Dear Father | Church provides several levels of support for infertile couples
Q: Why does the Church oppose in-vitro fertilization (IVF)? What alternatives does the Church offer to couples experiencing infertility?
This question is one near and dear to my heart, for my own family has had struggles in having children. I empathize greatly with couples who feel the burning desire to be parents and share the gift of life. The Church is not opposed to this desire; rather the Church opposes some methods to attain this good.
In-vitro fertilization injects science into the act of love shared by a husband and wife. In this procedure, the gametes of the woman and man are harvested as material, which are then joined in a petri dish in a lab. A doctor then determines which of the embryos he has created has the best chance of living and which do not. Those that are judged fit are surgically implanted in the mother's womb, while the others become the subject of laboratory experiments or are frozen. This process cheapens the gift of life from an act of love co-creating with God to a sterile scientific process.
Further, the genetic parents in IVF may be encouraged to use donor sperm and/or eggs for the chance of greater success, meaning their child may not be genetically theirs, either partially or totally. Since donation records are sealed, the parents will have little idea as to the medical history of these donors and possible medical issues that may arise later on for their child.
Finally, IVF is also expensive, costing at least $10,000 per attempt, according to an article written by John Haas of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston. Mortality rates for embryos -- human persons -- in IVF is 90 percent.
In "Humane Vitae," Pope Paul VI called on scientists to find morally licit ways to help achieve pregnancy and to plan families. Dr. Thomas Hilgers, then a medical student, read this section of the document and felt a calling. He began studying if there were effective, moral means to help families. After decades of research, Hilgers is now the foremost expert on the topic in the United States. The Natural Procreative (NaPro) Technology system he developed works with a woman in understanding and treating the cause of her infertility.
Whereas IVF has success rates between 21-27 percent, NaPro methods are between 39-81 percent effective in helping women bear healthy children naturally, according to a study by the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human reproduction. Not only is NaPro more effective, but there is also the real possibility of choosing to have more children, which IVF may not allow for, and it usually costs less than IVF.
The Church does more than offer scientific and medical help. In our archdiocese, we offer a fertility support group to help couples struggling with infertility, an annual Mass offered for those who are suffering from infertility and a naming/commendation rite in the case of the loss of a pregnancy. To learn more about these resources, visit archstl.org/naturalfamilyplan ning or call (314) 997-7576.
The Church also provides the community and spiritual support to bear the cross of infertility to the hope-filled joy of parenthood.
Father Mayo is associate pastor of St. Francis Borgia Parish in Washington. Send questions for a priest to: St. Louis Review, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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