The Catholic Church’s stance on reproductive technologies is wildly unpopular. I think it is for two reasons. The first is that the Supreme Court has made up a constitutional right that is not actually in the Constitution, the “reproductive right.”
It is the idea that not only do we have the ultimate right to destroy our offspring in the womb if we don’t want them, but we also can create genetic offspring anyway we see fit. Even if it means putting those offspring at greater risk of birth defects, being implanted in the wrong uterus, being destroyed by embryonic stem cell researchers or dying in the deep freeze. We have exported the idea of “reproductive rights” all over the world.
The second is that the members of our Church have not done a great job explaining why creating life outside the body, outside the martial union, is so unethical. The Church is not against infertile couples having babies, it is simply acknowledging the fact that the best, safest and most loving place to begin our lives is in our mother’s womb. The minute life is created outside the body it becomes an object, a product of technical intervention and in many states the property of the parents. The Church’s focus is on the resulting child and their well-being and not on the desires of the parents. William E. May said it beautifully:
“When a child is begotten through the conjugal act, he comes to be as a gift from God, a gift crowning the spouse’s mutual gift of themsleves to each other. When a child is ‘produced’ it comes to be, not as a gift from God, which in truth it is, but as a product of human control.”
A recent story about “selective reduction” illustrates the wisdom of the Church’s teaching on technologies like IVF. Many people do not realize that abortion and IVF go hand in hand. To boost success rates, IVF practitioners implant more embryos than the couple wants babies in the hopes that at least one will take. When more embryos than are desired implant, doctors “reduce” the pregnancy down to the desired number of fetuses. “Reduce” is a euphemism for killing the unlucky fetuses with a shot of potassium chloride. It used to be that doctors would only “reduce” triplets or above, but now have taken to “reducing” twins down to a single fetus. One such story of reduction was recently in the New York Times. Jenny discusses why she is killing one of her IVF twins:
“If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
Jenny has articulated Church teaching on procreation and she doesn’t even know it. There is a natural order to things and when that is bypassed and life is created in an artificial manner, it is easy to rationalize the killing of an innocent life down to a simple matter of “control.” Just like William E. May (and the Church) said it would.