St Francis Q&A

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.


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