Pastoral responses to IVF

The Church teaches that IVF is morally wrong. But as we all know well, even though the Church teaches something is wrong, some Catholics will go ahead and do it anyway. Some Catholics will be honestly ignorant of the Church’s views on an issue, due to poor catechesis or so on. Many other Catholics know very well what the Church teaches, but just decide that they know better. Others believe the Church’s teachings, yet succumb to pressure from their spouse or some other weakness in their will. So, my question then is, how at a practical, pastoral level, do priests deal with Catholics in this situation?

(Since I know this is a very complex issue with lots of variables, can I please ask that we restrict the discussion, at least initially, to couples validly married according to the Church’s teaching and doing IVF with their own sperm/eggs/womb. That way we can put aside some of the unique issues other IVF situations involve, such as sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, surrogacy, same-sex couples, unmarried heterosexual couples, single parents, etc. The married couple using their own sperm/eggs/womb is in many ways one of the simplest cases, so I think we should start by thinking about how to approach it, before moving on to consider those other cases that involve additional complexities.)

For example, how do priests handle access to sacraments for Catholics who have done IVF? If a Catholic admits to a priest that they have done IVF, or are doing IVF, or plan to do it – should the priest refuse communion, or absolution in confession? Or, what if they have done it, but it is in the past?

When is IVF actually in the past? Suppose a couple did IVF, they have one or more children from it, but they still have frozen embryos in storage? Is the sin of IVF in the past, or is it continuing as long as they have those stored embryos? What if they were to transfer them to the wife’s womb (whether or not they go on to become a successful pregnancy)? What if they are disposed of? What if they donate them to another couple? If the couple ask a priest what to do with those embryos, what should he say? If this is a continuing state of sin, how and when does it end?

Also, if a couple did IVF, and they have one or more children as a result – is genuine repentance actually possible for them? I mean, a priest can do all he can to try to convince them of the truth of the Church’s position – but is it psychologically possible for a parent to ever really repent of the conception of their own children? Even if they express contrition, can they ever really mean it deep down inside?

I have a much-wanted, much-loved ivf granddaughter, and thank God every day for her…

These are important issues, and I’ve thought about them some myself.

To your question of how priests should administer the sacraments to someone who has committed IVF or plans to, I would think it would be the same as for any sin. That is, if a person realized it was wrong, confessed and received absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation, they would be forgiven and admitted to communion, the same as if they confessed adultery or theft or missing Mass. If a person told a priest in confession that they were planning on committing the sin of IVF, then they lack contrition and should not be offered absolution or admitted to communion. In practice, I suspect most Catholics who do IVF either don’t realize it’s wrong or don’t care. These Catholics are unlikely to bring it up in confession (or go to confession at all) and they probably just present themselves for communion.

There’s some debate about the best way to handle the plight of frozen embryos trapped in storage. I’ve seen it argued that these embryos should be allowed to progress naturally to death by thawing them, since IVF is immoral, and keeping them in a suspended state is also a violation of their dignity. I’ve also read a strong argument in favor of the biological mother being implanted with the embryo once she realizes that IVF is wrong; this becomes an act of mercy for the children she created.

Once a child is born of IVF, I think the correct approach is to understand: 1) The child has been endowed with a soul and a dignity; she was made in the image and likeness of God. She is to be celebrated the same as any new baby and has done nothing wrong herself. 2)It was the child’s rights that were violated in the way she was conceived. Children deserve to be conceived in the marital embrace by their biological parents and raised by their biological parents who know them and love them. Many times children conceived by IVF are not raised by their genetic parents because one or both genetic parents are unknown to them. Adoption is laudable because it takes a regrettable situation (that of the biological parents unable to raise their own child) and redeems it; it puts the interests of the child ahead of the adults. With IVF, the desires of the adult are put ahead of the rights of the child by creating a situation in which the child’s rights are violated. 3) It is possible (though admittedly difficult) to regret a situation or a decision while still acknowledging that good has come of it. Although not analogous, I imagine it could be similar for a woman who conceived a child out of rape. She can thoroughly love her child while simultaneously rejecting and mourning the rape. Likewise, I imagine it might be possible for a woman to come to the realization that IVF is sinful while still loving and being grateful for the child she created through IVF.

I’m interested in hearing other’s thoughts on this topic.

I’m sure she’s a great blessing to you.

It immoral because it necessarilly destoys a vast amount of children to select one to survive.

