To My Readers: I will be praying you all have a Happy and Blessed Holy Week and Easter in 2021. Thanks to my guest poster, A Simple Man, I have the opportunity to attend all Holy Week services with greater ease and to spend more time with my family this Easter. As always, I will respond below to any comments, especially those addressed to me. I hope you all enjoy this week's post and find it as interesting and informative as I did!
God Bless you all---Introibo
On the Subject of In Vitro Fertilization
By A Simple Man
[ASM’s Note: This post will be discussing mature topics related to matters of human sexuality, the reproductive act, and certain sins of impurity. Although no vulgarity will be employed by yours truly, the terms employed by approved moral theologians may seem frank and quite candid to impressionable minds. Reader discretion is advised.]
While browsing headlines recently, an article from InsideHook (an online platform dedicated to news and luxury lifestyle articles for affluent men) published on January 8, 2021 caught my eye: “There’s a Pandemic Sperm Shortage, and “Sperm King” Megadonors Are in High Demand.” What an outlandish title, to say the least!
A brief summary follows: as the COVID-derived lockdowns continue on, demand for sperm banks has risen, while “supply” is at a shortage; to meet this demand, men are donating sperm (the “sperm kings” in question) more and more through online networks, sometimes free of charge; the sordid reasons for why these men donate sperm is given (some explicitly want to pass on their genes without the responsibility of parenthood); a linked follow-up article (Bowles, Nellie. “The Sperm Kings Have a Problem: Too Much Demand” New York Times, published Jan. 8, 2021) goes into further detail, but I think the following words from Ms. Bowles fully capture the moral absurdity on display:
“And so in the capitalist crunch, Sperm World — the world of people buying and selling sperm — has gotten wild. Donors are going direct to customers. They meet with prospective mothers-to-be in Airbnbs for an afternoon handoff; Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members have sprung up. The reason I know this at all is simple enough: I am 32 years old, partnered to a woman, stuck at home and in the market for the finest sperm I can get.”
Sperm is treated as a commodity (selling up to $1,100 a vial per the prior article!), much like the babies that result from them. All of this has been made possible by the process known as IVF: in vitro fertilization.
What is IVF? “In vitro” is Latin for “in the glass”; IVF describes the process where egg cells are extracted from a woman and combined with a man’s sperm in a laboratory dish or some other receptacle (hence the colloquial term “test tube baby”). After fertilization has occurred, the zygote is then returned to the woman’s uterus with the intention of establishing a successful pregnancy. This form of artificial insemination achieved public notoriety with the birth of Louise Joy Brown on July 26, 1978 (Source: History.com Editors. “World’s first "test tube" baby born.” HISTORY, published Mar. 12, 2010, last updated Jul. 23, 2020); since then, births accomplished via IVF account for up to 1 through 2 percent of all U.S. births as recently as 2012, as reported by Penn Medicine.
The specific outcomes of this procedure have resulted in chaotic “family” arrangements, as already seen from the above articles (particularly with regards to lesbian couples seeking to have children using their own ova without having a man involved). However, with regards to a husband and wife seeking to overcome issues of infertility, is IVF morally permissible? This is what we shall investigate.
What would IVF be morally classified as? Let us first consider that, as far as the man is concerned, sperm banks obtain their samples through acts of onanism, providing pornographic material to help “facilitate” their donation. (For the sake of propriety, I will not link to any articles with stories about this aspect of sperm donation; needless to say, this can be independently verified via articles through publishers like VICE, the UK Daily Mail, etc.) It goes without saying that we’re already on bad footing.
