Is IVF Pro-Life?

I picked up one of those free parenting magazines that seem to be ubiquitous at the doctor’s office–you know, the kind with healthy recipes, de-cluttering tips, local kids’ events, etc. Anyway, my eye was drawn to an essay titled “Motherhood Really Changed Me.” In it, a woman related her struggles to get pregnant as well as her eventual success with IVF.

Of course, as a Catholic, I oppose IVF. But I have never had to endure infertility, and can’t say for sure that I would resist it when placed in such a desperate situation. After all, I have committed far graver sins simply out of my own stubbornness, without the excuse of being driven by the basically good desire for a child. So I read her story sympathetically . . . until I got to this passage:

Although I was raised Catholic, I find myself angry at the church for its negative view on IVF. I haven’t had my children baptized yet (which is supposed to happen soon after birth) because I fear the judgment from the priest. I’ve also dealt with other Catholics, that despite our positive outcomes, still feel that IVF is a sin and that conception should be left “in God’s hand’s.” In my opinion, my children’s conception and healthy birth was still “in God’s hand’s”–we just had a doctor to assist in the process.

At that point, my sympathy eroded just a tiny bit. I can understand her anger–particularly since she seems to have been misinformed about the Church’s reasoning. But why would she deprive her children of the graces of baptism (assuming she still believes in those)? Why get so absorbed in her own anger and shame that she neglects her children’s spiritual growth?

But I continued reading, trying to keep in mind the pain she must have gone through . . . and then I came across this statement:

Once, I was an avid Republican–now I find myself on the liberal spectrum more often than not, especially when it comes to issues that deal with stem cell research.

The liberal position is that it is permissible to destroy human embryos–that is, beings with human DNA–for the purpose of stem cell research. And somehow IVF has convinced her to support such destruction.

I was reminded of one of Pope John Paul II’s remarks in Evangelium vitae:

The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart from the fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from the fully human context of the conjugal act, these techniques . . . reduce human life to the level of simple “biological material” to be freely disposed of. (14)

IVF trivializes conception by divorcing it from a “fully human,” unitive act. The effects of this trivialization are legion. Sometimes mothers are led to a shockingly cold attitude towards their own children, characterizing them as products. More often, however, the effects are more subtle. The mothers are thankful for their children and feel very blessed.

But . . . at the end of the day, they still can’t see embryos as human. Because they’ve experienced them as “biological material” to be manipulated, they come to adopt a casual attitude towards their destruction. Not towards their own already-born children, of course–they are grateful for them. But, embryos at the beginning of the process, when they’re still abstracted from the normal human context and subjected to an impersonal process. . . those are harder to see as human. This is the attitude IVF fosters.  Not in every case, but often enough that it’s a problem.

5 thoughts on “Is IVF Pro-Life?

  1. It is also good to note that fertility methods such as IVF remove the sanctity of life from God. Just as we destroy life through abortion, life is now something we have control over and can manipulate, as it suits us.

  2. Yes, and I’ve noticed that most proponents of IVF tend to associate the two (abortion and IVF) as two aspects of the same underlying “right to choose.” For instance, here’s a quote from a popular infertility blog:

    “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: reproductive rights are reproductive rights, and if you want the freedom to choose whether or not you have access to fertility treatments, you need to support other reproductive rights. Legal wranglings are not a pu-pu platter where you can say hands-off my embryos and making decisions for me about their creation and storage but then leave women who want to choose whether or not they carry a child back on the plate. Either your government’s hands are in your uterus or they’re not.”

  3. That quote made me realize how insanely inconsistent and wrong the ideology of “pro-life for me, pro-choice for others” is. Gosh, I used to be really dumb (sheepish face).

  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Being “personally pro-life, but legally pro-choice” is logically inconsistent but it’s an attempt to deal with a very difficult reality: that overturning Roe and even outlawing abortions at the state level wouldn’t stop abortions, because people would do them illegally (with great danger to the mothers). We need a huge cultural change in addition to the legal battles, and sometimes I think people get overwhelmed by that.

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