In vitro (Latin: within the glass)
"The human and Christian dignity of procreation, consists not in a 'product,' but in its connection with the conjugal act, an expression of love of the spouses, their union which is not only biological but also spiritual”. - Pope Benedict, Facing infertility with care and hope
The Church has clearly and unequivocally judged in vitro fertilization (IVF) to be immoral. Unfortunately, most Catholics are not aware of the Church's teaching, do not know that IVF is immoral, and some have used it in attempting to have children.
If a couple is unaware that the procedure is immoral, they are not subjectively guilty of sin.
Children conceived through this procedure are children of God and are loved by their parents, as they should be. Like all children, regardless of the circumstances of their conception and birth, they should be loved, cherished and cared for.
The immorality of conceiving children through IVF can be difficult to understand and accept because the man and woman involved are usually married and trying to overcome a "medical" problem (infertility) in their marriage. Yet the procedure does violence to human dignity and to the marriage act and should be avoided.
In vitro fertilization brings about new life in a petri dish. Children engendered through IVF are sometimes known as "test tube babies." Several eggs are aspirated from the woman's ovary after she has taken a fertility drug which causes a number of eggs to mature at the same time. Semen is collected from the man, usually through masturbation. The egg and sperm are ultimately joined in a glass dish, where conception takes place and the new life is allowed to develop for several days. In the simplest case, embryos are then transferred to the mother's womb in the hope that one will survive to term.
Obviously, IVF eliminates the marriage act as the means of achieving pregnancy, instead of helping it achieve this natural end. The new life is not engendered through an act of love between husband and wife, but by a laboratory procedure performed by doctors or technicians. Husband and wife are merely sources for the "raw materials" of egg and sperm, which are later manipulated by a technician to cause the sperm to fertilize the egg. Not infrequently, "donor" eggs or sperm are used. This means that the genetic father or mother of the child could well be someone from outside the marriage. This can create a confusing situation for the child later, when he or she learns that one parent raising him or her is not actually the biological parent.
In fact, the identity of the "donor," whether of egg or sperm, may never be known, depriving the child of an awareness of his or her own lineage. This can mean a lack of knowledge of health problems or dispositions toward health problems which could be inherited. It could lead to half brothers and sisters marrying one another, because neither knew that the sperm which engendered their lives came from the same "donor."
But even if the egg and sperm come from husband and wife, serious moral problems arise. Invariably several embryos are brought into existence; only those which show the greatest promise of growing to term are implanted in the womb. The others are simply discarded or used for experiments. This is a terrible offense against human life. While a little baby may ultimately be born because of this procedure, other lives are usually snuffed out in the process.
IVF is also expensive, costing at least $10,000 per attempt. Over 90% of the embryos created perish at some point in the process. In a desire to hold down costs and enhance the odds of success, doctors sometimes implant five or more embryos in the mother's womb. This may result in more babies than a couple wants. In Canada, one woman gave birth to five children engendered by IVF. She had wanted only one, so she sued her doctor for "wrongful life," demanding that he pay for the cost of raising the four children she did not want.
To avoid the problems of carrying and rearing "too many" babies after several have been implanted, doctors sometimes engage in something euphemistically called "fetal reduction" or "selective reduction." Here they monitor the babies in utero to see if any have defects or are judged to be not as healthy as the others. Then they eliminate those "less desirable" babies by filling a syringe with potassium chloride, maneuvering the needle toward the "selected" baby in the womb with the aid of ultrasound, and then thrusting the needle into the baby's heart. The potassium chloride kills the baby within minutes, and he or she is expelled as a "miscarriage." If it cannot be determined that one baby is less healthy than the others, some doctors simply eliminate the baby or babies who are easiest to reach. Again we see the unspeakable diminishing of the value of human life which can arise from this procedure.
But what about the people who have had a child through IVF but didn’t use donor eggs or sperm, collect the sperm through masturbation, or killed "extra" unwanted babies in the course of the pregnancy? Doesn’t that make some cases of IVF moral?
Children conceived through this procedure are children of God and are loved by their parents, as they should be. Like all children, regardless of the circumstances of their conception and birth, they should be loved, cherished and cared for. But that does not make the procedure any more moral.
Human beings bear the image and likeness of God. They are to be reverenced as sacred. Never are they to be used as a means to an end, not even to satisfy the deepest wishes of an infertile couple. Husbands and wives "make love," they do not "make babies." They give expression to their love for one another, and a child may or may not be engendered by that act of love. The marital act is not a manufacturing process, and children are not products. Like the Son of God himself, we are the kind of beings who are "begotten, not made" and, therefore, of equal status and dignity with our parents.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Dr. John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and consultant to the USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activites