Secondly, before providing numerous excerpts from McHugh, O.P. and Callan, O.P.’s Moral Theology, let us recall some definitions: fornication is the copulation of an unmarried man with an unmarried woman who is not a virgin; adultery (a distinct species of lust) is sexual intercourse with the husband or wife of another, while a type of imperfect adultery occurs if unlawful familiarities occur without intercourse; coition is another term for natural sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
Without further ado, I will let the Dominicans have their say. The following section is cited entirely from the 1958 edition of Moral Theology, as hosted online by Project Gutenberg:
2520. The Consummated Sins of Impurity.—There are in all seven species of completed acts of impurity. (a) Thus, some sins of impurity are against reason because they do not observe the ends of sexual intercourse…(b) Other sins of impurity are against reason because they violate a right of the person with whom intercourse is had (incest), or of a third party to whom that person belongs. If the third party is injured in conjugal rights, there is adultery; if in parental rights, there is defloration or rape, according as the injury is done without or with force; if in religious rights, there is sacrilege…
2521. Comparative Malice of the Sins of Consummated Lust.—(a) In the abuse of an act, the worst evil is the disregard of what nature itself determines as the fundamentals upon which all else depends, just as in speculative matters the worst error is that which goes astray about first principles. Now, the prime dictates of nature as to sexual intercourse are that it serve the race and the family. Hence, the sin of unnatural lust (which injures the race by defeating its propagation) and the sin of incest (which injures the family by offending piety) are the worst of carnal vices. (b) In the abuse of an act a lesser evil is that which observes the natural fundamentals, but disregards what right reason teaches about things secondary, in the manner of performing the act. But reason requires that in sexual intercourse the rights of the individual be respected. A most serious violation of individual right is adultery, which usurps the right of intercourse belonging to another; next in gravity is rape, which violently seizes for lust a person under the care of another or undefiled; next is defloration, which trespasses on the right of guardianship, or removes bodily virginity, but without violence; last among these sins is fornication, which is an injury done not to the living, but to the unborn.
2523. [On Fornication] […] (a) […] Onanism is an aggravating circumstance of fornication, or rather a new sin of unnatural intercourse…
2524. Sinfulness of Fornication.—It is of faith that fornication is a mortal sin. (a) Thus, it is gravely forbidden by the divine positive law… (b) Fornication is gravely forbidden by the natural law. For it is seriously against reason to cause an injury to the entire life of another human being; but fornication does this very thing by depriving the unborn child of its natural rights to legitimacy, to the protection of both parents, and to education in the home circle. True, in some cases there may be no prospect of a child, or there may be provision for its proper rearing; but these cases are the exception, since fornication from its nature tends to the neglect of the child, and the morality of acts must be judged, not by the exceptional and accidental, but by the usual and natural. Those who commit fornication are thinking of their own pleasure rather than of duty, and will generally shirk the difficult burdens of parenthood. Society also would be gravely wounded if unmarried intercourse were at any time lawful. Hence, St. Paul reproves the pagans, though ignorant of Scripture, for their sins of fornication (I Cor., vi. 9-11; Eph., v. 1-6), since reason itself should have taught them the unlawfulness of this practice…
2526. Circumstances of Fornication.—(a) Circumstances that aggravate the malice are the condition of the person with whom the sin is committed (e.g., that the female is a widow, or the employee of the man, or his ward, or a minor). (b) Circumstances that add a new malice to fornication are of various kinds. Thus, previous circumstances are the distinct desires of the sin entertained beforehand, the solicitation and scandal of the other party or parties with whom the sin was committed; concomitant circumstances are the quality of the persons (e.g., fornication is sacrilegious if one of the parties is consecrated to God, and also, according to some, if one party is a Christian and the other an infidel; it is unjust if one of the couple is betrothed to a third party), or the quality of the act itself (e.g., if it is performed onanistically, though pollution may be excused if it results accidentally from the good purpose to discontinue the sinful act); subsequent circumstances are injury done to the partner in sin (e.g., by refusal to pay the support or restitution due) or to the offspring (e.g., by exposure, abortion, neglect)…
