Pope Benedict XVI’s call for more research into ethical treatments for infertility as an alternative to in vitro fertilization is being applauded by a leading Catholic bioethicist.
“The Pope is quite right when he says that IVF is a profit making business – they make a lot of money and their success rates are not great,” Dr. Edward Furton of the National Catholic Bioethics Center told CNA on Feb. 27.
“The profit motive here is not good. There are lesser known, more ethical, more effective methods which are being ignored because these labs are making money telling couples that IVF is the best or only option.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks on Feb. 25 at a workshop hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life to discuss ethically treating infertility. He said he is concerned that the field of human procreation seems to be dominated “by scientism and the logic of profit,” which often “restricts many other areas of research.”
The academy was holding its 18th General Assembly in Rome on the theme of “The diagnosis and treatment of infertility.” The body consists of 70 specialists appointed by the Pope and drawn from different branches of the biomedical sciences.
“The Church is attentive to the suffering of infertile couples,” the Pope told academy members, “and her concern for them is what leads her to encourage medical research.”
“Research into diagnosis and therapy is the most scientifically correct approach to the question of infertility, as well as being the most respectful of the human condition of the people involved,” Pope Benedict said.
He also underscored the Catholic position that IVF is an unethical means of treating infertility, and that “that community of love and life which is marriage, represents the only worthy ‘place’ for a new human being to be called into existence.”
The Pope’s IVF comments drew criticism from some sections of the global media in the following days. “Pope Benedict XVI faces backlash over rant against IVF treatment,” read a typical headline in the Australian Herald Sun newspaper.
“I think part of difficulty is that most people do not think about governing principles but they look simply at results. So IVF produced a beautiful baby and so it must be good, they think,” Furton said.
“But over time people will begin to see clearly, even those who pay no attention to principles, the damaging effects of IVF,” he asserted, pointing to the use of IVF to produce children of a certain sex or genetic disposition.
“We are playing with very strong natural forces which we think we can control but cannot,” explained Furton. “For example, we should not be deciding how many boys and how many girls there are in world.”
Furton also believes that many sections of the media fall prey to the erroneous assumption that “technology can solve moral problems.” But “human problems” will always rely upon “making sound moral choices,” he noted.
“Otherwise, you end up with the kind of solutions that only produce further problems,” such as introducing the human hand “between reproduction and new human life,” which introduces “moral chaos and extra difficulties.”
The Catholic Church also objects to the destruction of human embryos during the process of IVF treatment. The Pope also called for treatments that are the “expression of the concrete possibility of fruitful dialogue between ethics and biomedical research.”
Furton said “a lot of good work is being done” across the globe in developing treatments that are both ethical and more effective than IVF. He particularly praised the work of Milwaukee’s Marquette University and Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb.
On Saturday, Pope Benedict also wished to console infertile couples who cannot be helped by science. He reassured them that “their matrimonial vocation is not thereby frustrated.”
“The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation of self-giving and this is something which no bodily condition can impede,” he said. “Therefore, when science cannot provide an answer, the light-giving response comes from Christ.”