Catholic Teaching
Assisted Reproductive Technologies: A Moral Analysis

By Mary Tillman
December 2013

You will be like God.  Genesis 3:4

In the May 2012 issue of Defenders of the Faith, Patricia Johnson ably sets forth many facts about assisted reproductive technologies (ART), most notably In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and Catholic teaching.  This article will expand upon the topic.

As noted by Mrs. Johnson, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”)(1997), paragraphs 2375 through 2378, condemns the use of artificial insemination and fertilization, whether heterologous (i.e., involving a third person’s sperm, ovum, or uterus), or homologous (i.e., involving only one man and one woman, even if a married couple).  This condemnation is because such procedures separate the procreative and unitive meanings of the conjugal union.

The Church has addressed this topic in other authoritative documents.  Thus, in 1987, Donum Vitae, “The Gift of Life,” Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated in Section 5 that “ even in a situation in which every precaution were taken to avoid the death of human embryos, homologous IVF and ET [embryo transfer] dissociates from the conjugal act the actions which are directed to human fertilization.”

More recently in 2008, William Cardinal Levada, current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addressed these procedures in Dignitatis Personae, “On the Dignity of a Person: Instruction on Bioethics.”

But, even if someone does not understand or accept the Catholic Church’s teaching about the meaning and moral parameters of conjugal love, there are other cogent arguments for the immorality of many of these techniques.

First of all, nobody denies that there is a very great loss of human life in its embryonic stages.    For example, according to a British study reported by the Daily Telegraph and on August 19, 2013, out of 3.8 million embryos produced by IVF (presumably only in the United Kingdom), only about 122,000 live births occurred.  That represents a “success rate” of only 3.21%.  In other words, about 96% of the embryos died.

Second, many of the procedures require that a man masturbate to collect sperm.  The Church teaches at CCC, Paragraph 2352, that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”

Third, research seems to indicate that persons conceived through ART are more likely to have health problems.  As reported by on May 8, 2012, the overall risk of birth defects when using ART was 8.3%, compared to 5.8% in naturally conceived children.

Fourth, there are psychological ramifications for donor-conceived persons.  A donor-conceived person can feel as if his or her “humanity has been deconstructed and she is a product to please adults, a thing to service others and be consumed.  She does not have a father like other people, nor [in the case of egg donation, and to some extent, surrogacy] a mother.  She only has donors and ‘intended parents.’”  Newman, Alana S.,

Fifth, there is real concern for the exploitation of poor women.  This takes place first in the context of egg donors.  Women who are paid for their eggs often suffer physical as well as psychological damage.[1] Regarding women who are paid to be surrogates, the American Medical Association said in December 1983, updated June 1994, in its Opinion 2.18 as follows:

“Surrogate motherhood may commodify children and women’s reproductive capacities, exploit poor women whose decision to participate may not be wholly voluntary, and improperly discourage or interfere with the formation of a natural maternal-child bond.  Psychological impairment may occur in a woman who deliberately conceives with the intention of bearing a child which she will give up.  In addition, the woman who has contracted to bear the child may decide to have an abortion or to refuse to relinquish her parental rights.  Alternatively, if there is a subsequent birth of a disabled child, prospective parents and the birth mother may not want to or will be unable to assume the responsibilities of parenthood.”

Sixth, ART represents an indirect attack on the dignity of disabled persons.  When using IVF, oftentimes the embryos are tested for genetic defects.  Those found “defective”, e.g., having Down’s Syndrome, are frequently discarded.  The societal message here is, only non-disabled humans are wanted, welcome, and will be given a chance to live.

Seventh, ART further enables parenting by homosexual couples.  True, homosexual couples more and more are able to adopt children, but sometimes they resort to ART in order to have a child that is related genetically to at least one of the partners.  A recent study by University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus found that children raised in same-sex parent households are more likely to have negative outcomes in 40 tested categories, as opposed to children raised in married, mother-father families.[2]  Very recently, a large-scale study by a Canadian researcher found that children in same-sex households were only 65 percent as likely to graduate from high school as those living in traditional opposite-sex marriage families.[3]

Finally, new technologies now are able to make “three-parent” babies. Without going into all the scientific steps this involves, be it known that it DOES involve the destruction of at least two embryos to “create” the third embryo that has genetic contributions from a father, a mother, and yet another mother.  Perhaps the idea of a child with three parents creates disquiet, shock, or even repugnance?[4] As stated by Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California, even “many secular and actively pro-choice scientists, bioethicists and women’s-health advocates have voiced grave and detailed concerns about the safety and utility of [the new technology], and about authorizing the intentional genetic modification of children and their descendants.”[5]

Regarding modern science, C.S. Lewis said in The Abolition of Man:  “Its triumphs may have been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.”  Let us hope that scientists, doctors, and all men of Good Will repent of the madness that seems to have overtaken them: playing God with human life.

“I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.” Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, Chapter III

(Mary Tillman and her husband Mike live on a small sheep farm in Harrison County WV.  They are homeschooling parents of six.  Mary is the choir director for a monthly traditional Latin Mass, and Mike is a hospital administrator.)

1. Selling Her Body, a Few Eggs at a Time: The Commodification of Motherhood, by Michael Poore; The Humanitas Project: A Center for Bioethics Education.

2. Wetzstein, Cheryl, The Washington Times, “Study Suggests Risks From Same-Sex Parenting”, Sunday, June10, 2012.


4. Foht, Brendan P., “And Baby Makes Four,” New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Sept. 2013.

5. Saunders, Peter,, “UK Decision to Trial Three Parent Embryos for Mitochondrial Disease Premature and Ill-Conceived,” Sept. 9, 2013.

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