Church opposes industrial process of in vitro fertilization

  • October 14, 2010
In Vitro FertilizationTORONTO - Vatican officials aren’t being churlish killjoys or displaying their fearful medieval mindset when they object to the Nobel committee giving the world’s most prestigious science prize to the inventor of in vitro fertilization, Fr. Joseph Tham told an audience of about 70 people in Toronto’s Holy Family parish Oct. 6.

“It’s difficult to explain to people, Catholics included, why IVF is wrong,” said Tham.

Before entering the priesthood, Tham became a medical doctor at the University of Toronto. He now teaches at Regina Apostolorum University’s school of bioethics in Rome.

The Church’s chief objection to making babies in a petri dish is that it changes what should be the result of love shared between two people into an industrial process, said Tham.

“There’s a great distinction to be made between being born of love and being made,” he said.

British scientist Robert Edwards was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine Oct. 4. His research into human reproduction and experiments to mimic the process in the lab led to the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, born in 1978. Since then more than four million IVF babies have been born.

Msgr. Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, immediately reacted against the Nobel decision.

“Without Edwards there wouldn’t be a market for oocytes (immature egg cells). Without Edwards there wouldn’t be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred in utero or, more likely, to be used for research or to die abandoned and forgotten by everyone,” de Paula wrote in a statement released by the Vatican press office Oct. 4.

It isn’t just the commercialization of human life that is troubling, said Tham. The multi-billion dollar IVF industry is actually pushing doctors into practising bad medicine, he said.

While IVF results in a pregnancy rate of about 40 per cent, and a successful, live birth rate of about 25 per cent, other techniques that work with a woman’s natural reproductive system are actually more successful, he said.

“One exciting alternative is called NaPro technology,” said Tham. “It’s natural family planning in reverse.”

Tham’s sister Elizabeth, a Toronto general practitioner, has achieved a success rate of about 70 per cent with women averaging 35 years old, he said.

A safer, easier alternative to IVF would cut off the $10,000 to $15,000 per cycle fees charged for IVF. That threatens the industry, according to Tham. For most couples it takes four to six cycles or attempts to conceive before IVF results in pregnancy.

“The IVF industry is a big, big industry,” said Tham.

The International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations was careful to emphasize that its objections to IVF don’t stem from a desire to see infertile couples suffer.

“Although IVF has brought happiness to the many couples who have conceived through this process, it has done so at an enormous cost,” said the federation’s president, Jose Simon Castellvi. “The cost is the undermining of the dignity of the human person.”

Castellvi characterized the surplus embryos — to be used “as experimental animals destined for destruction” — as an unacceptable result of the in vitro process.

“As Catholic doctors we recognize the pain that infertility brings to a couple, but equally we believe that the research and treatment methods needed to solve the problems of infertility have to be conducted within an ethical framework,” said Castellvi.

(With files from Catholic News Service.)

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