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To understand the Church's stance on in vitro fertilization (IVF), it is crucial to first grasp the Church's teaching on sexuality. At the heart of this teaching is the understanding that the conjugal act and openness to the procreation of children are inseparable. The Venerable Pope Paul VI says in the encyclical Humanæ Vitæ: “[H]usband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives” (Humanæ Vitæ, 8). In other words, God designed the union of man and wife to bring about new life and, conversely, for the life of a baby to come from the loving union of his or her parents.
Any time one part of this equation is taken away – whether the unitive or the procreative aspect – man denies the fullness of God's plan for marriage and family life. Catholics are perhaps more familiar with the teaching against birth control, which, whether in chemical or barrier form, constitutes an obstacle to new life coming forth from the sexual unity of spouses (read more on the Church's teaching on birth control here). Yet, as moral theologian Christopher West points out, “The Church's teaching on reproductive technologies is simply the ‘flip side’ of her teaching on birth control” (Good News about Sex and Marriage, 132). While IVF may result in new life, it does so without the benefit of a husband and wife coming together in a loving sexual union. (Note that regardless of how a child is conceived, he or she has equal dignity in the eyes of God). IVF is a slight (however unintentional) to the dignity of that child: “To desire a child not as the fruit of marital love but as the end result of a technological procedure is to treat the child as a product to obtain rather than a person to love” (West, 133).
IVF also ignores the teaching of the Church in other ways. First of all, masturbation (an act contrary to the Church’s teaching on ordered sexuality) is typically necessary to obtain the sperm needed for IVF. Second, a whole line of embryos (children) is usually created through the IVF process, and the unused ones are left in a deep freezer for years or left to die, their life ended just as it begins. Third, by manipulating the natural order of marriage, sex and children, men and women try to make themselves creators of life, instead of adhering to the order set out by the real Creator: God. Even if a man and a woman's intentions are mostly good (to obtain a child), the very nature of IVF artificially sets up parents as masters of new life and children as commodities to be avoided or obtained.