Would it be unfathomable to centre female bodies in the Roman Catholic Church? The powers that be still seem to think so. I spent a decade in and out of fertility clinics, enduring surgeries and procedures, subject to physical and emotional anguish, all in hopes that I could bring a child into the world — a child my husband and I would raise in the Catholic faith, in the tradition of generations of family.
I did not have the support of my church during that long, dark decade. According to church teaching, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is immoral because the procedure fails to respect the connection between procreation and the conjugal act of a married couple. This is according to Pope John Paul II in the 1987 document Donum Vitae (Respect for Human Life).
Surgeries to correct anatomical anomalies and medications to regulate hormonal imbalances are licit; conception outside of sexual intercourse is not. The church also objects to specific practices used in the IVF process — embryo storage, gamete donation, surrogacy and preimplantation genetic diagnosis. According to church teaching, these practices violate the embryo’s inalienable right to dignity and to be treated as a human person with a soul created by God.
So then where does the church’s teaching leave infertile couples in a culture that exalts parenthood, effectively excluding all who cannot bring forth “fruit”? What about the Catholic belief in sacramentality?
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Catholics see in Jesus Christ the full embodiment of God. Since God became human, we are able to see, touch and hear God in the visible world around us. All forms of creation, from people to the natural environment, and even objects, allow for the opportunity to encounter something of God’s grace.
During my IVF journey, I saw God in the reproductive endocrinologists who devised my treatment plans with precision and care. I saw God in the lab technician who gently inserted a needle into my vein, careful not to leave a bruise. I saw God in the pharmacist who offered remedies to counter the terrible side effects of the hormones I was taking. I saw God in the nurse who had the difficult task of calling me to say that, once again, the treatment cycle failed. I saw God in the incubators that kept my embryos warm and nourished, mimicking the natural conditions of my reproductive organs. I did not see immorality or sin. I saw only God.
In Colossians 3:11, St. Paul says, “Christ is everything and he is in everything.” If God is present in the female body, is God not also manifest in the modern healing remedies for an imperfect one? In studying and exploring the human condition, are we not discovering more and more about the presence of God? I look at my two children, and the only possible answer is yes.
Lori Sebastianutti lives in Stoney Creek, Ont.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2022 issue with the title “In Vitro Fertilization Is Not a Sin.”
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