This truly is a complicated issue because many Catholics who take part in IVF have a estranged relationship with the Church.

The first thing is to make sure that IVF parents understand that NO ONE is saying that their kids should not be here. Many people who support IVF know a child who was born from IVF.

However, IVF has issues besides bypassing the marital act.

My cousin chose IVF and it almost killed her. My uncle (who is not a practicing Catholic) was very blunt that she almost died.

Many doctors and scientists think that science can “fix” humans. However, their is a simple truth: when a woman has a very hard time getting pregnant there is a reason. In many instances, her body is protecting her because a pregnancy would be fatal to her in the natural world. My cousin is a great example. The baby had to be preborn 3 months early because she almost died. Her blood chemistry became toxic. I honestly believe her body knew this and that’s why she was unable to conceive.

Doctors and scientists think they have everything figured out, but they don’t. IVF is akin to playing God and is also a stepping stone to human cloning, genetic engineering, gender selection, etc.

Point is… the key is first to make sure they understand that no one is wishing their kids were never born. We simply fear for the lives of other women and honestly feel for the kids who are not being adopted due to IVF.

But it’s not easy… but if they are speaking with a priest, half the battle is done because a large number of IVF using Catholics do not attend Mass regularly and do not have a relationship with their pastor.

God Bless

Nah, who cares about the women and if they might die, nevermind the embryos, this is a profitable business!

Although true that most IVF attempts involve the destruction of embryos, it would be immoral even if it were theoretically possible to create only one embryo and implant it. It violates the dignity of the child and their right to be conceived in the marital act and it disassociates the sexual act from the procreative act.

This is in addition to the concern you pointed out, as well as others (for example, that IVF usually involves masturbation, selective reduction, etc, etc).

True, the desire for children does not justify sin. Consider for example, Abraham and the maid.

I have a philosophical doubt about what you are saying here. For an IVF child, if their parents had not done IVF, would they have ever existed? I think not; even if, somehow, the parents still had a child (such as an adoptive child; or maybe they got lucky with natural conception; or maybe even success with some other fertility treatment approach which is acceptable to the Chruch), could that child have ever been the same child as the IVF child? Almost surely, any other child they have is going to have different DNA, the odds that they could have had another child another way yet that child still have the same DNA is exceedingly remote. But, if that other child they might have had would have had different DNA, how could it be the same child? So it seems to me that IVF children cannot exist, as the specific individuals that they, without IVF. If the IVF never happened, either there would have been no child, or else there would have been another child instead, a different individual.

Following on from that, if a person, as the unique individual that they are, cannot exist except by IVF, how can we say that their conception through IVF violated their rights? It was the only way they could have ever existed. If their rights had not been violated in that way, they would never have been. It is almost saying their existence is a violation of their right to have never existed, and I don’t think anyone has the right to have never existed. When people sue for “wrongful birth”, or say that some disabled people would have been better off never being born, they are actually suggesting these people have the right to have never existed which was violated by the fact of their existence–and I’m sure you would reject those people’s position. But, when you say that IVF children have the right to not be conceived through IVF, I think what you are saying is logically equivalent to what they are saying.

Note I’m not saying that it can’t be wrong. You mention later the case of rape – obviously rape is a grave violation of the rights of the mother. But even that, I can’t see how the rape is a violation of the rights of the child, because without the rape, that particular individual child would never have existed. Suppose even, that instead of raping that woman, the rapist instead treated her as an absolute gentleman would, and courted her, and they fell in love, and married, and had children by natural consensual marital embrace – it seems inconceivable that any of those children could be the same child as the child born in rape. Almost surely, the children would have different DNA – every child is a different random combination of the parent’s DNA, and for the rape-conceived child to have the same DNA as any of the consensually-conceived children would be astronomically unlikely, about as remote a chance as a couple having two naturally conceived children in different pregnancies a few years apart who nonetheless turn out to have the same DNA – it has never been observed to occur. Even if, against all odds, the rape-conceived child had the same DNA as one of the children of the marriage, I really doubt they could be the same person even in that case, since their life experiences would be very different – growing up with both parents instead of just one (or maybe even being adopted, since I believe adoption is a quite common outcome for rape-conceived children who aren’t aborted.)

