Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Disconnect in between being a Catholic and In Vitro Fertilization.

I am reading Inconceivable, by Sean and Carolyn Savage after seeing them in television interviews recently and stories about them on the net. They were the Ohio couple that gave birth via IVF to a baby that was not biologically theirs after the fertility clinic accidentally placed embryos from another mother into Carolyn’s uterus. To add insult to injury, because of her difficult medical and pregnancy history (HELLP syndrome and previous Cesareans) Carolyn had been advised that this should be her last pregnancy. I blogged about this in 2009 here.

First of all I want to say that I think what happened to the Savage’s was heartbreaking. How they handled their situation was indeed heroic and commendable. In this age, where abortion is so widely used and accepted for any difficulty or hindrance, it indeed was a brave stand to bring little baby Logan into the world.

My interest in the Savages relates to their ideas about  and stand on Catholicism. When I first heard about the Savage family I remember thinking how devastating their situation was. But then they kept reiterating that because of their “Catholic beliefs” they could not abort. The Catholic Church strongly teaches against any form of fertility intervention that separates the marital act from procreation. It’s a very consistent position and it is the reason that artificial birth control is also not allowed by the Catholic Church. So for the Savages to keep publicly saying they had strong Catholic beliefs, when the very situation they were in was a result of NOT following Catholic church teachings was a bit of a disconnect that made me want to dig a little deeper. How did this couple reconcile this discrepancy?
I found a clue on Carolyn’s blog.

On the day I gave birth and reunited my baby with his genetic parents, the bishop of our diocese released a statement condemning our use of IVF as immoral. 

Now, I have been critical of the American Bishops from time to time, but this time I wondered, what’s a poor bishop to do? He has a pretty famous local couple (Sean Savage’s father is the late John Savage – they have a stadium named for him in Toledo!) who has gone on national t.v. talking about their deeply held “Catholic beliefs” and IVF in the same sentences. Folks who know little to nothing about the Catholic Church except what they hear in the secular media might think the church approves of IVF, which it does not. Catholics whose Catholic education stopped after confirmation might get that idea too! If it’s the Bishops job to lead his flock and to teach them, I don’t really see that the Bishop had any alternative to but issue something about the situation.

So I looked up the Bishop of Toledo’s statement. It’s a pdf file here.
The statement does not name the Savages. It doesn’t condemn them either. What it does say is:
Questions have arisen regarding Catholic Church teaching on in vitro fertilization techniques.

That some couples are unable to conceive a child is indeed a sad fact. Catholic moral teaching holds that “research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged,” provided that such research is truly “ at the service of the human person of his inalienable rights, and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2375) 

The bishop went on to say:

Some techniques assist rather than replace the marital act and are therefore legitimate means for improving one’s fertility. Other techniques however, replace the marriage act itself. The Church finds these latter techniques to be morally unacceptable. This includes what is commonly referred to as “in vitro fertilization – embryonic transfer” or IVF-ET. This is true whether the human embryo is the result of gametes coming from the married couple themselves or from third parties.
In vitro fertilization is also morally objectionable because besides severing the creation of a new human being from the marital act, it almost always involved the deliberate destruction of embryos, the freezing of embryos, and the intentional selective abortion of embryos when an undesired multiple pregnancy occurs (embryo reduction). 

The bishop ends with:

Given the confusion surrounding these matters, sometimes Catholics are unaware of the Church’s teaching. Moved by the desire to have a child couples look to their doctors for technological solutions. These solutions however, should be informed by solid ethical reflection and adherence to Church teaching on the dignity of human persons.


Simple and straight forward. But it was very pastoral and did not name names. I really don’t see that he had another choice considering the media coverage that surrounded this couple.

In that same blog posting Carolyn writes:
According to the church, I can use IVF, confess my mortal sin, gain absolution and get back into God’s good grace. But how do I seek forgiveness for conceiving my children?

I winced when I read that. Confession is not a get-out-of-jail free card! It is not the teaching of the church that the confessional can be used as a revolving door to get absolution but continue to do the same sins.

Catholic.org has a great article on this.
Before Confession
Be truly sorry for your sins. The essential act of Penance, on the part of the penitent, is contrition, a clear and decisive rejection of the sin committed, together with a resolution not to commit it again

Carolyn throws a little strawman twist in there “forgiveness for conceiving my children.” It’s not the conceiving of children that is a sin. It’s the artificial way they were conceived and the rejection of the teachings of the church and unwillingness to submit to it that is sinful.

But perhaps a better clue to how they reconcile this rift in their belief system is the blatant appeal to the common practice or appeal to the popular logical fallacies:

When I sit in church every Sunday, I can point to many Catholic families that have also turned to IVF to conceive their children. (I often wonder where the Church thinks all these twins and triplets are coming from?) The last year I served as a Catholic school principal, our kindergarten class had 24 students with three sets of twins. We happily took their tuition and their Sunday offering. I guess we thought that was what Jesus would do.

(Note the appeal to ridicule fallacy thrown in at the end.)

Everyone is doing it – it must be okay. She pulled the same fallacy on me when I opined:
The Catholic church is either the church instituted by Christ and the guardian of the truth on faith and moral issues, or it is not. To believe that the church is right “except” for this or that issue isn’t Catholicism. It’s Protestantism.

She replied:
We’ve never really thought of ourselves as Protestants posing as Catholics, but if that’s truly the case, I think we are in good company.

I’m still going through the book which I hope to review next week. But right now it seems that the disconnect between having “strongly held Catholic beliefs” and being an ardent IVF user (the couple also has twins coming this year via a surrogate mother) involves believing the bishop is out to get you, a couple of logical fallacies, and using the confessional as a magic eraser.


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