Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A remark on in vitro fertilization

In procreating, we are about as God-like as we can be. But, as C. S. Lewis has forcefully argued based on a number of cases in The Four Loves, it is when we are most God-like that we run the greatest danger of idolatry. It is then that we need humility most. A plausible way to inculcate this humility in oneself is to procreate only by a method designed not by ourselves but by our Creator (or by nature).

16 comments:

linty_pupik said...

"In procreating, we are about as God-like as we can be. "

Actually, that is the most animal-like thing we do. Birds do it, bees do it, even monkeys in the trees do it.

Animals put sperm and egg together, God makes life.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thanks for the suggestion which provides a nice balance to my post.

In response, it's both/and, not either/or, as we Catholics are fond of saying. The unique thing about reproductive sex is that we are about as God-like as we can be and about as animal-like as we can be. These two aspects keep us in balance: the God-like aspect keeps us from degenerating into being beastly, and the animal aspect keeps us from idolatry.

But in IVF, the animal aspect is very much decreased, and so we have a danger.

Tim Lacy said...

As a Catholic, I abide by the teachings of the Church on this subject.

My speculative intellect, however, wonders if sometimes we are falsely prioritizing the means over the end in the specific case of in vitro fertilization. Does every case of in vitro involve multiple fertilizations? If so presently, what if technology, in a year or so, allows a couple---comprised of a Catholic man and woman who want a child---to fertilize one egg in vitro and then implant the zygote in the woman. Must this be a mortal sin? How is this mechanical aid any different than a couple having sex in an awkward position because they think it is conducive to fertilization? - TL

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, it's not that implausible to suppose that children should be the fruit of marriage, and hence that children should only come from the act that consummates, or re-consummates, marriage.

Tim Lacy said...

Children are most certainly "a" fruit of marriage. I agree that they are a particularly valuable fruit---perhaps the most valuable (depending on the consequences of other activities of the couple---i.e. did their coming together spark a social change that saved 50 people from death?---but this is an aside).

But say that couple has abundant, loving, communicative, unitive sex, yet are still unable to conceive children. If mechanical means (coitus interruptus) are licit for preventing the creation of children (i.e. when finances are an issue), shouldn't mechanical means (no matter how invisible to the naked eye) be used to allow the loving, Catholic couple to procreate? And again, this is provided that only egg is used to create the baby. - TL

linty_pupik said...

"If mechanical means (coitus interruptus) are licit for preventing the creation of children (i.e. when finances are an issue), "

Maybe I misunderstand you, or I misunderstand Catholic teaching. But I thought coitus interruptus is specifically forbidden.

Alexander R Pruss said...

TL:

Coitus interruptus is never permissible, according to the Christian tradition.

One worry I have is that when children are procreated non-coitally, then they are not the fruit of marital consummation, which consummation is intercourse. They may be the fruit of deep and committed interpersonal love, but deep and committed interpersonal love is not something uniquely marital.

Gorod said...

An entirely different approach, which I find very suggesting, follows from St. Paul's analogy in Ephesians 5.

The love of the husband for the wife is analogous to the love of Christ for the Church.

We could argue that the marital embrace bears some analogy to the Eucharist because it is the most intimate, life giving moment of the pair's union, where the two become "one body".

Within this frame of thought I would argue that IVF is wrong because it is un-liturgical.

It pretends to keep the essence of the union while throwing away the rite, the set of gestures and actions that bring forth that union.

It is a de-sacralization of sex, which is inconsistent with God's plan for it: something not only reproductive, but also sacramental, a sign of spiritual realities.

A surprising comment on this is that the loss of appreciation of symbols, signs, rites and liturgy, perhaps a mark of our times, leaves us with less sensibility for issues like IVF...

(to keep my pseudonym recognizable: I used to sign as "Pgr" when anonymous comments were allowed... :-) )

Ron said...

Is it too simplistic to suggest that IVF is wrong because it places human will over and above God's will? If a couple, "has abundant, loving, communicative, unitive sex, yet are still unable to conceive children," why then does it follow that the couple should turn to IVF to solve their problem rather than say prayer? I assume that we carry the understanding that God's will is not ours and for some mysterious reason it is plausible to think that perhaps He doesn't want that couple to have children.

linty_pupik said...

" God's will is not ours and for some mysterious reason it is plausible to think that perhaps He doesn't want that couple to have children."

Well, we can check that through IVF. If the IVF works, then obviously God DOES want them to have children.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Gorod:

I agree. In fact, I have a section of my love and sex book (which I am finishing this summer) where I develop this kind of argument (though perhaps less well).

LP:

A distinction between God's antecedent and consequent wills is in order here. God consequently wills the existence of the child (he also does this in cases of rape). But he doesn't antecedently will it. It is God's antecedent will which we need to be conformed to.

Gorod said...

Thinking about this, I came up with a (rather awkward) case.

What if a couple of IVF specialists, a man and a woman, married to one another, decide to solve their fertility problems by doing a home-made IVF (I'm not sure this is possible, but for the sake of argument, let's say it is).

So they have a romantic moment naked in bed, they do all required tasks between themselves, always the two of them, with lots of kissing and hugging in between (I know, this is somewhat humorous, bear with me for awhile)...

Finally they conceive and the child is the fruit of their married love (and professional technique). No strangers were involved.

Is this extreme-case IVF immoral? Intuitively, I'd say it is; but I'd like to know how to argue it.

I guess my analogy above could help, because we could say all of this, while retaining some sort of married rituality, is simply the wrong ritual. Anyone care to comment on this case?

Thanks!

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's an interesting case. But the ritual in this case is disconnected from the IVF. It is an accident, as it were, that the IVF is surrounded by the ritual, in a way in which it wouldn't be a mere accident if intercourse were surrounded by such ritual, since sexual desire would be suffusing both the ritual and the intercourse.

Gorod said...

About the book you're writing...

("I have a section of my love and sex book (which I am finishing this summer) where I develop this kind of argument")

I'm looking forward to it... I'd just like to ask you if you're familiar with Pope John Paul II's Wednesday catechesis commonly known as "The Theology of the Body". I'd like to know if you intend to draw from this "fountain" as it particularly interests me. Thank you.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Various things in the book are inspired by the theology of the body, but the book does not base itself in any particular text, other than some seminal texts of Scripture.

santamonicafertility said...

IVF cost can be very expensive; be sure you know exactly what you are paying for. Not all clinics charge the same, be sure to research your area. This article will discuss common questions about IVF cost.

IVF