At a Vatican conference on infertility last week, Pope Benedict XVI railed against reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization.
Speaking in the Vatican to an audience of conservative researchers and medical experts, the pope warned against the “easy income” that could be made from the “fascination of the technology of artificial fertility.” Both scientists and the families who benefit from scientific advances in fertility treatment are guilty of “the arrogance of taking the place of the creator,” Benedict said.
Catholics around the world will be saddened at the label ‘arrogant’ being applied to couples seeking help to have children and the doctors who try to help them. The pope’s remarks only serve to drive another wedge between people of faith and the church hierarchy.
This attack on reproductive technologies is yet another display of the Vatican’s lack of empathy and understanding and a vain attempt to hold back scientific development as well as impede access to reproductive technologies for couples around the world.
Though the pope has spoken out frequently about the importance of protecting the family, he used a shockingly narrow definition of the kind of family that can count on his support. Matrimony ‘constitutes the only “place” worthy of the calling into existence of a new human being,’ he said. This is profoundly disrespectful to all the women who endure economic and social prejudice because they choose to carry a pregnancy to term outside of marriage. The pope’s comments expose a very narrow understanding and lack of meaningful commitment to a real prolife position by the Vatican.
Despite these disheartening comments, I am confident that millions of Catholic couples will continue to seek fertility assistance and that Catholic doctors and researchers will keep helping infertile couples, in good conscience, knowing that they are good Catholics working in good faith to help families make choices that are right for their lives.
In light of the pope’s statement, I urge policymakers to question both the global dominance of hospital systems controlled by the Catholic hierarchy and the use of taxpayer funds to provide services for the community when the hierarchy clearly has a commitment only to the services they deem permissible and not to the ones the community needs. The Catholic social justice tradition supports the provision of comprehensive healthcare services in a pluralistic society, and so there’s no excuse for lowering the bar for Catholic healthcare when it comes to serving individuals or couples wanting to conceive.
Infertility comes in all shapes and sizes, but parental love is remarkably the same. Parents put aside their own needs and desires for their families. The hierarchy’s agenda does not nurture or support those who want to expand their families using IVF. When the pope calls unmarried women and nontraditional couples ‘unworthy’ or ‘arrogant’ for wanting to share the gift of life with a new generation, the spiritual leader of the Catholic faith does a disservice to the entire church.”