In this article we are going to be talking about IVF: In Vitro Fertilization. A lot of people have questions about this. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it wrong? Is it sinful? Is it a mortal sin? A lot of Catholics have even participated in it, maybe unknowingly, and they have questions about. In fact, I think the Pope came out recently, and said some comments, that kind of shocked the whole world. So, if you’re living for the world, and you’re living for Christ, sometimes these are two different things, and you have to decide which side you want to be on. And, joining us today, we have a wonderful person who is fluent in topics such as morality, and bioethics. Her name is Samantha Stephenson, and, if you do not know her, she is the host of A Brave New Us podcast, now on YouTube. Check it out. She is also the author of Reclaiming Motherhood from a Culture Gone Mad.

She is a Paul Ramsey Fellow at the Center of bioethics and culture and holds a master’s degree in theology and Bioethics. She has written a ton. She has spoken a ton.

Bryan: Samantha, I want to welcome you to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Samantha: Thank you so much. It’s such a joy to be here for the invitation.

Bryan: Yeah. I know you are so knowledgeable on these things, and when we follow God’s laws, and his commands, it makes sense. It brings us peace. It brings us joy, and good in our life. And when we don’t, you know, the opposite tends to happen. And we have this rift where we don’t always know what’s true, because the world tells us one thing, and the church has been -amazingly bad – at informing us. The Church is good at putting it in documents. They will teach the truth, but they are really bad at getting it out there to every one of us so we know what the church teaches. So, a lot of people have questions on this topic of in vitro fertilization. And when they hear it’s really against God, they are confused and unsure. So maybe, you could just start off by explaining what it is and the problems with it.

Samantha: Yeah. I think that really can surprise people, because people think the church is pro-life, so it must want people to have as many babies as possible, right? Which, of course, isn’t true. Obviously, the church has always urged people to practice responsible parenthood. When it comes to IVF, people want to have a child and that is such a good desire. But when we look at methods of conception, not every method of conception is a good one. That’s not to say that every child conceived, every soul, isn’t created in the image and likeness of God with innate, invaluable dignity. Every child conceived has that dignity, but we can, obviously, look at certain methods of conception and say, that we can denounce them as a bad method of conception.

The most egregious example of that, of course, is rape, right? So, we could look at that and say that a child who’s conceived of rape is a beautiful gift from God, but the method by which that child was conceived is not in accord with God’s plan for sexuality and for marriage, and for the dignity of any human person.

And so likewise, when we look at IVF, we can ask: “Is this method a good method of conception?” And by good, we don’t mean, does it work? Is it effective? which, it’s not by any means the most effective way of solving infertility, and we can talk about that. But, medically speaking, is this in accord with God’s plan for marriage and for family. And so, when we look at IVF, it actually violates the dignity of the child, the rights of the child. It violates what’s the good for the woman: Her health, and it violates the good of marriage. And so, we can break it down. We can take those things one by one if you want today.

Bryan: Yes, sure.

Samantha: Okay. So, if you want to think about how it violates the rights of the child, it is a pretty strong statement to make. We can refer to a document, Donum Vitae in 1987, that says that a child has a right to be conceived, carried, and brought up in marriage by both of his natural parents. Now, we can look at society and say well, we’re violating a lot of those rights today with various practices. But ultimately, when we are looking at something like IVF versus adoption, even in adoption, where a child is raised by somebody who’s not their natural parents, or is not conceived, carried, and, on along the same trajectory, adoption and IVF both create this primal wound, and children of both can tell us the wounds that they have, and the pain that they go through, is very real suffering.

The difference between something like adoption and IVF is that an adoption makes the best of an already imperfect situation. In adoption, children are given families who wouldn’t otherwise have them. That primal wound already exists, and adoption is a solution to the primal wound of the child.

Adoption is not a method for parents to obtain their desire of having a child. Although that is a good desire, and it is good that they have that, it leads them to solve the problem for the child. In IVF, the intended parents participate in the creation of that primal wound for their child. So that is one of the problems with egg donation surrogacy that the Pope is talking about. Why is he denouncing it as deplorable? Because that is not something that we want to be doing to our children. That is not the way we want to start our parental relationship with surrogacy, the exploitation of women, and the commodification of embryo.

The other problem is that a fruit of procreation of the love of two people coming together in marriage is supposed to be a visible sign of God’s love. For the church, it is supposed to represent the love of the Trinity coming together- the Father and the Son and their love proceeds into the person of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, a husband, and a wife and their love proceed into the very real person of their child and it’s amazing! It’s Beautiful!

The church, particularly through John Paul II, has some amazing work on the meaning of human sexuality, the meaning of the body, and the theology of the body. So that is what the ideal concept of procreation is about. However, what IVF does, is it takes procreation out of that beautiful framework and puts it in a laboratory.

It takes the child’s conception out of the unity of love that it is meant to be in, and it makes the child a product to be bought and sold. It makes the child a product of the creation of science though it is not to say that God does not also participate. He insoles that child. And again, that child has inalienable dignity.

But what it does is it makes that so much less than what it is supposed to be. And if we look at the etymology of the word sin, it is an archery term, and it is about missing the mark. And so, what happens in IVF is we are missing the mark, and we are making children while having children is supposed to be a generative self-giving act.

The husband and the wife give of themselves to each other. And this is the fruit of that giving, that fruit of that love, that giving and receiving that happens. What IVF does, is that it says that I have a desire for something, and I can pay money to someone to obtain that something, and that something is a child and so what is being done is that the child is commodified, bought, and sold.

Bryan: It is so dehumanizing. It is terrible! But it also sounds like it would be in the realm of mortal sin. It sounds like it is a grave sin and a grave misuse of our sexuality on many different levels.

