Scripture, Conception and the Natural Law

Pete Brown

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Dear Catholic Exchange:

I read your message on In Vitro Fertilization recently. Thank you it was very helpful reading and a very difficult topic to address.

I have a follow-up question. Where in Divine Revelation (Scripture) does the Church glean that medical means used to assist/replace the physical act of engaging in intercourse to conceive new life between a married couple is immoral? This seems to be merely a systematic conclusion. The only references I can locate for “authority” are the Second Vatican Council Guadiem et Spes, John Paul II and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. I have read Donum Vitae. All of the Magisterial materials seem to cite their own systematic conclusions but provide no systematic Scriptural basis. They seem to be relying upon a systematic interpretation of natural law concerning the human body vis-a-vis the broader theology of being made in the image and likeness of God (therefore requiring a level of dignity afforded to a human person created). I am not making light of Church authority or the natural law. But it seems to be a conclusion without strong Scriptural foundation.

Please note that my concerns focus only on the limited situation involving a married couple who seek fertility assistance in reproduction (not from third party donors or issues of contraception). The systematic logic applied for this circumstance would seem also to apply to any medical assistance for any disability in humanity since medical assistance (eyeglasses, artificial limbs, organ replacement, etc.) violates the natural order and dignity of the human person to perform any action.

How is the dignity and sacredness of creating new life morally violated by the love and desire of a married couple who need and have requested assistance by a third party with the conjugal act? If two married persons were crippled and needed help getting into bed to have intercourse, would it be morally offensive to help them in and out of the bed so they could have intercourse? The love of neighbor through third party assistance to create new life seems to me to be within in God's plan of human dignity and sacredness of life.

Sorry to write so much. What am I missing?

Steve Miller

Dear Mr. Miller,

Peace in Christ!

Regarding your question on moral conscience, we neglected to enclose a hyperlink to our FAITH FACT on moral conscience which makes many of the same points which you raise. Here it is:

Going God's Way — The Church's Teaching on Moral Conscience

You also asked questions about the biblical foundation for the Church's teaching on in vitro fertilization. We must remember that the Bible was not written to provide explicit answers to every moral dilemma that may arise in future generations. The Bible was written out of the desire and initiative of God to reveal Himself and His plan to restore mankind to His eternal friendship.

Nonetheless for what it is worth, there are examples in Scripture of people circumventing God's will and God's plan for marriage out of a single-minded desire to conceive children. Abraham in a sense did this when he sired a child through Hagar the Egyptian maid-servant when his own wife was unable to conceive. The offspring Ishmael and his descendants became a thorn in the side of Israel for the rest of salvation history (Gen 16). Out of desire to preserve their bloodlines Lot's two daughters got their father drunk for the purpose of becoming pregnant by him. The offspring Ammon and Moab also became mortal enemies of Israel (Gen 19:30ff.). Now neither of these tales demonstrates the Church teaching on in vitro fertilization but they do serve as illustrative analogies to parallel situations today. People desire to conceive children in a manner that is disordered because they are willing in one way or another to circumvent God's plan for conception through marriage. And chaos and misery are the inevitable ultimate result.

These Biblical analogies are closer to the example of in vitro fertilization than the case you describe of helping a crippled couple into bed so that they might conceive. A better example might be the help to conceive given by Napro technologies, which teaches couples how to understand their natural cycles so that the odds of conception might be increased. This is morally praiseworthy for it chooses a morally good object (increased knowledge of fertility) with a good intention (to conceive a child).

Now with in vitro fertilization there is a good intention as well — the conception of a child. But the object chosen is morally unacceptable on any number of grounds. In the first place, the practical realities of in vitro dictate that excess embryos will be created which will either die in unsuccessful attempts at fertilization, be preserved indefinitely in cryogenic freeze, be destroyed as surplus, or be subjected to immoral medical experimentation. No one who opposes abortion and believes that life begins at conception can in principle countenance any of these alternatives.

Furthermore, in vitro is a direct assault on the bond rooted in nature itself between parent and offspring. Rather than a baby that is an effect, even an incarnation, of the life-giving love that a married man and woman have for one another, the baby becomes a product of technology that human ingenuity wills and manipulates into existence. It does not require too much imagination to see that there is a similar mentality at work in in vitro as there is in abortion. The fate of the baby is not determined by God's blessing, His natural gift of the marital act and His providentially determining the end result of natural love, but by human choice — the choice to produce in the case of in vitro and the choice to destroy in the case of abortion. One may sympathize deeply with the many couples who are unable to conceive and recognize that this inability causes a host of pastoral problems which undoubtedly did not surface as much in earlier ages. But in vitro fertilization is simply not an acceptable response.

United in the Faith,

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