Question of life, IVF and abortion
The Pro-Life movement is not limited to believers, much less to one political party, or for that matter to one religious belief. The widespread condemnation of abortion is the best example of a pro-life alliance cutting across all these different sectors who agree on the essentials of what makes each human life unique from conception.
The present moment therefore requires Catholics to rationally prospect a Theology of Persuasion when communicating with secular and non-confessional sectors of society, as any pastoral letter on a Bill before Parliament must do.
A case in point is the Cana Movement’s statement giving to understand that IVF procedures open the road to abortion. The link, however, is not immediately self-evident and may cause confusion. So let us take up the challenge of ‘persuasion’ ourselves and reason on IVF issues.
Is an act wrong because the Catholic Church says so? Or is it when the act is wrong that the Church says so? A possible Theology of Persuasion sees the second option as an opportunity to debate rationally with society.
There exists the danger of diluting the horrors of abortion if abortion is brought indiscriminately into every pro-life question. In many ways the issues raised by IVF are distinct from those on abortion.
Rationally, the difference between IVF and abortion is comparable to the difference between self-defence and murder. Self-defence justifies the loss of human life, but there must be reasonable use of force to allow the preservation of other life; if not, self-defence may turn to murder.
Equally, IVF technology must rationally satisfy society that the minimum necessary of artificially fertilised human life is lost for the creation of new life, otherwise the wanton ‘waste’ of such life would be unjustified rationally, morally, and if the IVF Bill is passed, legally.
Therefore abortion is to murder what IVF is to self-defence, at the pre-natal stage of life.
IVF technology may be of social concern to pro-life supporters, including the Church authorities, should no satisfactory criteria exist to define the absolutely necessary ‘intervening force’ science needs use to assist the procreation of life.
No parent would wish indiscriminate destruction of fertilised human life even if to satisfy their very legitimate aim to have a child.
That is what the IVF debate should be all about. The couples’ legitimate aim to have children through IVF needs the legislative support of the State to regulate effectively life-technology and ensure an embryo is on a par to the couples’ loving and caring wish to get human assistance for procreation.
Abortion negates all this absolutely. It is universally accepted that nature’s life-process is one unbroken, continuous progression. There is no objective point at which human life turns into human beings and into people.
Legislation limiting IVF technology exists practically all over Europe and the IVF debate has raised issues of Fundamental Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights of Strasbourg last year delivered an important judgment on IVF.
The European Court held: “That neither in respect of the prohibition of ovum donation for the purposes of artificial procreation nor in respect of the prohibition of sperm donation for in-vitro fertilisation under section 3 of the Artificial Procreation Act, the Austrian legislature, at the relevant time, exceeded the margin of appreciation afforded to it”.
To my mind, a Catholic Theology of Persuasion is already among us after reading in The Times Prof. Fr Manwel Agius’s rational and doctrinal commentary on the bishops’ pastoral letter on IVF.
Our social aim, therefore, is not to make life-technology workable, as prominent secular intellectuals advocate; it is to keep it to as humane level as is possible.
The theoretical cutting edge of extreme life-technology seems to have no limit and even impossibilities such ‘virgin births’ or procreation without the need of a male seed may become possible.
A commentator of the secular London Sunday Times, in regard to claims that science within a generation will “conquer the tyranny of the womb”, said: “You don’t have to be a cardinal to choke on this or wonder if we really want a world with no generations, no sexes and perhaps no sex either, or not as we know it.
“Science may be able to ‘conceive the inconceivable’ but... it seems ill-equipped to imagine what the implications are of what it rushes so excitably towards.”
While IVF technology is, of course, radically different from all that, the Church does its duty when it reminds the secular world that life is one process whatever the life-technology may be.
Rationally, it is science that must be at the service of a dignified quality of human life and not the other way round.