Thursday, April 26, 2012

Diocese sued over IVF firing: what's wrong with those Catholics?

Even though the "news" is old (the event took place in June), it's in today's papers. Turns out that a Catholic school teacher was fired for pursuing in-vitro fertilization. And she's suing the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, arguing under the Americans with Disabilities Act that this was a form of gender/disability discrimination. (Infertility is recognized as a disability.)

Not only was she fired, the plaintiff says, the pastor added insult to injury by saying she was a "grave, immoral sinner." Right there, I have a bit of a problem with the story. Not that the woman didn't feel she was being called a sinner, but that this is simply not the way Catholics talk. (The teacher in the case is not Catholic.) But it is the way our society tends to think: personalizing everything, even a statement that was probably right out of the books, and maybe out of the teacher's contract. Catholic school teachers are to be models for the children, and gravely immoral public acts are considered a "source" of scandal. Not that anyone was actually scandalized, but that the situation has the potential for a young person's moral compass to be influenced. And, really, aren't our moral compasses set not so much by what we are told is right or wrong, but how we see the trusted, caring people in our lives act? Don't we take our cues from the values that inform their choices?

So what is wrong with the Church that she insists that IVF is gravely immoral? Why does the Church claim to be "pro-life" and yet deny infertile couples legitimate recourse to reproductive "technologies" like IVF?
While I think it is best to let the experts speak--and who better to represent what the Church teaches than a former IVF doctor who stepped out of the field when he was at the peak of his career when he recognized how much harm was actually being done--I can propose an image that might at least clarify the one question of how the Church can condemn IVF even though wonderful babies are brought into the world daily through this intervention. It is the age old issue of the "end" (or good outcome sought) not justifying the means.

We all agree, don't we, that going to Heaven is a wonderful thing. In fact, while not everyone in the world wants to have babies (for various legitimate reasons...I am one of them), everyone probably wants to be happy forever in perpetual love. So going to Heaven is a universal good, and nothing can diminish that.

And yet the Church says (and insists!) that not all ways of going to Heaven are legitimate. That there are some attempts to achieve this greatest of all good goals that are gravely immoral! That doesn't mean you will definitely miss the goal and end up in the other eternal option; it is just saying that there are some approaches to eternal life that, by their nature, contradict the very good you are hoping to achieve.

Suicide is the clearest case (even though--your attention, please--most suicides are not carried out in a fully informed act of freedom, but profoundly influenced by suffering, including mental illnesses that diminish the person's ability to make a fully free decision). The Church still teaches the principle that suicide is not an option for those who want to get to Heaven.

Think of the suicide bombers, pursuing "martyrdom" by murdering as many as possible in their last action. Sorry: this is not a legitimate way to attain eternal life.

Euthanasia is also a serious problem; that the person who is seriously ill will go to Heaven "sooner" doesn't resolve anything.

In each case, the goal is the same: to depart this life and go immediately to Heaven. In each case, the Church perversely insists that the means is gravely immoral, even though there are often extenuating circumstances, such that we may very well meet in Heaven anyway. The outcome is not the issue; the means for attaining it is.

And so it is with IVF.


Sr Anne Flanagan said...

It's important to add that there is an approach to treating (really treating and healing, not just bypassing) infertility that is completely accepted by the Catholic Church: NaPro Technology. See

Angela Santana said...

Sister Anne, I am late to the game here, but thank you for blogging on this story! I appreciate this.