2530. Adultery.—Adultery is also a distinct species of lust. […] (c) Degrees of Malice.—There are three degrees of malice in adultery. The first is that in which a married man sins with a single woman; the second that in which a married woman sins with a single man; the third that in which a married man sins with another man's wife. The second is worse than the first, on account of its consequences (e.g., sterility, uncertainty of paternity, rearing of an illegitimate child in the family); the third is worse than the second, because in addition to the consequences just mentioned, it contains a double injustice (viz., unfaithfulness to an innocent wife and unfaithfulness to an innocent husband), and it multiplies the sin. If an adulterer's husband or wife is also unfaithful, the injustice is lessened, but not removed; for not merely the two married persons are to be considered, but also the children, the family, society, and God; and the wrong done by one of the parties does not take away the right to fidelity pledged absolutely to all of these in marriage…
2534. Unnatural Lust.—Worst among the sins of impurity, as such, are crimes of unnatural lust, for they exercise the sexual act, not only illicitly, but also in a manner that defeats its purpose of reproduction…(a) For procreation nature requires copulation, and hence pollution is unnatural, for it exercises semination without copulation, either alone (self-abuse, solitary vice, masturbation) or with another (softness). (b) For procreation nature requires proper copulation, that is, one that will permit of a fertile union between the two life elements, the sperma and the ovum. Hence, unnatural coition does not comply with this necessity, for it does not employ the proper organ of sexual union, substituting rectal for vaginal intercourse, or else by some form of natural or artificial onanism it frustrates the act of its destined conclusion. This sin is worse than pollution, since pollution omits to use intercourse, whereas unnatural coition positively abuses it.
2535. Pollution.—Pollution is the voluntary emission of semen apart from coition. […] (c) It is apart from coition, and thus it differs from other consummated sins. But pollution may be committed either alone (solitary vice), or with another, and in the latter case it pertains reductively to adultery, fornication, sodomy, etc., as the case may be. (d) It is voluntary directly or indirectly: directly, when one intends it as an end (e.g., for the sake of the pleasure) or as a means (e.g., as a relief from temptation or bodily itching, to obtain a specimen of semen for medical diagnosis); indirectly, when one unjustifiably does something from which one foresees that pollution will result. In all these cases pollution is formal or sinful, and it is not to be confused with material or natural pollution, which is a discharge of semen or distillation that is involuntary or unimputable.
2538. Proximate and Remote Occasions of Pollution.—It is never lawful to expose oneself to the immediate danger of sin, for he who loves the danger loves the sin (see 258, 260); but if one uses means to make the danger remote, one may lawfully encounter it for a good reason (see 258, 260, 261). It is lawful to permit an evil effect when there is sufficient justification according to the principle of double effect (see 103 sqq.). (a) Hence, if there is proximate danger of formal pollution (that is, of consent to sin), no reason excuses an act even of a non-sexual kind, such as horseback riding. But if the act is necessary, the danger must be made remote by the use of special means, such as prayer, firm resolves, etc. (see 2497 sqq.)…
2539. The Theological Malice of Sinful Pollution.—(a) From its nature pollution is a mortal sin, because it is an act of impurity (1494) and a perversion of nature (2534). Moreover, its consequences are most injurious to society (it tends to self-indulgence and the avoidance of the burdens of marriage) and to the individual (when habitual, it weakens mental and will power and often brings on a breakdown of bodily vigor especially among young people), In Scripture it is represented as gravely illicit (I Cor., vi. 10; Gal., v. 19; Eph., v. 3). Hence, pollution is always a mortal sin when directly willed (e.g., when practised deliberately in order to be rid of a temptation or of bodily irritation or itch certainly due to superfluity of semen or to passion), and also when indirectly willed if there is proximate danger of consent to sin (e.g., when one who has always committed formal pollution in certain company goes into that company without necessity, or without use of means to prevent a fall) or grave danger of pollution and no sufficient reason for permitting it (e.g., undue familiarities from which nocturnal pollution is foreseen as most probable).
