biomedical ethics: October 2006 Archives

Humanae Vitae

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I heard a homily today on Humanae Vitae for what was arguably the first time in my life, in a family parish, at a regular Sunday Mass. It was wonderful - it almost compensated for the musical choices (which, I must say, were masterfully played and sung) from the Gather Hymnal. The homily was given by the pastor. He opened by reflecting briefly on the readings from the Mass. He also mentioned that the Deacon, who had given the homily last year for Respect Life Sunday, had arranged to be at this particular Mass just to hear what Father pastor would have to say! Father did a great job of talking about a delicate topic in such a way as to get the message across without getting into details that might upset the parents of young children. He also mentioned theology of the body and talked about a talk he had recently heard on just that topic.
Our new parish really seems to be trying hard to be faithful and faith-filled. But the architecture is more suited to an ampitheater than a church. It was built in the late 1970s I think (dedicated 1982?) and the crucifix is truly awful. It is one of those where the crossbar is about at Jesus's navel and His arms are extended as if He is about to fly off the cross. Give me a cheap plastic dashboard Jesus dripping with carmine over the stylized version any day. But the church has a lovely life sized statue of the patron saint and several other statues as well, and a full set of stations of the cross evenly placed around the inner outside wall, and nice hard pews with soft kneelers. The tabernacle is smack dab in the center behind the altar, everyone genuflects or bows as required, and there are regularly scheduled hours of adoration. The musicians are skilled and faithful, and I think that they are doing the best they can with what they think is right. Still, I find myself wincing over and over again. Too much first person God hymnody, too much social gospel and inclusive language with borderline theology. But even in that, a couple of phrases hit my husband between the eyes to the point where he teared up.

Tomorrow night there will be a speaker on "Voting the Catholic Conscience" who we will try to catch, God willing and work doesn't keep us too late!

Today being Life Sunday, I was thinking about a snippet of conversation I overhead earlier in the week on Relevant Radio. (Yes, we can sort of get the signal from two different sites during the day, depending on where I am in the car.) It was at lunch time and I was driving home to do something (one of the joys of being here is that the house is only 5 minutes drive from the office!). It was a call-in show with a priest and the host and they had apparantly been talking about the Church's position on IVF (in vitro fertilization, aka test-tube babies). Two callers called in very upset and talking about how this was among the reasons that they had left the Church, that the Church condemns these ART (assisted reproductive technology) conceptions.

Poor Father! He seemed to be having a really hard time reaching these women. He kept telling them that he was glad that the children had been born, but he was also trying to explain just why the Church considers ART to be immoral. I think that he might have done better to remind them that God can bring good out of evil, that the children are not evil or immoral but that the circumstances of their conception were, just as a child conceived through rape is not evil but is rather a survivor of evil. Father was trying to explain the natural law, that the intended route of creating new life is through natural relations between a husband and wife - but he was repeatedly interrupted by one woman who was rather vociferous that the child she was raising had been conceived in love, just in a Petri dish rather than in her body. And I am sure that is her point of view, that the location doesn't matter.

I wish that Father had been a little more knowledgable about the full scope of ART. Many folks don't realize that much of what is done, even short of IVF, is immoral according to natural law and Catholic theology. All too often, folks who are not conceiving as fast as they think they should get on the infertility bandwagon and before they know it, they are thousands of dollars into what can all too often be a real racket. From what I have heard from many sources, mostly patients, there seems to be no real effort to diagnose the cause of the infertility before going through a cookbook set of interventions, each with its alphabet soup. And all too often, the suggestion is to just jump to IVF, because no matter what is wrong, IVF can bypass it. The sad reality is that the folks for whom IVF is the most likely to succeed are the folks who probably could have conceived without it...........
In all my years as an L&D nurse, I NEVER saw a normal labor and birth in an IVF mom. Never. Don't know why, but I have theories. Saw tons of preterm birth, pre-eclampsia, severe gestational diabetes, placental problems, you name it. I worked at that time in several hospitals in Southern California, ranging from the elite private hospitals to the Kaiser HMO hospitals to the LA County hospitals and I saw better outcomes in the poor and underprivileged moms than in the well-to-do IVF moms. Maybe infertility is one way to protect women from pregnancies that are risky to them, maybe there is something inherently pathological in the ART process. I don't have a clue, but I do remember the old saying, "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature" (or in this case, the natural law).
I also wish that he had referred folks to another papal writing, Donum Vitae. See below a couple of relevant excerpts.

The connection between in vitro fertilization and the voluntary destruction of human embryos occurs too often. This is significant: through these procedures, with apparently contrary purposes, life and death are subjected to the decision of man, who thus sets himself up as the giver of life and death by decree. This dynamic of violence and domination may remain unnoticed by those very individuals who, in wishing to utilize this procedure, become subject to it themselves.

Why Must Human Procreation Take Place in Marriage?

Every human being is always to be accepted as a gift and blessing of God. However, from the moral point of view a truly responsible procreation vis-a-vis the unborn child must be the fruit of marriage.

For human procreation has specific characteristics by virtue of the personal dignity of the parents and of the children: the procreation of a new person, whereby the man and the woman collaborate with the power of the Creator, must be the fruit and the sign of the mutual self-giving of the spouses, of their love and of their fidelity.[34] The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other.

The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development.

The parents find in their child a confirmation and completion of their reciprocal self-giving: the child is the living image of their love, the permanent sign of their conjugal union, the living and indissoluble concrete expression of their paternity and maternity.[35]

By reason of the vocation and social responsibilities of the person, the good of the children and of the parents contributes to the good of civil society; the vitality and stability of society require that children come into the world within a family and that the family be firmly based on marriage.

The tradition of the Church and anthropological reflection recognize in marriage and in its indissoluble unity the only setting worthy of truly responsible procreation.

34. Cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, no. 50.
35. Cf Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 14: AAS 74 (1982), 96.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the biomedical ethics category from October 2006.

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