produced and owned at the whim of adults. When children become a “right” of adults, society loses sight of their inherent dignity which comes from the fact that they are a miraculous gift that springs forth from the love of their mother and father.
We have already seen a progression for the worse in artificial fertility treatments, which were once touted as a technological advance for infertile couples and yet less than 30 years on and they are regularly being used by single people to produce children who will be denied the right to have a mother and a father. We have also seen these technologies used by aging people to produce children even though those children are likely to grow up with parents who are infirmed or dead before they are even teenagers.
Such developments are not in the best interests of children, and they clearly show how these technologies are based on the wants of the adults involved and not on what is best for children.
Orphans by Design
An excellent article by Eric Cohen, resident scholar at the US Ethics and Public Policy Center, which covers the alarming trends developing with some artificial fertility treatments
Catholic Church Teaching:
A Brief Ethical Primer on Artificial Reproductive Technologies in the Catholic Tradition
An excellent article by Father Tom Knoblach, Ph.D. which lists the different types of fertility treatments that are morally acceptable, and those that are not.
Respect for Human Life (“Donum Vitae”)
The Catholic teaching document on human embryos, and embryo related medical and scientific issues.
Issued by the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 22 February 1987