Gifts of the Womb
IVF & the Marital Union
One of the saddest of losses a husband and wife can suffer is the inability to have a child, to find that their love for each other cannot bear its natural fruit, cannot be incarnated in a new boy or girl. People suffer very much when they cannot conceive a child or carry him to term. It is not surprising that most Americans have seen in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a blessing, as science repairing a defect and thus (as Christians would put it) helping marriages become more fully what God intends them to be.
This is a delicate point to make when speaking of something that affects suffering people who want what they ought to want, but IVF is not a blessing that helps married couples reach the true end of marriage. It is a sin that damages their marital communion.
Why? Because it is unnatural? The writer of the letter on page 7 mistakenly believes that this is the basis of the Christian objection to IVF. The truth, however, is that mere Christians object to IVF primarily because in IVF the child-to-be is treated as a product of manufacture—as an operational objective to be achieved by the application of technical means. This, we believe, is incompatible with the nature of marriage and respect for the dignity of a child as a person.
Someone might object by pointing out that a married couple can treat ordinary sexual intercourse as a technical means of producing a child, and thus make the child an operational objective and a product of manufacture. To this we say: true. And when they treat intercourse in this way, their conduct is, however physically “natural,” morally defective in precisely the way in which resort to IVF is morally defective.
Does this mean that it is wrong for spouses to want a child? Not at all. It means that they should hope for a child only under a certain description: namely, as a gift, a gift added to the gift of their marital communion as it is consummated and actualized in their sexual congress.
In this way, their marriage, and particularly their sexuality, is not turned into an instrument they use to reach the goal of procreation, but is faithfully regarded by them as itself an intrinsic good, as an end in itself, and not a mere means. The child-to-be is not treated as an object to be produced by the application of technique, but as a gift added to the good of their marital communion, and as a perfective participant in the organic unit—the family— established by their one-flesh unity in marriage. The integrity of marriage and the dignity of the child are both fully respected.
The fact that in using IVF both husband and wife agree to use each other as instruments for achieving a common goal makes no moral difference. Their sexual union is not properly regarded as an instrument, and is in fact much less a true and fruitful union to the extent that it is treated as if it were an instrument, even an instrument they both use for agreed upon (and even desirable) goals. The fact that IVF can produce a child genuinely loved by his parents also makes no moral difference. No child should be manufactured, even if his parents want the product.
What we are saying may be made a bit clearer by considering an example. Henry VIII commits precisely the sin involved in IVF when he has intercourse with Queen Catherine—for whom he no longer has any affection, but to whom he is legally married—with the sole objective of conceiving an heir. Though natural and in a technical sense lawful, his behavior is not morally upright.
Indeed, strictly (morally) speaking, it is not even marital. Intercourse is given to husband and wife as an act of marital communion, actualizing spousal unity in conduct that fulfills the behavioral conditions of procreation and thus unites them organically, i.e., as “one flesh.” Henry in our example has intercourse with his queen not for the sake of marital communion, which might be blessed with fruit in an heir, but as a technique of reproduction.
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