Friday, February 29, 2008

Procreation, creation, and IVF

Ryan T. Anderson posted a fascinating article on Catholic arguments against IVF. Pope Benedict has just called on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to articulate for the Church "the great values at stake, and providing the faithful, and all men and women of good will, with ethical and moral principles and guidelines for these new and important questions.”

There are two principles in Catholic sexual ethics that the CDF must keep in mind: “(a) unconditional respect for the human being as a person from conception to natural death; (b) respect for the originality of the transmission of human life through the acts proper to spouses.”

Anderson notes the parallels between Benedict's call and the work done by Paul VI prior to Humanae Vitae's publication: new reproductive technology arises, the Church must apply Christ's "eternal truths" to new moral quandaries in which the faithful find themselves.

You will remember that Humanae Vitae--the 1968 encyclical definitively condemning artificial contraception--came rather as a shock to the hierarchy as well as to the laity. One can easily see the CDF's forthcoming response to IVF, the manufacture of "three-parent" embryos, etc... to be equally shocking.

On one level, I can sympathize with infertile couples seeking to conceive their own biological children. Thus far, Catholic teaching has largely been articulated in terms of "treating the child as a someone, not a something." The couple desperately trying to conceive will respond: "We certainly will receive this child as a person. We don't see it as another possession--that's why we're so desperate." The connection between what our actions say objectively ("I will create life that belongs to me!") and what we're feeling emotionally and in relationships ("This child is its own person, of course!") is simply not clear to us in our fallen condition.

Similarly, arguing from consequences--however right your prediction may turn out to be--usually fails to move hearts. The Church puts herself--again, necessarily--in the role of "harbinger of dire warning." Sometimes, this is necessary. But is there another way? Are there arguments against IVF and embryo-manufacture that stem from the very act of procreation itself? Is there something about the sexual relationship that says to all men of good will, "This is how we are meant to come into being?"

Anderson suggests several lines of argument the CDF may take:

"Paul VI [in Humanae Viate] did not rest his argument on predicted consequences alone. He proposed that the connection between the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital act is both natural and divinely ordained. But he did not give us much of an argument as to why these have to be united and how we know that fact. One argument might focus on a philosophical anthropology: the natural ends of the body and the proper function of the sex organs. Another line of argument might focus on the goods of human flourishing at stake in contraception and IVF and how only a sexual act open to life protects those goods. When we use contraception, we orient ourselves against the good of life itself—and, in the same way, when we use IVF to create a new human being, we treat that being solely as a means to our own purposes."

Like Anderson, I favor the latter approach, always remembering that it is not arguments that will convince infertile couples. It is the cross.

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