Life Matters —The Newsletter of the Respect Life Office of the Diocese of Rockford
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Associate Director, Respect Life Office
The date was July 25, 1978—exactly ten years after Pope Paul VI signed his encyclical, Humane Vitae. The place was Oldham General Hospital near Manchester, England and the event was the birth of the first “test tube” baby—Louise Brown. It was a watershed event that would usher in a variety of technological assaults on the dignity of human life.
For the first time in history, physicians had been able to extract eggs from a woman’s body, fertilize them with a man’s sperm in a test tube, and then successfully implant them in a woman’s womb. The result was the birth of Louise who celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday last month.
The first American “test tube” baby was Elizabeth Jordan Carr who was born on December 28, 1981 at Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. Elizabeth had been “created” at the first fertility clinic in the United States—now know as the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia Beach. The Institute came under fire in 2001 when staff admitted they had created human embryos specifically to be used for research—“creating” life for the purpose of “using” it and then destroying it.
The technology that produced those embryos as well as Louise and Elizabeth is called in vitro fertilization (IVF). “In vitro” is Latin for “in glass.” Now commonplace, this procedure is included in the smorgasbord of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) that have followed.
Eighteen Ways to Make a Baby
There are a myriad of ARTs today with IVF being the most common. Other procedures include: zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT); gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT); intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI); tubal ovum transfer with sperm (TOTS); low tubal ovum transfer (LTOT); artificial insemination by non-spouse (AID); and artificial insemination by husband (AIH).
At one point during an October 2001 episode of PBS’s Nova —“18 Ways to Make a Baby”— the narrator remarked, “In vitro fertilization has enabled thousands of couples to create the family they desperately want. It has also opened a gateway to a brave new world—where a child can have five parents, or be born to a mother in her sixties; where a baby can have its sex determined before conception or be created with borrowed DNA; where an embryo, no larger than a speck of dust, can have its genes scanned for diseases, or one day be designed with new strengths and talents.” This brave new world has indeed arrived, unfortunately accompanied by all its immoral trappings.
People of good will who desire children are now presented with profound moral dilemmas. Many do not consider the morality of such actions. They focus only on the fact that they want a baby and they will do whatever it takes to have that baby.
Who Are My Parents?
Luanne and John Buzzanca had been struggling with infertility for a long time and in the span of six years had spent over $200,000 on assisted reproductive technologies. Then, before their daughter, Jaycee, was born, Luanne and John separated. Sadly, when the long sought baby was born, John wanted nothing to do with her.
This true story would be comedic if not so serious. Jaycee’s conception was legally and morally complicated to say the least. She was “conceived” in a petri dish from sperm and eggs donated by strangers who “met” for the first time in that petri dish. Jaycee was then implanted in the uterus of still another woman.
A battle ensued over the question of just who Jaycee’s parents were. With two genetic parents, one surrogate mother, and John and Luanne, it was not an easy decision. For a period of time Jaycee was deemed legally parentless. That decision was reversed on appeal with John and Luanne being named Jaycee’s legal parents.
Sixty-Five Year Old Mother
Other consequences of utilizing IVF include post-menopausal women defying the rules of nature because as one remarked, “I want a baby.” On April 8, 2003 Satyabhama Mahapatra, a 65 year old woman in India, delivered a baby boy who had been “conceived” in a petri dish with ova donated by her 26 year old niece and sperm donated by the niece’s husband. Mahapatra is believed to be the oldest woman to give birth to a baby. Previously, the record was shared by two 63 year old women—one from California and one from Italy.
“Mummy Was a Fetus”
In 1995 the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article—“Mummy Was a Fetus: Motherhood and Fetal Ovarian Transplantation”—which described research at Edinburgh University aimed at transplanting fetal ovarian tissue into infertile women.
The July 1, 2003 issue of the Guardian reported that progress has been made on using ova from aborted fetuses. Speaking at the meeting of the European Socity for Human Reproduction and Embryology, Dr. Biron-Shental reported that he had taken the ovaries of seven aborted fetuses between 22 and 33 weeks of age and that he was able to stimulate the growth of follicles that eventually grow into eggs.
Attempting to justify this grotesque research, Biron-Shental was quoted as saying: “We use sperm that’s donated. Ethically, it’s almost the same. There’s just the question of whether your mother was an aborted foetus or your father was someone who donated his sperm.” Obviously, Biron-Shental does not understand the real meaning of ethics! What is technically possible, is not necessarily morally permissible and killing one person—no mater how small—for the benefit of another is simply wrong.
Why Does the Church Oppose IVF?
While the Church has great compassion for couples experiencing the pain and frustration of infertility, she cannot approve any method which causes the death of even one human embryo or fetus and/or eliminates the marital act as the means of achieving pregnancy.
There are, however, some morally acceptable treatments for infertility. Dr. Hanna Klaus writes that “[A]ny procedure which assists marital intercourse in reaching its procreative potential is moral. Procedures which add a ‘third party’ into the act of conception, or which substitute a laboratory procedure for intercourse, are not acceptable.”
To learn more about the Church’s teaching on infertility as well as the morally illicit and licit treatments, consult any or all of the following:
1) Catechism of the Catholic Church #2373-2379
2) Donum Vitae www.nccbuscc.org/prolife/tdocs/donumvitae.htm
3) Pope Paul VI Institute www.popepaulvi.com/infertility1.htm
4) The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—Office of Pro-Life Activities www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/treatment.htm
For spiritual and/or emotional support, contact your parish priest or Elizabeth Ministry.