pregnancies end in miscarriages, especially very early ones. Does the Church view
miscarriages as actual deaths?
We have not traditionally had funerals and coffins for spontaneous
miscarriages. Does that mean we didn't say they were persons? No. But we kind
of let that one fall between the cracks. If parents wish to remember them, they're
welcome to remember them. If they want to give them a name, that's all right.
Rick Santorum did that. But in the case of Emily Herx, what you see is the
conservative side of the Church trying to tighten boundaries that were
sometimes left a little bit vague.
Emily Herx told
her school that she wasn't going to destroy any embryos during her IVF
treatment. So why was there a problem?
There's still an issue. In terms of procreation, the closer one is to
sexual intercourse, the less the Church is going to have a problem with it. So
if you're doing fertility treatments that help you conceive while actually
having sex, that's mostly all right. The further you move from that -- and
toward the laboratory actually playing a role in conception -- the less the
And then there's the issue of using borrowed sperm or ova, which adds
another layer of distance. The further things move away from sexual
intercourse, the more it raises the question: Are you manufacturing a baby? Is
this an extension of lovemaking? Or is the laboratory doing something to
The whole idea of
conceiving a baby outside the womb is so modern. It's hard to imagine these issues coming up in any form in the early Church.
Yes. But when it comes to sexual things, the Catholic Church has always
held that the sperm belongs with the ovum, the male genital part belongs in the
vagina. From that, you can deduce almost anything.
A lot of babies
are conceived in circumstances that don't seem particularly holy -- a one-night
stand, or even a rape. In contrast, two people undergoing
fertility treatments would seem to be especially committed to each other and to their
Precisely. Sometimes Catholic theologians can be very insensitive about
that. They'll talk to a couple who have loved each other, have gone through
pain together, and might be struggling with issues about their masculinity or
femininity, and they'll say, "Moral theology says you don't have the right to
have a child." That might be correct on a blackboard. But to say that to a
couple is like telling them what selfish, evil people they are. They're loving
people who want a child badly -- and they know the Church wants people to have
children, so they can't understand why they aren't getting more empathy.
But the Church does disapprove of in vitro
fertilization, no matter how loving and committed a couple may be.
When it comes to sexuality, our Catholic natural law teaching is very
genital-based. It's more focused on biology than Catholic teaching is in other
areas. Some would say that love, marriage, and commitment have to be taken into
account. Pope John Paul II worked very hard to create what he called the theology
of the body -- instead of just talking about biology, he spoke about the loving
meaning of the whole person. But in the end, the Church would say that you
can't go against biology. That's the mechanics of our nature.