IVF #2: Children Are Not Our Gift to Give

Today is the second of our four-part series on life and in vitro fertilization.  Last week, we established the principles: We are loved by God, we all suffer, and one of the greatest sufferings is not being able to have children.  Jesus hears our pain, and after affirming us, He asks us to respond as He would.

Let’s now address the morality of IVF beginning with a question: What were the circumstances of our conception?  Some of us may have been conceived within marriage in an act of true self-giving, while some of us might have been conceived during an act of lust; some might have been conceived outside of marriage, perhaps in a one-night stand, perhaps through sexual abuse; finally, some of us have been conceived through IVF.  We can make two points here: 1) The manner in which someone is conceived is important because not all are morally equal.  Some are good, some are bad.  2) In spite of this, our dignity as being made in the image of God is unchanged.

How do we know this?  Science and medicine say nothing because they don’t deal with moral issues.  The truth that humans are made in the image of God is written deep in the human heart, but rests on the authority of the Bible.  The Gospel today focuses on the authority of Jesus, and we rely on His authority to know truths that are sometimes obscured.  The Gospel says, “The disciples went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.  They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:21-22).  Then He uses His authority as God to cast out a demon.  The account concludes, “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this?  A new teaching — with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (1:27).

It’s on the authority of Jesus and the Bible that we believe we are persons, not objects; we are not whats, but whos.  This is why we can’t treat others like things.  This dignity accompanies our whole existence, which begins at conception.  Interestingly, IVF supports the fact that life begins at conception because IVF specialists aren’t interested in just getting sperm or eggs, but in trying to achieve fertilization, because they know that’s when life begins.

Now, since we’re all persons, let’s consider if parents have a right to a child—this is the starting point for well-intentioned people: I have a right to a child, so I will use IVF.  A right means we’re entitled to something and can demand it.  We all have the right to life and to free speech, and that means we deserve it.  But, do people have a right to a child?  We would say ‘No.’  Because children are subjects, not objects.  We cannot lay claim to another person.  Slavery is wrong because a person possesses another.  The Church has never taught that married couples have a right to children; we just teach that married couples have a right to the sexual embrace which procreates children. 

So, when we speak about parental rights, we don’t mean that parents have the right to possess their children, but to be free from interference from strangers or the government in rearing their children.

Therefore, if we don’t have a right to children, how should we view them?  As a gift.  Stephanie Gray writes, “A gift is a blessing, it is something bestowed generously and freely from one party to another…  A gift can only rightly be given by the person who originally possesses the gift.  If one human may not possess another, then who possesses a human?  Our creator, God, does” (Conceived by Science, 21-22).

Listen to this story, please: A woman named Stephanie Levesque was a surrogate mother multiple times for different people, meaning, for example, that a mother and father would supply their sperm and eggs, then a child would be conceived in a lab and then implanted into Ms. Levesque.  The third time she did this, they discovered that the baby had heart problems at 16 weeks.  The parents wanted to abort the baby but Levesque refused and the baby was delivered.  Now, there are multiple moral problems here: the father and mother want to kill their child but couldn’t because another woman was carrying the baby; they also wanted to cut Levesque off from the future of the child, which is bizarre because she’s the one who gave birth to this child; finally, Levesque said that surrogacy is the most beautiful gift one can give, and this leads to the fundamental moral problem with IVF: It’s not her gift to give.

The only Person Who can truly give the gift of another person is God, and this will become very clear next week, when we see how IVF specialists play god: They choose which embryos are fit to survive and which will be experimented on; they choose how many to implant and which will be frozen; and many parents who choose IVF will not accept a baby with a serious defect.  Why?  Because they paid money for a healthy baby.  That baby is not seen as a gift, but as part of a transaction.

Compare that with the general mentality of natural childbirth: We accept the children we’re given because they’re gifts.  Sometimes we’re not ready for them, but they’re still gifts.  If they have defects, we accept it because that’s whom we’re given.  IVF flips this mentality: We can choose the sex of our child, we choose the ones with higher probability of survival, and if we think the gift has a defect, we can return it.

IVF is different from adoption because adoption is child-focused: The goal is finding parents for a child who needs them.  IVF is parent-centered: It’s about creating a child to satisfy the parents’ longings.  This difference explains why no couple procreates a child in a natural way simply for the sake of giving that child to someone else.

There are further examples of the objectification of children in current IVF procedures, one of which is that there are always more embryos fertilized than implanted.  One fertility clinic in Kansas says, “Most couples have at least three to five or more embryos frozen to increase their chances of IVF success and/or to use for future IVF cycles when they are ready for Baby #2, 3, or 4”.

Another couple shared on YouTube how they had 31 eggs retrieved, 15 of which were fertilized, 12 were viable, meaning three would be tossed away, and five were “really good.”  They implanted two and froze the other three—what happens to all these frozen embryonic persons?

Dr. Sonya Kashyap, who teaches at UBC, said that 80-90% of frozen embryos survive the thawing process, meaning 10-20% die.  Is it right to endanger many children in order to create a few?  Years ago, a couple came to me wondering if they could do embryonic stem cell research to help heal their child, and I said that that wouldn’t be right, to create one of their own children to be used in order to help another.  When they die, how could they face the fact that one sibling was killed to save another?

In the UK, between 1991 and 2015, 2.3 million embryos were discarded, while in the US, one million are in freezers.  Of those who aren’t selected to grow naturally, some are experimented on because parents donate them for medical research.

Finally, sometimes multiple embryos are implanted because it’s probable that not all will grow.  Yet, sometimes many do start growing, and so one clinic says, “If multiple pregnancies occur, a multifetal selective reduction procedure can be considered.  This procedure is performed at approximately 10 weeks of pregnancy and involves injecting a salt solution into one or more of the gestational sacs”.  The solution is essentially a poison which kills the 10-week-old person.

To summarize, even if a married couple really wants a child, IVF is wrong because: 1) It puts children in grave danger, because many don’t survive.  While it’s true that no one’s guaranteed survival within our mother’s womb, the problem is that IVF creates children in an environment where they’re not meant to be.  2) The process of IVF kills some embryos deemed unfit and experiments on others.  3) Even if we were to solve these problems, the main problem would remain: children are not our gift to give.  Married couples don’t have a right to a child because children aren’t objects; they have a right to the sexual embrace that may procreate a child.  Again, this will become clearer next week when we talk about the commodification of humans and what to do when we can’t have children of our own.

Let’s conclude with Jesus’ mercy.  Most people don’t know that IVF is wrong, so, if we truly had no idea that it was wrong when we did it or supported someone in doing it, then there’s no sin, because we can’t be guilty of something we didn’t know was wrong.  If we had some idea, then we bring it to Jesus in Confession and He will forgive us.

One couple here has given me permission to share that they never knew that conceiving a child outside of the natural way was wrong until they read it in the Confession pamphlet. But they went to Confession, and haven’t been discouraged in loving Jesus with all their hearts.  So, there is always hope!

Hope is the reason we’re doing 40 Days for Life.  When we stand outside B.C. Women’s Hospital, we’re not arguing with people.  We’re silent witnesses to the truth that God loves us all, that we’re not objects to be manufactured or disposed of at will, and that, just as we’ve all sinned and experienced that mercy, we proclaim that mercy to others.

Today, we have the sign-up cards in the pews—could you please pass them down so that we can all look at them?  Thank you.  At the end of Mass we’ll meet our 40 Days leader, Liera, and she’ll explain more.

Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” (Luke 19:9).  In this one verse, He teaches with authority that He wants to forgive all our sins, and that every person is so precious that they cannot be treated as an object, which is why He died and rose for us.

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