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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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Comments

Sue Bee said…
Reminds of a morning news show I was watching that described the late senator Ted Kennedy as a "devout catholic."

Coffee spewed from my mouth.

Apparently the media sets the bar pretty low.
Alicia said…
Thank you for sharing this. I cannot believe that she actually said that about confessing... I cannot wait to read your review.
Elena said…
Interestingly, she was also the principal of a Catholic school once. I hope that isn't indicative of the state of Catholic education in America?
catholicofthule said…
How very tragic. Thank you for your post on this, the tone and content of which are both commendable.

I think the bishop's statement was the height of sensitive pastoral care. Ignoring the issue in order not to disturb the raw emotions of the couple was not an option in the situation and would certainly not have been very pastoral at all.

Now, one thing that could have initiated this disconnect might possibly have been an initial ignorance. It does seem, as the bishop notes, that some really are confused about Church teaching on IVF. I don't personally understand how, and it is of course the result of a woeful lack of research on a topic one should think Catholics would wish to look up Church teaching before proceeding. However, not everybody does, and perhaps some are also wrongly instructed by the people from whom they seek guidance.

It is easy then to see that on such an emotional topic, once one has gone ahead with it, it is very hard to admit fault. Perhaps especially because it is so very very closely connected to one's desire, so personal and because one sees the goal as being good (and, quite apart from Truth, forgets about the many children usually effectively aborted without being implanted in the womb as part of this procedure).

When one cannot admit fault and is not willing to change a course of behaviour that is against Church teachings (importantly expressing the will of God rather than random human prohibitions and demands), it is perhaps easy to lose one's sense of logic and make senseless criticisms of the Church and resort to nonsensical justifications for one's behaviour.

Feeling as if one has to 'deny' or 'reject' one's child in order to abide by the teachings of the Church, will make this worse. However, that is of course a fallacy. Throughout the centuries, many have rightly repented of an immoral course of action which has resulted in the birth of a beautiful child. This does not involve a rejection of the child. It does not involve any statement that the child is not of equal worth to any other child. Nor does it mean that one says it were better that the child did not exist. God can and does bring good also out of our evil actions, and the child resulting from immorality is the prime example of this. And the Church is of course the number one defender of the innate dignity and worth of every child, born or unborn, regardless of the manner of their conception! Which is of course also an integral part of Her opposition to IVF.
Elena said…
Thank you Catholicofhule.

I am now about 1/2 way through the book and read last night that they knew the church's teaching but decided not to let that stop them from adding to their family.

Breathtakingly they went through 20 ovarian stimulations, a number of implantations, Csections and are now using a surrogate. I think it's p retty clear that they have outright rejected this teaching!

It also surprised me to read the calcuation with creating the embryos - that they knew there would be some loss, that some of the newly conceived wouldn't make it.

Sometimes I've had to close this book and just walk away. But I hope to have a review up later this week.
piscotikus said…
Thank you for this post. It's a tough one because the pain of couples not being able to conceive and the apparent 'cure' for it brings so much joy. I agree that the lack of teaching about IVF, and contraception too for that matter leads to greater use among catholics of both. I think these topics should be covered in every PreCana session.
Elena said…
Jeez Janette. At the time I wrote that you said you had left the church. By definition that made you an Ex-Catholic. And as I've been busy all morning with doctor's appointments and drum lessons etc., I didn't see your first request! But no problem it's down.
Elena said…
I agree piscotikus - somehow this stuff has to be covered in the pre-marriage phase for Catholic Couples.
Cant Oves said…
Wow, what a post. I was amazed at the attitude and seeming lack of understanding towards confession and repentence. It makes me very worried.

I guess all we can do is pray for them and for anyone who has been led astray by this situation.
romishgraffiti said…
Excellent heavy-lifting Elena. Anti-Catholics have long criticized Catholic confession as a lisence to do wrong. The problem is that this is the second time this month that a Catholic has tried to prove them right. The first was when Michael Sean Winters said, "Assassination is against the law, to be sure. But, better to indulge and go to confession." about Osama Bin Laden. Now, don't mistake me. I don't think there is evidence that it was an assassination, but the point is that MSW seemed to have no problem with killing OBL even if he was captured and out of the fight and that confession would cover it.
JBO said…
Since Catholics tend not to go to Catechism after Confirmation---put it in the bulletin. I think that is where pro life got a good foothold- when the bishops had it in every bulletin-constantly.
I sent on this article to my daughter who is struggling with infertility. A Catholic doctor who told her IVF is the only way they will have another child.
She says- she never would have "heard this" in pre marital counseling since they had no idea that it would ever happen to them- young, healthy and easily Catholic. We do thank God that her son was a God sent present given on their honeymoon. In fertility is such a problem at this point- especially since marriage is being postponed further and further into the 30s and 40's.
It is SO tempting....
Elena said…
Arwen is a Catholic blogger who went through infertility. She remained faithful to the Church's teaching and now has four children. Her inferility posts are here.
Linds84 said…
Breathtakingly they went through 20 ovarian stimulations, a number of implantations, Csections and are now using a surrogate. I think it's pretty clear that they have outright rejected this teaching!

Just to clarify are you saying that C-sections are equivalent to IVF and surrogates IE: against Church teachings?
Agnes B Bullock said…
My husband and I have been open to life ever since we married almost nine years ago. Unfortunately, I have never conceived and we did attempt to do so with helpf from our obgyn. The "fertility" clinic to which he referred us pushed IVF from the start even after knowing we were Catholic and it was against our faith. The common response was that other Catholic women did it and I alwasy responded that they were wrong and that the doctor was wrond (he claimed to be half Catholic and half Jewish) We stopped after six months of shots and ultrasounds and never looked back. Obviously children were not in GOd's plan for us.

This couple in Toledo are simply charlatans and are NOT Catholic- well, maybe they are in the Kennedy Catholic Church!
Elena said…
Hi Linds,

C-sections aren't against the teachings of the Catholic church. Three of my own children were born through C-section. That sentence is probably poorly phrased - I meant to illustrate how determined this couple was to get a child despite the costs (physical and fiscal). Sorry I was unclear.
Elena said…
I agree.

God Bless you and your husband Agnes.
Linds84 said…
No worries, thanks for the clarification. Also I would think that the more mature age of Ms. Savage that necessitated the used of ART would also probably have something to so with the need for a C-section. Yet another reason trying to fool our biological clocks seldom goes smoothly
Kat said…
I am sure that this woman's comments come from a place of deep pain and hurt. She has to grow just like the rest of us. To write her off as "not a Catholic" without even knowing her is not acceptable behavior.
I didn't write her off as "not Catholic." But IVF and surrogacy are against Catholic Church teaching. You can check it out in the catechism if you like.