Samantha: It is a grave matter. Now, whether we would call it grave sin, or mortal sin, that depends on a variety of factors or knowledge of it. We could break that down to knowledge and freedom of the will. And if we are going to give the most compassionate interpretation of freedom of the will here, it is good to admit that it is very painful to struggle with infertility, especially when there is a very good desire that appears to be off limits or taken away.

That is the earliest lie that we received from the deceiver. Our parents: Adam and Eve, were told God wanted to withhold something good from them in the garden. That is a very easy lie for us to buy into; we are easily deceived by thinking that God is not good, especially, currently where people have so many primal wounds from their parental relationships. It can be easy to doubt God’s goodness and question whether he is withholding something from you,

Bryan: It is the same thing with Abraham, as well. Abraham was told that he was going to have a child, but he did not have it in his timeframe. And so, he got eager and had relations with his servant to try to bring one.

He was like: “Maybe this is the way it is going to come in.” God answered: “You did not trust me. You tried to take matters into your own hands.” And the penalty for that was sexual deviancy and circumcision for every male after that. However, God reassures: “Trust me, I am going to give you a child.” As mentioned earlier, there are much better, healthier, safer, and more effective methods, for conceiving children than IVF that are in line with the Church. And many people do not know about them, which is why they resort to IVF.

Samantha: “Yeah, absolutely. I would love to go back to what you said before though, about the sinfulness of the act. I think we can look at couple of things that maybe will bring to light why this would be considered such grave matter just in the process of IVF. So aside from looking at the theological effects on marriage, there are over a million souls on ice, in this country alone, as products that have been discarded as a result. So, IVF is very expensive. It’s about 12,000$ a cycle. And anybody who’s tried to conceive anyway, even if you don’t struggle with infertility, it takes more than one cycle usually to get pregnant. Well, so you have to add the cost of those cycles.

If you are looking at this from an economic standpoint if you’re a big fertility specialist and your clinic is looking at this, you want to create as many viable embryos as possible, and you can’t implant all of those embryos into a woman at one time. They usually implant, maybe four, maybe five.

What if four or five take? That’s very rare. But it’s not so rare that three or two take, and so then they practice what’s called a selective reduction and that’s just code for abortion. You’ve tried so hard to have these babies, you’ve created them in a lot, you paid a lot of money, but there’s too many to give the best possible chance of a live birth.

So, then we get to decide which one of these embryos that’s implanted that you’re now pregnant with, which one do we discard? Which one do we eliminate? So obviously that’s grave matter there. They also use preimplantation genetic diagnosis which is a fancy way of saying that they look at the genetics of the embryos that they’ve created and see which ones we discard because they’re not good enough. For instance, which ones are we going to set aside because of their sex? Which ones are we going to thaw and allow to die because they don’t have the genetics that we want? They might have, you know, any number of genetic issues. And, on the flip side of that, there also have been some very rare cases where people have considered those, genetic defects to be desirable, and so say, a deaf couple is looking to implant a deaf child so that the child would be genetically similar to them, and that’s debated amongst ethicists whether or not that falls within the realm of something that would be an ethical choice. There have been cases where women wanted to implant embryos with down syndrome and so ethicists are still debating whether or not that’s acceptable. All we can say is the issue is eliminating them from the pool of conception just based on their genetics.

Bryan: Wow, that is crazy! I did not know a lot of that information. So, thank you for sharing that with us.

Samantha: Yeah, well, and so then back to these million souls that are waiting. Once a family hopefully conceives or sadly realizes that this is not going to happen because these procedures really are only effective according to CDC data in the 25%. I want to say I’ve seen as high as 30 in some studies, I’ve seen as low as 7 percent especially for older women.

Bryan: It might not even work, chances are it won’t work by the sounds of it.

Samantha: Right, chances are it will not work. Some studies show that couples who have undergone IVF, have a 20 % chance of conceiving naturally after their use of IVF. And so, some people will say, well, IVF opened up the woman’s body to be more receptive or something like that. No, God had plans and he was saying: “Wait.” And it didn’t work out that way.

Bryan: Well, even if it is true, it doesn’t make it a good thing going back to what you say, you know, the causality doesn’t necessarily make something good. I mean, we can seek to be healed, but that doesn’t mean we go to a witch doctor or voodoo to try to find healing because those would be really bad methods to go about that.

Samantha: Right. Bad, dangerous for your soul and ineffective, but then the question though for these couples, especially say you are a Catholic couple, and you did experience infertility and later come around and understand the truth of what was at stake then they realize: “Oh my God, Oh my goodness. I have however many embryos, many children. What am I going to do? What do I do with these embryos who are on ice?” What do we do with these million embryos that are on ice that are essentially abandoned because the parents don’t wish to continue to grow their family or don’t wish to continue to pay for these cycles, or can’t continue to pay for these cycles?” The church has said this is actually a situation of injustice that has no solution because the cooperation with IVF is morally problematic. The only thing that you can do is you could thaw them, you know, to try to give them a peaceful passing. You could try to freeze them indefinitely, but at some point, you are going to die, and somebody has to continue to pay for the energy and the resources of keeping them in cryostasis. So, who, and when, that’s another question in of itself is just the custody battles that happens. There’s also something called either embryo donation or embryo adoption, depending on how pro-life your view is of that embryo. There are some Christian churches that advocate for it. Yes, if the parents are done, somebody else can adopt.  And so, the oldest embryo to date that’s been adopted and born that I’m aware of is about 30 years. So, the mother of her adopted embryo was born the same year that her daughter was conceived.