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Being Roman Catholic and ART by: Marna Gatlin, Founder, Parents Via Egg Donation

Posted Apr 28 2012 2:02pm


Emily Herx, former Indiana  high school teacher of literature was fired from her position at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana undergoing infertility treatment -namely IVF.
Emil was told her contract would not be renewed because of “improprieties related to church teachings or law.” Herx says the school's priest called her a "grave, immoral sinner" and told her she should have kept mum about her fertility treatments because some things are "better left between the individual and God," the complaint said.
What did Emily do?  She filed a lawsuit stating she didn't think she was doing anything wrong, and that she has never had any complaints about herself as a teacher.
The diocese responded, saying it "views the core issue raised in this lawsuit as a challenge to the diocese's right, as a religious employer, to make religious based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis."

In its statement, diocese officials said that "the church promotes treatment of infertility through means that respect the right to life, the unity of marriage, and procreation brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act. There are other infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, which are not morally licit according to Catholic teaching."

I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church and was a practicing Roman Catholic for most of my life. I always thought I was going to be a mother; the thought never crossed my mind that I would not become a mother or could not become a mother. As a child the following bible verse ran through my head: Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them, saying to them, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.” This isn’t always easy if you have fertility issues, and it’s incredibly difficult if you are a Roman Catholic and find yourself needing assistance from an infertility clinic.  Because of the Church’s stance on ART and their beliefs and clear opposition with respect to ART, (especially third party reproduction) those individuals who must resort to third party reproduction to have a child are faced with a huge moral dilemma – either go against the Church and their faith or not have the opportunity to attempt pregnancy. What is very sad and painful about all of this is that these individuals do not have a choice.  It’s been taken away from them if they are to remain faithful Catholics and follow the teachings of the Church.  When the time came for me to resort to Assisted Reproductive Technology and third party assistance I was shocked to learn about the Church’s stance regarding ART. After much struggling and soul searching I chose to walk away from the Church because I didn’t believe that the God I loved in and believed would regard me as evil or wicked because I wanted to become a mother via egg donation. It’s sad but sometimes infertile Catholics resort to IVF in order to conceive a child. The Roman Catholic Church is very clear regarding IVF and their position and opposition to Assisted Reproductive Technology . Not only does the Church staunchly oppose IVF they also do not support, and are incredibly clear about third party reproduction which includes egg donation or gestational surrogacy. The Catholic Church has taken a position that a human being begins the moment of fertilization when an egg (oocyte) is fertilized by a sperm.  “The Catholic church teaches that a human being must be respected as a person from the very first instant of his existence as a human being, and therefore, from that same moment, his rights as a person must be recognized among which in the first place, is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. The Church also teaches that from the moral point of view a truly responsible procreation vis-à-vis the unborn child must be the fruit of marriage.”  (John B. Shea, MD, The Moral Status of in vitro fertilization (IVF) Biology and method) The Church also holds the position that IVF violates the rights of the child: Depriving him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personality. It objectively deprives conjugal fruitfulness of its unity and integrity; it brings about and manifests a rupture between genetic parenthood, gestational parenthood, and responsibility for upbringing. This threat to the unity and stability of the family is a source of dissension, disorder, and injustice in the whole of social life.  (John B. Shea, MD,  The Moral Status of in vitro fertilization (IVF) Biology and method) Directly from Catechism of the Catholic Church (2378): “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception." For me, the desire to be pregnant and to mother was so compelling that it overshadowed the strong beliefs ingrained in me since infancy.  That need was stronger than all of my commitment to a church that had raised me; the need to become pregnant and become a mother was more intense than my devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. I am grateful that the church's prohibitions did not shake my belief in God, only the belief that human beings could create doctrine that would prohibit me from achieving my desire to become my son’s mother. For me, the answer was to find a way to conceive and birth my son, even though my "church" did not approve. Your answer might be different.  It's a powerful dilemma with no easy answer. So the troubling question remains – What do devout Roman Catholics do who want nothing more than follow their dreams, hopes and desires to become parents?  Do they remain steadfast and faithful to their belief system? Or do they risk what the Catholic Church condemns as a gravely evil act? There is no easy answer. 

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