Mouthful of a title, right? Let’s just say I’m doing it for Google’s sake.
So, painfully obvious disclaimer: I am neither a bioethicist nor a theologian. Well, not officially, anyway. I’ve got 2 semesters of grad theology under my belt, but the only letters associated with my name are Mrs. So read on, knowing that I’m just a girl with an internet connection and a voracious appetite for moral theology and science. (In other words, these here are layman’s – or laywoman’s, as it were – words.)
I have been blessed with 3 beautiful, exasperating children in just under 5 years of marriage. In other words, I am in no position to talk to anyone about the heartache of infertility, or about the devastating sorrow of losing a baby to miscarriage. But here’s the thing: I have friends. And I’ve watched their pain and I’ve seen the ache of longing in their eyes. And I see the messages the culture is sending out to women (and men) who suffer from the desolating poverty of infertility, and they are being fed a steady diet of bullshit that only adds to their suffering.
I want to offer the truth. Anything less than the truth is an affront to their dignity, and to the dignity of the children who they long to conceive.
The Catholic Church has that truth. She holds it in sacred trust, the inalienable belief that every human life is sacred, from conception until natural death, and that the creation of human life itself is holy. Hallowed ground.
So that’s where I’m speaking from.
There’s one more thing I want to say before we dive in. And it’s about authentic reproductive technology: NAPRO.
I have a dear friend who was pregnant when we first met, back when I was a full time office gal. I was only months away from my wedding and couldn’t get enough of her pregnancy stories and baby kicks. As our friendship grew and her belly expanded, she shared more details. This was actually her fourth pregnancy, she explained, and she’d had three previous miscarriages. But she couldn’t get a referral to a high risk OB until after that third loss.
And then, do you know what the solution was for her body to carry that fourth precious baby safely to term? Progesterone. One pill by mouth daily, for the first trimester. Cheap, simple, readily available… and an option she didn’t even realize she had, because she wasn’t yet “high risk” enough to be referred to a doctor who knew what the hell he was doing.
That kind of dismissive, laissez faire medicine, practiced all too often in ob/gyn groups around the country, is the worst kind of insult to women.
So do yourself a favor and google around for a NAPRO doc near you.
Because you deserve to be served by a doctor who understands how your body works, and why, and who isn’t content to write you an annual scrip for birth control to try to shut your reproductive system down.
(And then happily write you another scrip for fertility drugs when you change your mind 3 years down the road but it turns out, your body didn’t like being messed with. So now rather than worrying about getting pregnant, you’re having to worry about getting pregnant. Because it seems like now you can’t.)
But what if it’s more serious than that? What about couples who have no other means of recourse than IVF or even surrogacy? How can the Church tell them no, when all she speaks of is the goodness of children and the sanctity of life?
For those very same reasons. Because children are good, and because life is sacred.
Children are good. And they are gifts. We vow to accept them lovingly from God, but the converse does not hold. We cannot demand them angrily, desperately, when they do not come. No matter how great the longing. His ways are not our ways, and oh how easy it is for me to write this while my 3 little gifts lie snug in their beds down the hall.
I haven’t felt the pain of infertility. It is a pain I will never know, intimately. But I do that the Church, as our mother, never asks of us that which would harm another person, and certainly not that which takes another person’s life.
Many of our current reproductive technologies are harmful, and some – IVF in particular – depend specifically on creating a number – sometimes a large number – of “backup” embryos, both to ensure the success of the couple’s efforts to conceive initially and for future use, should they desire more children.
From the get go, IVF is problematic because it violates the dignity of those children created in a laboratory setting. A child has the fundamental right to be conceived in the dignity and privacy of her mother’s womb, the fruit of the love between two parents who are committed to each other and to her.
Anything less is poverty for that child, no matter how well reasoned or rationalized the motives of the adults involved. Does that sound crazy? If it does, it’s only because our technology has so rapidly outpaced our morality that we accept just about anything at face value, simply because it is possible.
In most cases of IVF, multiple embryos are created and introduced into the mother’s uterus, with the hopes that a few good ones will implant. The remainder who survive remain in limbo, kept frozen in a lab until their parents decide whether to implant, destroy, or donate.
Once inside mom, if too many “successful” embryos implant, the joyous event of a longed-for pregnancy is now marred by the dark shadow of “selective reduction,” aka abortion. The parents and doctors must now choose which of the baby(s) have the best chance at making it to term, and abort the remainders.
Do you see a common thread running through it all? It’s all about the adults. None of this is done for the sake of the children, or with consideration for the dignity – or the suffering – of the children.
Conceived in a petri dish, selected from an unlucky crop of frozen siblings, perhaps the survivor of an early abortion on other siblings…and finally, against all odds and many thousands of dollars and hours of pain later, brought into this world, on demand.
Loved, yes. But demanded, first.
Openness to life, we talked about earlier in this series, means openness to loss. But it can never mean intentionally causing the loss. It doesn’t mean going to any extremes to obtain life, to demand it and wrench it from God’s hands and fit it into our own script.
Is it fair?
Hell no it’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have children while some couples who don’t, can’t.
But life isn’t fair. And there are all kinds of sufferings and different-shaped crosses we’re asked to bear. It sounds so crazy but it really boils down to this: just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.
Just because we can harvest sperm and egg from willing and desperate would-be parents, willing to shell out thousands for a baby of their own, doesn’t mean we should.
Just because we can create new human life in a petri dish, coaxing the requisite genetic material together and then discarding the chromosomal losers, doesn’t mean we should.
Just because we can implant a half dozen viable embryos into a woman’s uterus with the selective reduction of as many of 5 of them as the failsafe backup plan, does’t mean we should.
There are all kinds of things human beings are capable of. But not all of them are good. And in this case, as in so many others, the ends do not justify the means.
For couples who are suffering this incredible pain, the Church has a message of love and of mercy, and more than anything, of being a safe harbor where you can rest and not be further harmed, or cause harm yourselves.
IVF is a terrible poverty to the children involved, first and foremost. But it exacts a terrible price from their parents, too. No parent wants to willingly participate in the harm, destruction, or death of their child. It’s unfathomable. And yet we have this billion dollar industry, rushing grieving couples through their office doors and helping them to do exactly that. There’s so much more that could be said, and much more eloquently, but this is long enough. There is no judgement here. Only truth, and sorrow, and a genuine desire to bring clarity to a deeply problematic and painful suffering that is rampant in our culture. The world promises relief from suffering through denial, manipulation, and force. But Christ says something different.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.