An infertility “epidemic” now affects one in five US couples with difficulty achieving or maintaining pregnancy. After looking forward to the blessing of children, my wife Marie and I were surprised to find ourselves in the infertile group. When we consulted doctors, most of them casually recommended “In Vitro Fertilization” (IVF) or “test-tube babies” without even investigating or attempting to treat the medical problems preventing conception.
An astonishing 100,000 IVF pregnancy attempts are made annually in the United States alone, usually involving more than one embryo. The vast majority of such babies do not survive the unnatural thawing and implantation procedure. Currently in the USA 500,000 tiny children are in freezers awaiting eventual use, and 50,000 more join them each year. In Croatia, HLI’s Dr. Antun Lisec claims that more babies die from the “fertility industry” than by surgical abortion.
Catholic couples experiencing the pain of childlessness and pressured by medical doctors can be tempted by IVF even though effective moral means exist to combat infertility without the health risks of IVF to babies and mothers. How can we cooperate with the lucrative industry that treats children as objects to be produced in labs, subjected to “quality control,” experimented upon, and in most cases discarded? Modern methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) have helped many couples to conceive by determining the most fertile times in the wife’s cycle. Diagnosis and treatments for conditions causing infertility are available from outstanding specialists like Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska.
Catholics are blessed to have Donum vitae, also called the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, explained in Donum vitae the moral illicitness of IVF, surrogate motherhood, and experimentation on human embryos. This magisterial instruction is available on the Vatican website, and it is likely that another document addressing newer fertility techniques and ethical questions will be published soon.
Most of us probably know married couples unable to conceive or who experience problems in having additional children. Understanding and compassion are essential if we wish to reduce rather than compound their suffering. Infertile women report similar levels of emotional pain as those diagnosed with breast cancer. Hence we should take the time to learn which statements tend to open wounds and which heal. For example, questions about the underlying reasons for infertility can be painfully perceived as motivated by curiosity rather than empathy. Family and friends should avoid impatience with the grieving process that can be quite long. My wife has recorded a powerful talk discussing these and other important aspects of infertility.
Infertile couples must learn how to overcome destructive temptations such as falling into self-pity, “avoiding the cross” through a stoic attitude, anger with God, or envy of others. Since infertility is something of an “emotional minefield,” those wanting to help should reflect carefully before offering advice. As a general rule, it is better to allow the couple to raise the topic. Listening with understanding and sensitivity to the cross they are carrying is a beautiful way to witness to God’s infinite love and desire that we help others achieve their most fundamental human needs (cf Mt 25, 31-46).
Our modern world lacks respect for human life on a most fundamental level. The commonly promoted solution of IVF for infertility illustrates this cultural depravity. Clear Church teachings and authentic moral alternatives are available, but few are aware of these life-affirming resources. In closing, I would add that the Lord’s greatest gift to us is spiritual fatherhood or motherhood. This is true for the priesthood and religious life, but also for some lay people in God’s mysterious plan. Let us rise to the challenge as bearers of the Gospel of Life.