The Catholic Church acknowledges the challenges that infertility presents as people attempt to bring children into the world. While there are many options sanctioned by the Catholic Church that improve the chances of conception, other methods are considered immoral. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, fertility treatments should not "substitute for the married couple's act of loving union." Generally speaking, methods that interfere with natural intercourse are not approved.
Issued by the Vatican in 2008 with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, the "Dignitas Personae" addresses advances in biotechnology such as use of surrogates, embryo adoption, artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization. "The human embryo has, from the very beginning, the dignity proper to a person." Working from the concept of human dignity expressed in the "Dignitas Personae," the USCCB asserts that a child is a gift from God, and that while "many couples are tempted to resort to reproductive technologies . . . here, as in other areas of life, a good end does not justify every possible means."
The use of a third party to donate eggs or sperm, or to conceive or carry a child, violates the sanctity of marriage and natural sexual relations, the Church has said. The USCCB comments, "The child resulting from these arrangements is not the fruit of the spouses’ commitment to procreate only with and through one another. In an important sense, the spouses have decided not to be fully the mother and father of their child, because they have delegated part of their role to others." The Church's view is that surrogacy violates the procreative marital pacts of parents and undermines their human dignity, the dignity of the child and that of the donor.
The "National Catholic Reporter" outlines the rulings of the Dignitas Personae, including the bioethical option of adopting embryos. Over 400,000 embryos have been frozen since the late 1970s, and many couples unable to conceive consider "adopting" or bringing one to term. For Catholics, this invites a serious moral dilemma, since the adoption of a frozen embryo, even while it saves a potential human life, indirectly condones the artificial generation of human life and is unacceptable in Catholic doctrine.
In the Book of Genesis, God urges Adam and Eve to procreate by uniting their bodies in the act of intercourse. Obtaining a semen sample -- whether from a donor or husband/partner -- is at odds with the intention of marital intercourse, according to the Pope Paul VI Institute Guidelines on the treatment of infertility. Introducing sperm into the woman's body by artificial means is a substitution for -- or suppression of -- marital intercourse and therefore unacceptable, the Church says.
Because the egg and sperm are joined "in vitro" (the Latin term for "in a glass dish"), the USCCB determines that IVF "depersonalizes the act of generating a child, turning it into a technical process in a laboratory ... and can even be used to conceive a child if neither [parent] is alive, for the body of neither one is involved in the act of generating this life once sperm and egg are obtained and stored."
According to the Pope Paul VI Institute, any method which assists natural marital intercourse without resorting to artificial methods is deemed acceptable by the Catholic Church. These include intercourse at times of high fertility, sperm count testing, treatments for hormonal dysfunction and surgical correction of biological causes of infertility.
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