Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fertility Drugs: Part 2

Here is my response to a follow-up question regarding my post from a while back on the use of fertility drugs/medical procedures:
I read your answer concerning the question about the Church's views on fertility drugs. Your answer was done very well but it's incomplete and may be misleading. The main question concerning fertility drugs is what happens with the fertilized eggs [humans] that are not implanted, intended to be used or when there is too many implanted, [selective elimination/abortion]. Multiple fertilizing of eggs is normally necessary and can't be avoided by the very drug fertility process. Isn't this the reason the Church is against Fertility drugs? Can the issue be separated? To address the one without the other is a problem. I would appreciate your reply.
Thank you for your comments and questions!

As a point of clarification, the Church is not against all fertility drugs, nor is she against all medical interventions that aid in procreation because not all of these result in the misuse of fertilized eggs (embryos) or the substitution of the marriage act. As the paragraphs I cited indicate, homologous forms of artificial insemination (in which the sperm and the egg come from the married couple) would be permissible as long as they do not replace the conjugal act or impede upon the achievement of the required ends of the act (unity and procreation).

Also, my understanding is that, with interventions such as these, there is usually no misuse of embryos. So, your complaint about the multiple fertilizing of eggs and the abortion of the resultant embryos would not apply. However, such misuse does take place with In Vitro Fertilization, which is why the Chuch is against this practice.

I know all of that was a mouthful, but I hope it helps clarify this matter for you. For more information on bioethical matters such as this, go here.

Pax Christi,


  1. The term "artificial homologous insemination" refers to the transfer or assistance of the sperm to reach the egg. Nothing in Donum Vitae suggests that artificial homologous insemination is acceptable carte blanche.

    On the contrary, it is acceptable if the technology does not impede the conjugal act or separate the two ends of the act (proceative and unitive). Which you rightly say.

    The criterion that the two ends not be separated is a hard one for medical procedures that offer technical assistance to meet. Ineveitably, even if the semen is acquired legitimately (perhaps by using a perforated condemn), the transfer mechanizes the act and the procreation of the child is the result of a medical act rather than the conjugal act.

    Some Catholic theologians have argued that Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT) meets the criteria. In this procedure, semen is not collected but transfered after intercourse from the woman's uterus to her fallopian tube, where fertilization will take place. But many respected Catholic moral theologians argue that this, too, reduces the procreative aspect of the conjugal act to a medical manipulation.

    So this is just to highlight the fact that it's not as easy to simply assert that artificial homologous insemination is permissible. When read in its entirety, Donum Vitae lays down the criteria that must be met but is not making a judgment that a particular medical procedure is legitimate. As of now, there are no medical procedures that meet the criteria laid down by Donum Vitae and Church teaching.

  2. Artificial homologous insemination is not acceptable because it separates the conception of the child from the marital act. One of the best references for these sorts of issues is Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life by William E. May.He describes in chapter 3 how use of these technologies reduces the conception of the child to a product that is made as opposed to begotten from the marital act.

    --Denise Hunnell, MD

  3. I realize that currently, none of our forms of homologous artificial insemination fit the criteria laid out by Donum Vitae (or, at the very least, some of them are debatable). But, Donum Vitae seems to allow for the possibility that some form of homologous artificial insemination could be permissible (see the earlier post that I linked to for the paragraph numbers from Donum Vitae and the Charter for Health Care Worders). I was simply reiterating what these documents said.

    Thank you all for your imput.

    Pax Christi,

  4. Exactly. It's just important in these sorts of matters to be as clear and precise as possible.

    Additionally, I would clarify that homologous insemination can be, and is, in fact, used with In Vitro procedures. The "homologous" concerns only the source of the gametes (the couple themselves), as opposted to "heterologous" (one or both gametes are from donors). In which case the questioner's complaint is completely valid.

    In the paragraphs cited in Donum Vitae and the Charter, the concern is to respond primarily to a known procedure (anonymous donation and IVF). They only theorize that if the couple's own gametes were used, and if there were a procedure that could be used, which would not separate the two ends, than that might be morally licit.

    Unfortunately, the documents use the term "homologous insemination" as though it were an already established set procedure, but it's not. In fact, the medical world uses that term only to describe the source of the gametes, not the procedure itself.

    It's difficult to see how any medical intervention that physically connects the sperm to the egg could ever meet the DV criteria of inseparability of the ends. Which is the very point that Dr. William May makes as well as Frs. Benedict Ashley and Kevin O'Rourke in every edition of their Catholic Health Care Ethics.

    --Bro. Thomas Petri, OP, STL


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