We are living in technologically incredible times, technologies with the potential for great good, but also great evil. Some technologies have the power to bring us to the point of Armageddon because they involve blasphemies against God so great they invite annihilation! Certainly we see that in weapons of physical warfare, but I’m referring to another war, the war in the womb. Many scientists today are developing reproductive technologies that were subjects of science fiction not long ago. They usurp God’s power making themselves lords over life itself. To understand the scope of evil involved in these technologies, we need to consider theological basics first and God’s design for life, love, and the family. It’s a far cry from the utopia offered by scientists.
If someone asked you to name the most important event in human history what would you choose? For the Catholic the answer is obvious: the Incarnation: the God of the universe stepping into human history as one of us to save us from our sins. Without that event no one could ever enter heaven; we would be forever banned from God’s presence. And how did God come? Not as an adult like Adam, but as a helpless infant in Mary’s womb.
However, there is an event that precedes the Incarnation without which it could not have happened: Mary’s fiat. “Be it done unto me according to your word.” It is Mary, the new Eve, who, by her “yes” makes salvation possible.
Let’s meditate on that event for a minute. There is a tradition that says Mary was praying for the coming of the Messiah when the angel appeared to her. In her humility she never considered that she herself could be the channel of Yahweh’s salvation. And, in fact, because of her vow of virginity, she would have believed it to be impossible. That’s why she asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” Was God asking her to renounce her vow? But the angel explains. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God.” And Gabriel supports his message by announcing a miracle. Mary’s elderly, barren cousin Elizabeth is with child. Mary immediately conforms her will to God’s. “I am the maidservant of the Lord.” She becomes the first tabernacle for Jesus. At the same time she becomes the model of holy motherhood for all wives and mothers.
Biologically, the womb is a sterile environment to be a safe home for the growing baby. In that sense, the womb of every pregnant woman is a pure tabernacle of life. While a man and woman can give biological life to their children, however, they, like Mary, must be overshadowed by the power of the Most High for the little one to receive a soul. Man has no capacity to create the human spirit. He can only use the sexual powers gifted him by God to participate in creating the baby’s body. But this power makes splitting the atom look like child’s play.
If they had eyes to see, every couple would be on their knees worshiping God before knowing each other as delicate biblical language used to phrase it, recognizing the awesomeness of conceiving a child. Is there a greater act of creation on earth than participating with God in creating a unique, never-to-be-repeated human soul? No!
But the devil is a great deceiver and what a masterful deception: to reduce human sexuality to the grunting and rutting of the barnyard or the antiseptic sterility of the laboratory. To strip human life of mystery and its mystical elements is Satan’s goal. And, in fact, I believe that had to happen first before he could convince mankind to move on to the technological horrors now upon us. First sexuality and human reproduction had to be trivialized before they could be scientifically manipulated. That was the role of contraception – to divide the procreative and unitive attributes of sex and make man the arbiter of life stripped of its mystery and mysticism.
Is it a stretch to call sex and the beginning of life mysterious and mystical? I don’t think so. Most of us have seen films of life before birth. We’ve watched the sperm and ovum unite to become the zygote, then divide and divide again. We’ve watched the blastocyst pulse with life. We’ve seen the pictures of the tiny babe in the womb with the heart and umbilical cord beating rhythmically as if to heavenly music. Isn’t that hidden world one of mystery? It is to me – and, I think, to most people which explains why so many babies in danger of abortion are saved by ultrasound images opening a window to the baby’s hidden world. But that same technology is being used to destroy: the little girl because she’s not a boy, the tiny sick or handicapped baby, the simply unwanted. Good things can be misused. However, it is the reproductive technologies specifically developed making the scientist the creator that most threaten our future because they illustrate man’s determination to play God.
Let’s look at some of those. Contraception came first and science continues to research more effective ways to limit fertility. Next on the horizon is a once-a-month pill that would be billed as a contraceptive, but would operate as an abortifacient. But that’s old news. Man’s been avoiding the responsibility of children since he was driven east of Eden. The means have simply become more sophisticated than the crocodile dung used by ancient cultures. Increasingly, however, reproductive technologies focus, not on limiting fertility, but on ways to overcome infertility. Ironic isn’t it? Couples spend years avoiding the “punishment” of a baby by turning their fertility off, then expect to be as fertile as rabbits when they try to turn it back on. Technology to overcome infertility has given us “test tube” babies whose lives begin in petri dishes, spare frozen embryos living in liquid nitrogen limbo, egg and sperm donation, surrogacy, all euphemistically lumped together as ART or assisted reproductive technologies, defined as any treatment directed toward helping an infertile couple have a baby.
In 2005, Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote, “Most Americans are blissfully unaware that this country is fast becoming the world’s retailer of reproductive technologies. Procedures that are rightly considered immoral in other nations are readily available here–at least for those able to pay. Sex-selection abortions and embryo sorting…along with virtually unlimited and unregulated access to a market for sperm and eggs.” Mohler quoted bioethicist Arthur Caplan who dubbed the U.S. the “Wild West” of reproductive technology.
