Friday, September 26, 2008

Spare embryos: "I did not know that"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us!!
Anon wrote the following as a comment to my homily on the 23rd Sunday:
“Most people are quite clear on the Church's strong stance against preventing pregnancy via artificial means (the use of contraceptives v. natural family planning). The Church takes an equally strong stance against artificial means of CAUSING pregnancy, such as IVF or the use of donor sperm. This stance is consistent with the concept that a child is a gift, but it gets considerably less press. It's one thing to speak out in defense of life, but another to tell people that having a child isn't an entitlement.”

Years ago, I had a memorable discussion about in vitro fertilization (IVF) with some Catholic friends. One of my friends was questioning the relevance of the Church’s teaching against in vitro fertilization. I made the point that this type of fertilization goes against not only the procreative end of marriage (procreation is to be done naturally – as God intends -not artificially) but also the unitive end (union takes place outside of the man and woman, and in a laboratory).

My friend basically said, “so what? I’ve heard this before and it really doesn’t bother me. If people want to have a baby and science can help, who cares about the procreative and unitive ends? Is this the biggest reason why IVF is wrong?”

I responded by asking her if she was aware that normally it takes several embryos to be implanted in the woman’s uterus in order for one to be born (as explained below), and that the other embryos are often destroyed. This means that for every baby that is born through IVF, at least one – and often several – is discarded or destroyed. My friend said, "I did not know that". Almost immediately, she became vehemently opposed to IVF. Praise God!

We addressed this and other reproductive issues in the post from May 16, 2007, “Reproductive Technology”. Below is an excerpt from the article referenced in that post which specifically addresses and describes IVF.

IVF (In Vitro Fertilization):

Conception occurs outside the body--"in a glass."

Ordinarily, the woman is treated with hormones to stop her natural cycle and stimulated to ripen a number of ova. The ova are harvested from the follicle with a needle under ultrasonic guidance. The needle is inserted either through the vagina or abdomen. Ova are incubated in the laboratory with a carefully washed and adjusted specimen of semen to allow fertilization. Prior to implantation in the woman's uterus, embryos are examined in order to select the "best." Sometimes, one cell is removed for genetic testing. To date, visual inspection of the embryos has been totally unrelated to their subsequent course--health or otherwise. Usually at least two embryos are implanted; in some centers, as many as four are implanted with the hope of getting at least one live baby. At times, three or four embryos thrive. Some clinics then offer the mother "embryo reduction" (selective abortion) to allow only one or two fetuses to develop further.

Because the endometrium is considerably changed by the stimulation of ovaries to produce eggs, it is the practice in some centers to freeze the embryos and to implant them in a subsequent natural cycle. Overall success rates in terms of having a living child range from 16-20%. The disposition of frozen embryos varies with the wishes of the parents. "Spare embryos" may either be preserved, donated to other women or to researchers, or destroyed.


At 9:52 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

I’ve had friends and colleagues that have struggled with infertility, so I’ve an inkling of how heartbreaking it is to want a baby, but to be unable to have one. Going to various specialists to figure out what is wrong with whom…trying to put aside envy when seeing others with their babies…fending off “so, when will YOU have a baby?” It’s awful, and I’m not unsympathetic. Nonetheless, I’ve never been comfortable with IVF and other procedures that force a life where none was meant to be, even when I wasn’t aware of the Church’s stance.

How we might handle infertility was brought up as an issue in the marriage-prep class my husband & I attended, and as we already were in our 30s we gave it serious thought. I suspect that most couples, however, presume that they’ll be able to have a baby whenever it’s convenient for them, and fail to give the issue the attention it’s due. [Not too surprising…who wants to think about such a downer when one is getting ready for marriage?] They thus aren’t particularly well-equipped when faced with a glitch in their life plan.

So, they take an ends-justifies-the-means approach to getting what they want. They brush aside moral issues, and refuse to consider that God may have other things in mind for them. [I for one am too fond of my head being attached to my shoulders to ever suggest to an infertile couple that they consider adoption.] Some end up with the child they want (a joy that as a parent myself I can’t begrudge) but others go through years of disappointment (and thousands of dollars, even though some health plans cover part of the cost of infertility treatments).

I think that when it comes to infertility, the Serenity Prayer is particularly apt:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

At 7:38 PM, Blogger fran said...

I think sometimes couples lapse into feelings of entitlement, and resort to controversial technologies, when trying to conceive a child, because they have given up hope that God always has a plan.

Friends of mine tried for a number of years to have a child, the wife suffering with endometriosis and enduring a number of medical procedures to correct it. Finally, upon the advice of her doctor she scheduled a hysterectomy, effectively putting to an end her chances of ever having biological children of her own.

On the day of the surgery, she underwent a sonogram, as was the protocol, and found that she was pregnant! She had a healthy baby boy and several years later she and her husband adopted a daughter from China.

Following a miscarriage and nearly 8 years of trying to conceive a second child, I sat on the beach with some women friends of mine who were discussing the injustice of bringing children into the world who might be physically or mentally handicapped in some way. Giving voice to the unborn, I spoke otherwise. Five weeks later, I was pregnant.

God always has a plan - if we would only let His will be done.

At 9:56 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

Beyond just getting a baby in the first place: the latest on getting a baby with particular characteristics:



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