Ethically Sourced Human

03-10-2024Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Let’s put on our Moral Thinking caps to consider the issue of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

The issue has popped up again with a recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court. The Court ruled that since Alabama passed a Constitutional Amendment that enshrined that human life begins at conception, the embryos created through IVF are human life and therefore require the protections afforded to human life. This includes the embryos that are created via IVF and are frozen.

The Court’s logic is spot on: human life begins at conception therefore human life in its embryonic stage constitutes a child. This kicked up a huge kerfuffle and lots of misunderstanding. And this is part of the fallout as we try to straighten out the twisted logic of Roe v. Wade and its many manifestations in our culture, law, and ethics.

To start with, the Church has a entire body of teaching on this issue. All this falls under the category of Bioethics, particularly as it relates to the transmission of human life. To take a step back, Ethics is an important part of a civilized society. When we act ethically, we become morally good people who create a just society. Ethics is also a foundational part of health care, hence Medical Ethics. In the West it began with the Hippocratic Oath: “First Do No Harm.” The physician has a fiduciary relationship to his patients, therefore he or she is to act in their best interests and be unwilling to do anything that would intentionally inflict harm up to and including death.

One of the foundational principles of our Ethics is that “the ends do not justify the means.” That simply means you cannot use an illicit or evil means to achieve a good end. Experience has taught us that when we disobey that principle bad things happen. Every dictator that ever-lived used immoral means to achieve his end of a good society. So, if you abandon the principle that the ends do not justify the means, you end up with gulags, concentration camps, mass murder. Or you end up with innocent people who are harmed and whole lot of unintended consequences which create injustices in a society. Without clear and concise ethics, you end up in the Wild West. Ethics helps us answer the question: even though we can, should we?

Now back to the Church’s teaching on the transmission of human life. The wisdom of the Bible and the collective wisdom of human experience conclusively demonstrates that the human sex drive is the most powerful of all human appetites. And if left unchecked it will destroy individuals, families, communities, and nations. Just look at the wreckage around us caused by the so-called Sexual Revolution. Based on the teachings of the Bible and of Jesus himself, the only morally licit human intercourse that leads to completion, is penile-vaginal in the context of marriage. That is a very narrow boundary. Which means it excludes masturbation, sodomy, oral climax. It also excludes IVF since the sperm and ovum are united outside the natural sex act. It is a good end, the gift of new human life, but it uses an illicit means to get there. Here is where you need to be careful and not get emotionally worked up. This does not mean that the children created by IVF are anything but gifts. They are not illicit or immoral in anyway. Also, couples who have used IVF are not to be condemned. I doubt very much they were given any info on natural techniques. Nor is it the case that the Church doesn’t care about couples who struggle with fertility. This is no cold-hearted moral teaching but rather a teaching that helps us maintain our ethics even when it is difficult and live and act in ways conforming to human dignity.

Just as with artificial contraception, the Church has answered that by developing the science based Natural Family Planning techniques. In fact, many of the NFP techniques, such as the Creighton Model Fertility Care, which in addition to helping a couple postpone conception, can help couples spot fertility problems. But beyond that, here in the US, we have developed natural procreative technology also called NaPro Technology. I realize this issue is very personal to some of you so please educate yourself on it BEFORE you criticize the Church’s teaching.

IVF separates the marital act from procreation and establishes the domination of technology over human life. In that way it is not in keeping with the demands of human dignity. Technology that assists or supports human procreation and does not replace it is in keeping with the demands of human dignity. We so often insist that our food be ethically sourced, fair trade or our energy be climate friendly and carbon neutral. The technology that assists in the transmission of human life should be guided by the highest ethics and moral safeguards. We sort our trash to make sure we are recycling what we can and yet we discard human embryos like a person throwing trash out a car window. Beyond that, there is a spiritual dimension that infertile couples should try to discern. Is it possible God is calling you to parent in a different way? I know infertility is painful, disappointing, and frustrating. But still, we must be careful how we try to alleviate the reality of infertility lest our solutions create bigger moral problems that chip away at human dignity.

Love, Fr. John B

P.S. The teaching is laid out concisely in the 1987 Vatican document: Donum Vitae. Also see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2337. Also And to read more of the moral problems arising from IVF see  and for more information on ways to deal with infertility: