Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Thinking Catholic on ARTs

A while back, I wrote a post explaining why I take issue with being told that we have done IVF when in fact we have only done FETs (frozen embryo transfers).  You can read the post here.  At the time, I still believed that I could reconcile the official Catholic teaching with my personal discernment on the subject.  My intended audience for that post was fellow Catholics who are too quick to judge when the idea of ARTs (artificial reproductive technologies) comes up.

I got flamed by a non-Catholic (at least a non-practicing Catholic) who went out of her way to accuse me of being self-righteous when all I was trying to do was explain WHAT the RCC teaches and HOW embryo adoption via FET is in line with that teaching.  I was not in any way trying to insinuate that those who actually do IVF are in any way less holy than me, because I know that is poppycock.

However, having been unable to convince the more narrow-minded "orthdox" Catholics to use their God-given reasoning abilities, I've realized that I was going to have to re-access the value of trying to convince haters to love.

Truth be told, when I was explaining how an FET is not the same as IVF, it was not to highlight how brilliant I am in remaining within the confines drawn out for me by the Church.  No.  I was simply stating facts.  But to be honest, this doesn't mean that I wouldn't have done IVF if I actually had the chance.  I might have.  In fact, we were going to.

This is no secret.  I discuss this aspect of our journey here and here. Granted, at the time, I was not fully knowledgeable on the Catholic church's teaching of ARTs.  However, I certainly discerned the next steps carefully.  I have said that the temptation to do IVF was removed from us by virtue of our SCOS dx.  However, honestly, this is a bit of a cop-out.  Now I see that in spite of all my well-meaning attempts to explain to the uninitiated how we ended up staying within the confines of Church teaching, I am still being judged.  I finally see that there is no pleasing some people.

I'm glad that the reason we didn't do IVF was for practical reasons and not theological ones.  Otherwise, I might be resenting the Church big time right now.

There are two reasons the Church opposes IVF.  One has to do with the creation of more embryos than can reasonably be transferred in a fresh cycle, leading to various additional moral dilemmas such as cryopreservation, possibilities of lab mishaps, and possible eventual adoption or destruction of "extra" embryos.  I fully agree with this reasoning.  There are too many things that can go wrong to fully protect created life outside the womb.

However, the other reasoning against IVF is a stretch.  While I am all for the sanctity of marriage and keeping marriage, sex, and babies all together in an Earthly trinity, we cannot pretend that marriage is a simple algebraic equation that cannot function without the right combination of factors.  Sometimes in life, we have to compromise.  Sometimes we have to improvise.  Obviously, separating sex from procreation is not ideal.  But to say that the spouses "deserve better" when that better is to remain childless and have that be a daily reminder of how the sex isn't leading to procreation? That's absurd.  How exactly is that honoring the marital bond between the spouses?  

And, dare I ask, where is the overwhelming support in our church communities for childless married couples, so that it can be abundantly clear how they are a complete family without children, how they are fully valued members of the parish, how they have many gifts to offer us and lessons to teach us?  I'm at a very friendly, "liberal" Franciscan parish, and even here this sort of climate simply doesn't exit.

Childless married couples are seen as social lepers. Oftentimes, they are first assumed to be contracepting, and therefore are judged for that.  When it becomes evident that they are infertile, they are then judged for not adopting.  Few people  bother to consider what adoption entails or that not every family is eligible to adopt.  When pushed into a corner with this knowledge, that's when the "here's your chance to shine as a saint" commentaries come out. 

At any rate, let's be honest.  The way Catholic life actually plays itself out on the ground, outside of theological books and encyclicals, is that to be a married Catholic means to be a parent.  Otherwise, the Church doesn't know what to do with you.  Catholics have a lot more options than many others when it comes to life vocations.  Many religions simply assume that everyone must get married and have kids. Catholics have callings to the religious life, to the single lay life, and to married life.  Unfortunately, the married life does assume children.  So we still get stuck with the short end of the stick, even in Catholicism.

I believe that our understanding of suffering as redemptive can only be useful for childless married couples when they have truly exhausted all of their options.  We are not supposed to strive for martyrdom!  If we can avoid suffering, or alleviate the suffering of someone else, then we are to do so, as long as in so doing we do not commit a grave sin.  And this is where I have to part ways with my fellow Catholics who consider a married couple who employ modern technology and medicine in their attempt to "be fruitful and multiply" (as God commanded) as committing a grave sin.

When it comes to sex and sexuality, I really think it best to leave the philosophizing to those who are able to apply first-hand experience to the subject at hand.  Only the spouses involved can decide if a certain decision will improve or deteriorate their relationship when it comes to their sex lives.  Well-meaning celibate theologians: let my husband and me be the judge of just how important the unitive aspect of our sexual intimacy is when weighed against our desire to be co-creators with God Almighty, per His command.

And so, I'm done apologizing for the choices we've made as part of our five year discernment process as we traveled the infertility road that we were placed upon.  The truth is that I love Jesus more than I love the Church, and I don't think He is upset to hear that.  In Mark 2:27, Jesus said that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."  Likewise, the teachings of the Church are there for our benefit.  They are there to help us grow in holiness.  They are not there to make us slaves to them.  We should definitely consider what the Church teaches and why before making our decisions, but we have to trust the movement of the Holy Spirit within us.

I'm still a practicing Catholic, mind you.  But I think I'll stop co-oping my conscience to theologians and take responsibility for my own discernment process.  I'm a thinking Catholic now.


  1. Hi Karolina:

    I have seen this and I agree completely. As the old theologians would say, "nihil obstat" (nothing objectionable). I'm not sure CAF can do the same, but we can keep trying, I guess.


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  3. Jacques, your story was actually part of my inspiration in coming to the conclusions I finally did in this post.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog. This post was amazing.