2541. The Moral Species of Sinful Pollution.—(a) The general species of pollution is distinct from other consummated sins of impurity, since it is unnatural, and this in a special way (see 2534, and Denzinger, n. 1124), But some authors regard equivalent pollution (see 2493, 2535) as not a consummated sin, since it is without true semination, and hence according to them it may be confessed simply as impure pleasure (see 2519 b). (b) The particular species of pollution is derived from circumstances that give it a new essential malice. If it is solitary, and committed by one who is under no bond of marriage or vow, and accompanied by no thought or desire except in reference to self or self-gratification (autoerotism, narcissism), there is the single sin of pollution. But there are other sins if it is committed by one under special obligation (i.e., adultery or sacrilege), or if committed with another person (e.g., seduction, coöperation, rape), or if committed with impure thoughts or desires about others (e.g., mental adultery, fornication, sodomy, bestiality). The manner in which pollution is performed (e.g., whether coöperative pollution is active or passive, by irrumation or concubitus or touch, with or without an instrument) is per se an accidental circumstance. According to some authors, coöperative pollution brought on by touch alone is not diversified in species, if there is no special affection for the other person, but only the desire of carnal gratification, and hence it may be declared simply as pollution from touch.
To summarize, regardless of the marital status of the individuals involved, IVF begins with an act of unnatural lust, proceeding to a form of unnatural intercourse at the point of fertilization (whether it be within a laboratory, or with a woman utilizing an artificial implement to inseminate herself). As such, even if a sacramentally married man and woman were struggling with infertility (being unable to naturally conceive a child of their own), it would not justify the use of IVF. Even appealing to the obligation of paying the marital debt will not suffice; for as McHugh and Callan say elsewhere in paragraph 2615.c, such a request would be “unreasonable” due to being "seductive (e.g., when it is an invitation to commit onanism) by its nature. This is also notwithstanding the deleterious effects on family life and society which inevitably come from such a process becoming more commonplace.
Finally, having covered some general principles behind why IVF is intrinsically sinful, we turn to authoritative magisterial teaching on artificial insemination. Courtesy of Pope Pius XII (whose words will be in red), as cited by McHugh and Callan (bolded words are emphasis mine):
(c) Artificial Insemination. The subject-matter of the latter part of the preceding paragraph is distinguished from several unlawful practices considered by moralists under the heading of artificial insemination. Pope Pius XII on several occasions has given a clear, accurate and complete statement of Catholic teaching on the subject. We append here his texts:
1) The practice of artificial insemination, when it refers to man, cannot be considered, either exclusively or principally, from the biological and medical point of view, ignoring the moral and legal one.
Artificial insemination, outside of marriage, must be condemned as essentially and strictly immoral. Natural law and divine positive law establish, in fact, that the procreation of a new life cannot but be the fruit of marriage. Only marriage safeguards the dignity of the spouses (principally of the wife in the present case) and their personal good. It alone provides for the well-being and education of the child.
It follows that no divergence of opinion among Catholics is admitted on the condemnation of artificial insemination outside of marriage. The child conceived in those conditions would be, by that very fact, illegitimate.
Artificial insemination produced in a marriage by the active element of a third party is equally immoral and consequently to be condemned without appeal.
Only the spouses have a reciprocal right upon each other's body to generate a new life: an exclusive, inalienable right, which cannot be ceded. And so it must be, even out of consideration for the child. On whoever gives life to a small being, nature imposes, by the very strength of that tie, the duty to keep and educate it. But no ties of origin, no moral or legal bonds of conjugal procreation, exist between the legitimate husband and the child who is the fruit of the active element of a third party (even if the husband has given his consent).
As far as the legitimacy of artificial insemination in marriage is concerned, it suffices, for the moment, to recall these principles of natural law: the simple fact that the result desired is obtained by this means does not justify the use of the means itself; nor does the desire of the husband and wife, in itself perfectly legitimate, to have a child, suffice to establish the legitimacy of resorting to the artificial insemination which would satisfy this desire.
