by Katie Elrod and Paul Carpentier, MD, CFCMC, in Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, edited by Erika Bachiochi.
Every child, born or unborn, created as a result of loving married intercourse, or in a petri dish to be transferred to the womb, left indeﬁnitely in cryostorage, or used in scientiﬁc experimentation, shares equally in this inalienable human dignity.Moreover, each child is equal in dignity to his or her mother. This is why the desire for a child, albeit a very real and natural desire, can never become a right to a child at any cost. “No person can claim the right to the existence of another; otherwise the latter would be placed on a lower level of value than the one who claims such a right.”
When a woman contracts with a third party to create a child through IVF, she is regarding the baby as an object to be procured or a commodity to be bought. This artiﬁcially created child, though ardently desired and of equal value to those naturally conceived, exists solely as the object of the woman’s will. By electing to artiﬁcially create another human being, she has taken the place of God, giving herself an authority, a responsibility, over another person that does not beﬁt a mere human being.
Besides objectifying the child, by transforming her desire for a child into a right to a child at any cost, the woman inadvertently objectiﬁes herself. Her desire for a child can never supersede her duty to respect herself as an integral whole, an embodied soul. For decades, feminists have fought against the traditional notion that women are just bodies, bodies made for making babies, and that’s all. From lipstick ads to workmen whistling at women walking by, feminists ﬁght against any objectiﬁcation of a woman’s body that separates it and parts of it from her whole person. Yet IVF does precisely this. Through IVF, doctors invasively use a woman’s body and its reproductive parts (her ovaries, eggs, uterus), as an instrument for engineering another person. If prostitution is an act in which a woman (and her client) uses her body for a lower good (i.e., money and pleasure), IVF is an act in which a woman (and her doctor) uses her body for a higher good (i.e., a baby). Whenever wrongful, or in this case, objectifying, means are used to reach even a great end, the act becomes wrongful or objectifying. By objectifying herself, treating herself, her body, as an object to be invaded and manipulated, a woman violates her inherent human dignity. She buys into the discredited idea that she has value as a woman only if her body can produce a baby.
The Church wrote her ﬁrst ofﬁcial response to the practice of ART [assisted reproductive technology] in the now famous document, Donum Vitae (1987). According to Donum Vitae, when medicine deviates from the principles inherent in the Hippocratic Oath—staying true to the art of healing and aiding in the person’s inclination toward wholeness—women, babies, and families are likely to suffer. This suffering originates in a misunderstanding of the nature of the human person and the intrinsic meaning and dimensions of procreation.
When a couple decides to use IVF to satisfy the desires inherent in the procreative aspect of sex, and so bypass the unitive aspect of conjugal love, the body is then being put to use for “biological fertility” alone, instead of for the broader and richer phenomena of “conjugal fecundity.”73 Donum Vitae explains:
The origin of the human being thus follows from a procreation that is “linked to the union, not only biological but also spiritual, of the parents, made one by the bond of marriage.” Fertilization achieved outside of the bodies of the couple remains by this very fact deprived of the meanings and the values which are expressed in the language of the body and in the union of human persons.
Reverence for the rich meaning of sex assumes and also preserves the reverence for the female body in its holistic truth. Once respect for the conjugal act dissipates, a woman is reduced to being viewed as a vessel that simply gestates a fetus, rather than an essential partner in the cocreation of an immortal soul.
At the end of Donum Vitae, the Church implores scientists to “continue their research with the aim of preventing the causes of sterility and being able to remedy them so that sterile couples will be able to procreate in full respect for their own personal dignity and that of the child being born.” Thankfully, Catholic doctors and scientists have found a way to help infertile couples bear their own children, called NaProTECHNOLOGY.
NaProTECHNOLOGY (NPT) stands for Natural Procreative Tech-nology. NPT is described on the NaProTECHNOLOGY Web site as:
[A] new women’s health science that monitors and maintains a woman’s reproductive and gynecological health. It provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system. Thirty years of scientiﬁc research in the study of the normal and abnormal states of the menstrual and fertility cycles have unraveled their mysteries.
Even though it utilizes highly advanced surgical techniques and employs low doses of fertility medication, NPT is natural because its primary goal is to restore a woman’s reproductive health. Once that is done, conception can take place naturally through the life-giving, lovemaking action of husband and wife.
….When women’s fertility is reverenced for the miracle it is, a woman’s inability to conceive or bear a child does not become an occasion for technological incursion. Instead, it becomes an opportunity to discover the way toward healing, restoration, and wholeness. For many, the Catholic Church may be the last place they thought they would discover such a treasure; for me, it conﬁrmed my understanding of the fundamental symbiosis between faith and science. For when reproductive technology allows itself to be ordered by respect for the human person, it discovers avenues for inquiry that not only produce results, but are also in accord with human dignity. And sometimes that “result” is the creation of a new baby to love.