Friday, February 10, 2012

Treating Infertility as a Catholic

One of my dearest friends desires a child more than any other gift. Some of my cousins have struggled with infertility and the devastating grief of miscarriage. Through them, I know some of the pain involved. So I hesitate to even write this post. I know that I cannot speak from experience, so what I say may be viewed as judgmental or heartless. I hope you can believe that what I intend is an explanation of Catholic theology, not criticism or dismissal of another's pain.

On the part of the spouses, the desire for a child is natural: it expresses the vocation to fatherhood and motherhood inscribed in conjugal love. This desire can be even stronger if the couple is affected by sterility which appears incurable. Nevertheless, marriage does not confer upon the spouses the right to have a child, but only the right to perform those natural acts which are per se ordered to procreation. A true and proper right to a child would be contrary to the child's dignity and nature. The child is not an object to which one has a right, nor can he be considered as an object of ownership: rather, a child is a gift, "the supreme gift" and the most gratuitous gift of marriage, and is a living testimony of the mutual giving of his parents. For this reason, the child has the right, as already mentioned, to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents; and he also has the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception. Donum Vitae

Momma Jorje asked how I feel about planning for children instead of planning to avoid them. It is good to want children. God commanded, "Be fruitful and multiply." Using NFP to track fertile times and increase the chances of conception is a proper use of our sexuality -- assuming that sex does not become just something that must be done, separated from the love between spouses.

A simple explanation of other fertility treatments is that love and life should not be divided. Any treatments that improve the likelihood of conception within the natural marital act are acceptable. This would include treating ovulatory and hormonal dysfunctions or surgical correction of physical causes of infertility. (Somewhat as an aside, sperm samples can be morally collected using a perforated condom during sex. Sperm samples from masturbation are unacceptable.)

Treatments that make marital intercourse unnecessary are considered immoral. This would include IVF, artificial insemination, ovum donation, or a surrogate uterus. I truly cannot imagine how couples must feel to be denied children. I know my soul-friend's pain, but only filtered through her, not as my own. It must seem cruel for the Church to speak out against technology that would allow these married couples to become parents.

prayer for souls

The Church is compelled to speak here. Even artificial insemination using sperm from one's husband disorders God's plan for sexuality. It separates the act of love from the act of life, leaving the creation of life in the hands of a doctor instead of the child's parents. The issues of masturbation, homosexuality and bisexuality, artificial contraception, premarital sex, and immoral fertility treatments are not separate issues. They all spring from a misuse of our sexuality.

Trusting God can be so hard.

"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the LORD, 
"plans for welfare and not for calamity 
to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Image credit: archangel_raphael via Flickr


  1. Yes, this is a hard teaching for many people, but I don't see any way to deny its validity. Tinkering with life just isn't our job. Some friends of mine have had trouble conceiving, but none of the immoral options were even considered. For them, it's as if they were never invented. They will try the things they can try, and if they can't try, they won't have a child that is genetically theirs (though they may adopt someday).

    The good result of this teaching, though, is that there's no risk of children being treated as a commodity that parents deserve. Instead, they are a gift which God gives you -- or which, for his own reasons, he doesn't. Not that everyone who uses IVF thinks of children that way -- I know that they don't -- but it is a danger.

    1. Yes, the understanding of children as a gift certainly makes this teaching easier to understand. Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

  2. I had never seen that quotation before, but it's a really good one. I love the idea that there is no right for a person to have a child, as a child is not an object to obtain and own. I think that with all the technology surrounding infertility treatment, it is easy for people to unconsciously let the idea that it *is* their right into their head. Although, like you, I can only imagine the pain of infertility and pray for God's grace for those struggling with infertility.

    1. And like Sheila said above, feeling that you have a right to have a child does not mean you think of children as a commodity, but it's a slippery slope. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.