When the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) rated the blockbuster hit Baby Mama ‘O’ (as in “morally offensive”) for containing “acceptability of surrogate parenting and artificial insemination,” we should all have seen this coming.
Last Friday, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith unveiled its latest: Dignitas Personae: On Certain Bioethical Questions. While the Vatican has held many of the stances outlined in the document for years, Dignitas Personae marks the first concerted effort by the Vatican in the field of biotechnology.
The document condemns assisted reproductive technology methods such as in-vitro fertilization. Methods that simply aid the “conjugal act” are approved, but any methods that do not involve the “conjugal act” are strictly forbidden. Additionally, the document denounces stem cell research and drugs such as emergency contraception that, according to the Vatican, fall “within the sin of abortion.”
This strong opposition to assisted reproductive technology seems to simply expand upon the pro-life/pro-family platform that the Vatican has been touting for years. However, this entrée into biotechnology differs in that most countries are still developing laws on the new technologies and are seemingly unlikely to adopt laws would forbid such practices. In this way, the Vatican is starting more of an uphill battle than it has faced with issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. And because reproductive technology is not looked upon as immoral by most policymakers, the Vatican’s authority as a moral figure on the international stage is in danger of being diminished.
Interestingly, the document does not mention the children born as a result of assisted reproductive technology. According to the CDC, in the United States alone more than 50,000 infants are born a year as a result of assisted reproductive technology—many, no doubt, into Catholic families. The Vatican doesn’t give guidance to the hundreds of thousands of children who are only alive because of reproductive technology, it only focuses on the acts resulting in their creation.
This recalls, in a way, one of the oft-used pro-life argument that asserts that millions of people would be living if it weren’t for the legalization of abortion.
Taking the inverse of that argument, if it weren’t for assisted reproductive technology, hundreds of thousands of children wouldn’t be alive today.