So, my conclusion is we can’t have the right to be conceived in any particular way, nor can any particular way of being conceived violate our rights (naturally in marriage, in IVF, in rape, in adultery, in prostitution, in anything else) because we can’t have a right whose fulfillment would almost surely mean we would have never existed. That doesn’t mean our conception couldn’t in some cases violate the rights of other people (e.g. the rights of our mother), but I can’t see how it can ever violate our own rights. It also doesn’t mean that our conception could not be wrong as a violation of the moral law, of God’s law–and I don’t think all violations of the moral law can be captured by the concept of “rights”–but conception can never violate the rights of the one being conceived.

I am aware of at least one chain of IVF clinics which promise a special IVF service for Catholics in which they will create only one embryo at a time. (I am sure there are probably others too.) It is less “effective” than normal IVF, in that the odds of success are lower and it will very likely take more time and money to produce a successful pregnancy than the normal IVF.

The Church teaches this “IVF for Catholics” service is immoral too, because even if it successfully answers some of the Church’s moral objections to IVF, it fails to answer all of them. But, it probably is enough to convince some Catholics who would otherwise say “No” to IVF to instead say “Yes”, which is why I take it the clinic offers it. Many of those Catholics convinced by this service I think know the Church is opposed to IVF, but have an incomplete understanding of the Church’s reasons, so they can be convinced by something which possibly answers some of those reasons but does nothing to answer others.

Anyway, I’d be careful about saying that IVF “necessarilly destoys a vast amount of children to select one to survive”, because that might not be true in every single case, whereas the word “necessarily” implies something is true in every single case.

SimmieKay, I hear what you’re saying, though I disagree with it. We can have our rights violated even if such a violation is the basis for something fundamental to us, even our very existence. Consider the plight of an abused child who is later adopted by a wonderful, loving family and showered with affection. If not for the abusive biological parents, the child would never have known her adoptive parents. That child could not have been born to the adoptive parents; she has her biological parents’ DNA. Still, that child had her rights violated. She had a right to be raised and loved by her biological parents. That something good came out of the evil that could not have happened otherwise does not negate the fact that she had her rights violated in the first place.

It’s not a perfect analogy. But It’s how I think of children conceived in IVF. You can have your rights violated very early early on (as in the case of a baby growing in the uterus of an alcoholic mother). You can even have your rights violated from the moment of conception.

Says the Catholic Catechism (emphasis mine):

[quote=]2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral**. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.** They betray the spouses’ "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."167


[quote=]2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead.** In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.”**170

They’re quoting Donum Vitae there - the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life In Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation” which also says:

[quote=]The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development.

But I agree it’s an interesting issue. Maybe the philosophy forum would be a good place to raise the topic?

My much loved little IVF granddaughter was born to her own two married parents so can scarcely be said to have been “violated” in that respect - and as God knows us by name from the womb, I cannot believe that in giving her life He made some sort of mistake.

The correct pastoral response to the birth of any baby is to congratulate the parents - and tell the proud granny to stop weeping with joy over the new addition to the family…

I saw this article on my facebook feed this morning and thought it relevant to our discussion here. It’s the perspective of a mother who loves her IVF daughter but regrets the IVF:

[quote=]Today I have the distinct privilege of bringing a unique voice to the discussion about in vitro fertilization (IVF). Katy* is a wife, mother, Catholic, and a regular blog reader who emailed me a few months ago with a story to share…

Beautiful article!

Nowhere in Genesis does it say that Abraham committed a sin by marrying Haggar:

Genesis 16:3: So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.

God could certainly have said something to Abraham about this being a sin when he came to him at the Oaks of Mamre, but Genesis says nothing about any such conversation.

Catechism on IVF:

2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.” "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union . ... Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person."
2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.”
I don’t read here a suggestion that the child’s rights are grievously violated, as they are indeed violated in various other scenarios, such as where surrogacy is involved. Certainly one can make a case about a lack of dignity, in respect of both parents and the child, and perhaps that is a basis to suggest a violation of rights. I can understand parents being prepared to look past that.

Was your granddaughter first known in the womb, or elsewhere? IVF involves conception in a lab. And usually a number of eggs are fertilised.

Life begins at conception - so unless you believe God can be tricked into bestowing life, He willed her existence and both knew and loved her from the moment He created her…

I just noted conception does not occur in the womb with IVF. From your earlier post, I was not sure if you knew that.

I don’t know what conclusion you draw from the “fact” of conception or from God’s love of every child. These are facts not in dispute.

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