It would be erroneous, therefore, to think that the possibility of resorting to this means might render valid a marriage between persons unable to contract it because of the impedimentum impotentiae.
On the other hand, it is superfluous to mention that the active element can never be obtained legitimately by means of acts against nature.
Although new methods cannot be ruled out a priori for the sole reason of their novelty, nonetheless, as far as artificial impregnation is concerned, extreme caution is not enough; it must be absolutely excluded. Saying this does not necessarily proscribe the use of certain artificial means destined only to facilitate the natural act, or to assure the accomplishment of the end of the natural act regularly performed.
Let it never be forgotten that only the procreation of a new life according to the will and the designs of the Creator brings with it, to a marvelous degree of perfection, the accomplishment of the proposed ends. It is at the same time in conformity with corporeal and spiritual nature and the dignity of the married couple, as well as with the healthy, normal development of the child (Address to Physicians, Sept. 29, 1949, Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, vol. xi, pp. 221 ff).
2) We also believe that it is of capital importance for you, gentlemen, not to neglect this perspective when you consider the methods of artificial fecundation. The means by which one tends toward the production of a new life take on an essential human significance inseparable from the desired end and susceptible of causing grave harm to this very end if these means are not conformable to reality and to the laws inscribed in the nature of beings.
We have been asked to give some directives on this point also. On the subject of the experiments in artificial human fecundation "in vitro," let it suffice for Us to observe that they must be rejected as immoral and absolutely illicit. With regard to the various moral problems which are posed by artificial fecundation, in the ordinary meaning of the expression, or "artificial insemination," We have already expressed Our thought in a discourse addressed to physicians on September 29, 1949 (Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, vol. xi. pp. 221 ff.). For the details We refer you to what We said then and We confine Ourself here to repeating the concluding judgment given there: "With regard to artificial fecundation, not only is there reason to be extremely reserved, but it must be absolutely rejected. In speaking thus, one is not necessarily forbidding the use of certain artificial means destined solely to facilitate the natural act or to achieve the attainment of the natural act normally performed." But since artificial fecundation is being more and more widely used, and in order to correct some erroneous opinions which are being spread concerning what We have taught, We have the following to add:
Artificial fecundation exceeds the limits of the right which spouses have acquired by the matrimonial contract, namely, that of fully exercising their natural sexual capacity in the natural accomplishment of the marital act. The contract in question does not confer on them a right to artificial fecundation, for such a right is not in any way expressed in the right to the natural conjugal act and cannot be deduced from it. Still less can one derive it from the right to the "child," the primary "end" of marriage. The matrimonial contract does not give this right, because it has for its object not the "child," but the "natural acts" which are capable of engendering a new life and are destined to this end. It must likewise be said that artificial fecundation violates the natural law and is contrary to justice and morality.  (Marriage and Parenthood, May 19, 1956). See The Pope Speaks, Vol, III, No. 2, Autumn of 1956, pp. 194 ff.
And there you have it. From the mouth of the Vicar of Christ, IVF is “immoral and absolutely illicit.” Can’t get more clear than that.
In conclusion, when even the Vatican II sect opposes IVF as intrinsically evil (though for how much longer, I can only guess), its inherent illicitness should be clear enough. This post merely covered the moral principles and authoritative teaching as to why IVF is immoral; it does not provide an in-depth overview of the heinous effects that such technology allows (though a mere taste can be seen in the articles originally linked at the beginning of this post), in league with abortion and contraception: the further commodification of children and human sexuality, the increased tolerance for unnatural and sinful family arrangements, and a growth in pride at being able to play God.
As Dr. Robert Edwards (the English physiologist who helped produce the world’s first test tube baby previously mentioned, having won the Nobel Prize in 2010 for the development of IVF) put it after the fact: “I wanted to find out exactly who was in charge, whether it was God Himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory. It was us.”
Having passed away in 2013, Edwards now knows precisely who’s in charge.
May God have mercy on us all.