Nurse/ethicist Dianne Irving explains that ART is more accurately defined as artificial reproductive technologies including not just artificially joined egg and sperm in a petri dish (sexual reproduction), but turning other cells into sex cells for a-sexual reproduction. Irving warns of the “clearly eugenic purposes that IVF/ART facilities provide for all manner of genetic engineering and ‘synthetic biology’ for ‘redesigning the human being’,” and points out that, “The literature on this is massive and fast moving, often internationally promoted by futurists, transhumanists, technoprogressives, postnaturalists, etc., who are by far the majority in policy making positions. Such eugenic goals by definition require these IVF/ART facilities in order to reproduce their ‘designer babies’.”
ART also means babies are no longer limited to two parents. The UK recently approved mitochondrial replacement also called three-person IVF, which is the stuff of science fiction. In an article in Science, author Liat Clark quoted Helen Watt, senior research fellow at the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a Roman Catholic academic institute. Speaking to Wired.co.uk Watt said the process, which is sold as a cure for certain conditions, has risks. "Mitochondrial replacement manufactures a new child, who will then be at risk of unknown harms of various kinds, as will his or her descendants." Watt described the methods used saying, "Pronuclear transfer is particularly objectionable, as it would require the would-be parents to deliberately conceive their own IVF embryo, purely to combine that embryo's parts with those of a second donor embryo to create a third embryo: a 'pronuclear clone' of the first. Far from being welcomed unconditionally, the first embryo, who will carry his/her mother's condition, will be created solely for spare parts. Any child eventually born must come to terms with the fact that he or she has no true genetic parents, but is instead composed of two embryos deliberately destroyed to create him or her. The other method, Maternal Spindle Transfer (MST) is also seriously problematic ethically as it creates an embryo with two mothers – the 'spindle mother' and the 'egg donor mother' – with all the identity problems that involves."
But eugenics is only part of the dark side of ART. Many reproductive technologies involve what is essentially human trafficking. Consider surrogacy. Poor women are being used as “rent-a-wombs” exploited by both well-off couples in the West (including homosexuals) and those who financially benefit from the programs. In a book called The Red Market, Scott Carney investigated surrogacy, organ donation, and other exploitive programs targeting the poor. Carney described one Indian doctor, Nayna Patel, and her facility, Akanksha Fertility Clinic which was featured on Oprah. The underbelly of the glowing facility is that women are locked up for the nine months of pregnancy, often delivered by C-section despite the increased danger to the mother. Often the women are impregnated with as many as five embryos which are later “selectively reduced” to a “more manageable” number with no informed consent from either the customer or the surrogate.
Carney quoted a woman who chose India for her surrogacy out of quality control considerations. “When I was told by my doctor they could get someone in Stockton, I don’t know what they are eating, what they are doing. Their physical environment would have been a concern for me. The way they have things set up [in India] is that the surrogate’s sole purpose is to carry a healthy baby for someone.” Now doesn’t that attitude show respect for those exploited women? To this mother, her surrogate wasn’t a person, but a rented womb to be controlled. And if the surrogate dies following pregnancy, as some have, who cares as long as the baby survives?
This is the reality of reproductive technologies today. The mechanics of getting a baby, no matter how unethical the means, is the flip side of aborting “unwanted” children. In both cases the baby is not valued for him or herself, but is wanted or unwanted according to the desires of the parents. Just as a woman can be a sex object, a baby can be a doll object. Rip it limb from limb and throw it in the trash if you don’t want it. Do anything in your power to procure one, made to order, if you do.
God knew each of us when we were formed in the wombs of our mothers. And He wants each of us to be created His way through the intimate love of a man and a woman open to the gift of life. His plan doesn’t include a medicine cabinet full of drugs and plugs to separate love and life. Neither does He want the doctor and the pharmacist, the scientist and lab technician in the bedroom. Every child has the right to be conceived in the intimate embrace of his parents imitating Mary’s “yes” to God’s will. And yet God makes Himself subject to us. Mary carried Him about wherever she went, He was subject to her. But He also makes Himself subject to us sinners who abuse and even crucify Him in the hardness of our hearts. God didn’t refuse to ensoul the first “test tube baby,” Louise Brown, nor any of the millions of IV babies now living around the world. It is He who calls all little ones into life no matter the origin of their beginning. Whether a baby is conceived in lust in the back seat of the car, or a-sexually produced in the lab, God loves those children every bit as much as those conceived in love by a married couple living according to His will. The sin in these circumstances is not the baby’s and we can never let them think they are “illegitimate” or somehow less worthy than others. The wonder of God is that He alone brings good out of our evil. The sins of adultery, fornication, and IVF/ART often bring the good of the child, another soul for God. The child is the victim of the parents’ sin, but often it is the child who leads the parents to repent. Think of the love of Jesus for children and rejoice that the very acts Satan intends for evil culminate in the creation of children with an eternal destiny who will one day live with God in eternity. Pray for a return to sanity in our culture, but never despair. Appearances are deceiving and Satan only appears to be winning. Conform yourself to God’s will and don’t worry.