And what is this IVF?
These last months we have been hearing quite a lot about IVF. Some of the people discussing this subject are well qualified to do so, others are not. Unfortunately, quite a few of the latter are motivated by political considerations, while others are attracted by money.
I do not claim to be an expert on this subject but I feel I can also make a valid contribution. Let us at once note that we are in what is known as ‘the bioethical sphere’. This formally saw the light in 1971, when oncologist Van Renssellaer Potter published his ‘Bioethics: bridge to the future’, preceded by an article entitled ‘Bioethics: the science of survival’.
Potter not only coined a ‘neologism’ with great success, but was also responsible for the spreading of the principle that ethical values cannot be separated from biological events.
Close to that period the Institute of Ethics, Society and Life Sciences was set up in New York followed by the Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction and Bioethics at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Subsequently a number of bioethical institutions were set up in Europe including in Barcelona and Milan, the latter at the Sacro Cuore University. Over the last 40 years, we have had various reviews and publications on the subject as well as bioethical committees in hospitals and polyclinics.
The Church saw the need to create a bridge between biological science and ethics, a bridge linking scientific rationality with ethical rationality. In 1995 Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae dwelt well on the subject.
From around 1978, the study of ethics, which until then covered natural birth, started dealing with artificial birth, especially that produced by heterologous fertilisation, and tackling the problem between sexuality and procreation.
As a result of artificial fertilisation the question of supernumerary embryos crops up, namely moral questions about procedure and intent.
One must acknowledge that not everything that can be done scientifically is necessarily morally acceptable.
A decisive factor in guiding us about the morality of certain behaviour is the good of the individual, his dignity and his rights. Apart, naturally, from what is dictated by Divine Law: this comes above all other criteria.
Yes, legislation on what can and cannot be done is necessary, as these are matters affecting all humanity. However, the principle which should guide our legislators is the reference to human morality built on human values common to all. One cannot give priority to a need or a wish without taking into consideration the ethics of the means used.
Again it was Pope John Paul II who in December 1982 made it clear that that those responsible for passing laws should consider sound ethical values before anything else.
There is a difference between artificial insemination and artificial procreation. In the case of artificial insemination, the fertilisation takes place inside the woman’s womb, whereas in artificial procreation fertilisation takes place outside the womb. And, in case a married couple does not have gametes which can be fertilised, there comes what is known as the type of IVF where gametes come from alien givers. (Gametes are sexual reproductive cells which join with other cells to form a new organism.)
When fertilisation takes place outside the womb we are faced with the problem of embryos being destroyed.
That process which implies the destruction of human lives and leaves the life of the embryo in the hands of doctors and biologists is not morally permissible, because this means we are giving science power over the destiny of the human person. On February 22, 1987, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, made this very clear.
Medicine makes use of what are called ‘staminal cells’. These can generate themselves infinitely and, under certain conditions, also transform themselves into specialised cells. When brought into contact with embryos, these can also become entire organisms. But, in order to produce these cells, embryos have to be destroyed.
The Church’s Magisterium has given a negative judgment on the use of human embryos as a means to arrive at new therapeutic methodologies, when there is no respect for the same embryo in all stages of its existence.
The human embryo is a human being and nothing can morally justify killing a human life. The state, guarantor of the common good, should defend human life in all phases of its development. Catholic parliamentarians should show a total disapproval of laws which go against life.