Where is King Solomon when you need him? He once made a landmark ruling in a case involving parental rights (remember that one?), but the situation outlined on the front page of today's Chicago Tribune would have stymied even that famously wise king: When couples are so desperate for children that they resort to IVF, what is the "right thing" to do with embryos that they do not intend, ever, to bring to birth?
Just six days from now, the US Catholic bishops will be voting on a teaching document addressing the root reasons for questions like this: the astoundingly high infertility rate in the US. (No one seems to be asking if this is related to the profligate use of chemical contraceptives; does anyone really want to know?)
The bishops' draft document, entitled "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology," acknowledges the suffering many couples endure in discovering that they are unable to conceive as easily as they expected. Couples aren't going to be told to just "offer it up" (Catholic speak for "give up the whole idea in a spirit of worshipful submission"); in many cases, there are natural solutions that don't involve lives brought into existence in a Petri dish, but the challenges for Catholics are enormous.
When people are driven to defend the indefensible, there is generally something else at stake--something truly valuable, like the desire for children. This one value becomes such an overriding concern that every other value can be sacrificed or dismissed, and if there is any immorality involved, it is the sin of suggesting that one or another course of action may involve actual evil. In such an intimate and highly emotional setting, people who most need the objective guidance of moral teaching may be the least likely to accept it. In the case of infertility, cultural assumptions as well as a veritable "reproductive-industrial complex" (that includes embryonic research facilities) all but guarantee that couples will be left in the dark about effective alternative approaches to infertility (like NaPro, which is fully acceptable by Catholic moral standards). And then there is the ultimate, unanswerable rationale, "But this is what we want."
That deep "want" that becomes more than a desire or a felt need but a demand that must be met at all costs, leads to unspeakable consequences. I am still trying to wrap my head around the response of the mother who would prefer to give her children's unimplanted embryonic siblings over to experimentation rather than see them carried to term and brought up by another woman (although the Church doesn't recommend this, either). Her husband disagrees with her about experimentation, but he, too, uses the utilitarian language of "waste" and "opportunity." As much as this couple desired (for years!) to bring children into this world, and as much as they now want the best for the two who were born to them, what a disconnect there is with regard to the offspring that remain in their frozen world! Don't parents do what is best for their own children? Since when do abstract considerations outweigh the immediate good of human lives that are already present and "viable"? It was desperation that led to this seeming impasse: desperation and an inability to see things in a different light. And this is where the Catholic Church really does have something unique to offer.
Pope John Paul II called it the "Theology of the Body."
But that's for another post. (And another live streaming class this Saturday!)
US Bishops Press Release
NaPro Fertility Care
A mommy blog that touches on some of these issues
In the same issue of the Tribune: a beauty school where amazing fertility is the norm
This post is being submitted to the Chicago Tribune's religion blog, "The Seeker," since I have been invited to be an occasional guest blogger.