In January of this year, Kim Kardashian had a baby daughter via a surrogate. While she wanted to give birth herself, apparently her last two pregnancies carried some risks, so she listened to her doctors who thought surrogacy was her best way to have another child.
The popular Netflix show, Fuller House, unfolds a story line where Stephanie always thought she couldn’t get pregnant and would never be a mother, but found out her last hope was in-vitro fertilization. Her family would support her by pitching in to pay for IVF and while looking for sperm donors, her boyfriend Jimmy offers to be the donor, even though it would be a big commitment to father a child. And at the end of the season, good friend Kimmie Gibbler becomes the surrogate mother for this baby.
On the outside, these seem like loving scenarios. Kim wants another baby and Stephanie longs to be a mom, so IVF and surrogacy should be good options, right? Actually, these procedures are serious wrongs. The Church teaches that in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy are actually distortions of the good. Sex is good. Children are good. But not at any cost.
Sex that is a total gift of self within the covenant of marriage is a participation in the love of God. Babies that come from this bond of marriage are gifts from God. Even if a baby does not come from a marriage, it is still the union of a man and woman and still a gift of God. The reproductive technologies of in vitro fertilization and surrogacy separate the unitive and procreative meanings of sexual union. And any time we separate the baby-making meaning of sex with the bonding meaning of sex, we have a problem.
“Contraception aims at sex without babies, these reproductive technologies aim at producing babies without sex.” – Mary Healy, Men and Women Are From Eden.
Consider how IVF works. The woman is pumped with hormones to stimulate multiple eggs at once, and these eggs will also be fertilized at once. A woman sometimes uses her partner’s sperm, but many times a sperm donor of a unknown man is used. The way sperm is collected is for a man to masturbate into a cup. On Fuller House, they make a joke about how much Jimmy enjoyed being a sperm donor, but in the area of morality, this is no laughing matter.
“Applying the Church’s teaching means that, in short, procedures that introduce a third party into the process (such as surrogates or sperm/egg donors) are not morally acceptable. Additionally, substituting a laboratory action or anything else for intercourse, such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF), is also morally unacceptable. However, treatments that help facilitate conception through marital intercourse are morally ethical.” USCCB website.
Now consider how IVF often involves the tragic loss of human life. “Children in the embryonic stage are frequently discarded—or frozen—without ever being implanted into their mother’s womb. And if multiple babies are implanted, doctors may suggest performing a “fetal reduction” by killing one or more to increase the survival chances of the strongest child in utero. While a baby might eventually be born, his or her tiny siblings may be destroyed in the process.” USCCB website.
As I was reading a piece last night about the expense and risks of freezing eggs, one thing became clear to me: IVF is all about choice. You can choose how many eggs, when in life to use them, what kind of donor you want, etc. (The irony is, in the end, you don’t have a choice on how many embryos implant and many women need multiple tries). While the intention might be good (ie, to have children), the action is actually immoral.
The bottom line: Having a child is not a right. Children are gifts.
A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.” CCC 2378
It’s a hard message to hear for those who are used to controlling everything in their lives, but no one is OWED a child. No one has a right to a baby, because a baby is not a prize that you deserve at the end of thousands of dollars of frozen eggs. They are gifts, unique humans with their own rights. Don’t they have the right to not be created in a test tube, or not gestated in a surrogate? Do they have the right to know their mother and father? As science develops, we have learned that a baby’s fetal cells enter a mother’s bloodstream during pregnancy and become a part of her tissue. Pregnancy is also the time when a mother begins to make a connection with her child, feeding and nurturing that baby with her very own body. Surrogacy takes that connection away from a mother and child.
As Pope Francis reiterates in Amoris Laetitia:
He or she is not an accessory or a solution to some personal need. A child is a human being of immense worth and may never be used for one’s own benefit. So it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations. For “children are a gift. Each one is unique and irreplaceable… We love our children because they are children, not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams. A child is a child”. AL 170
What about all the women who struggle with infertility? Many who struggle with understanding Church teaching also struggle to understand why the Church would deny IVF to infertile couples. They seem to think, “How can the Church be so anti-science and technology?” But really, the Church is pro technology that supports the reproductive functions without usurping them. That’s what we will address in next week’s blog!
For more information, check out the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) collection of documents and resources on reproductive technology: