Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Wonder of the Womb; The Ignobility of IVF

I would like to reflect again on a bioethics-related topic. It has to do with the human womb. (In medical terms, the 'uterus.' But, 'womb' seems a more personal term so I'll use this.) More completely, my topic here deals first with conjugal union as the only appropriate means of bringing about a new human life, and second, with the womb as the only appropriate place for that life to be brought about.

A few months ago at the blog of a friend the situation of the "Octomom" was being discussed. In the midst of this discussion someone stated the opinion that she saw nothing undignified about conceiving a child through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Another commenter made the astute observation that the IVF process results in "life conceived in the unloving confines of a glass petri dish." I thought this was an excellent and very thought-provoking phrase; and right on target.

I share here some of the ideas I gave then about the contrast between human life conceived how and where God planned for it to be conceived--through the marital embrace and in the womb of a woman--vs. life conceived in a petri dish (as in IVF). . . .

The only appropriate means for conceiving life. Sexual union between persons has inherent meaning. It is full of meaning. In a proper context (spouses who love each other), the meaning of this act is, "I give myself fully, completely to you--I love you, I give myself to you, I commit myself to you, holding nothing back." A husband and wife say this to each other through the built-in symbolism of marital intercourse. With IVF, the creation of the child is divorced from the inherent meaning of conjugal union between spouses. But the two physical events (sexual union and the creation of a child) are meant to be always united together because their meanings are so inherently one.

There is no symbolic meaning built into the act of using lab equipment to unite an egg and sperm in a petri dish corresponding to this profound, built-in, natural (and God-ordained) symbolism of intercourse. The IVF lab procedure simply does not posses the great meaning of natural marital union.

In other areas of life we have no problem seeing the difference between the inherent meaning of human physical gestures and less human, technical processes. Is a physical hug between friends the same in significance as saying hello on Facebook? Technological processes simply have no ability to carry the meaning that is woven into thoroughly human, personal acts. And what more profound and deeply human, personal act is there than a husband and wife giving themselves to each other in love, freely, in the marital embrace?

The only appropriate place for conceiveing life. Sometimes we Christians (perhaps Catholics especially) are accused of a kind of inappropriate womb-worship because of the way some of us privilege the womb as the only place proper for the beginning of human life. We do not worship the womb (to do so would be a pagan thing not a Christian thing) when we point out that the womb is the privileged place God designed for the special and unique event of bringing new human life into the world. God loves human beings in a special and privileged way among all the earth. He would not provide anything less than a very special place for the hidden realm wherein He would lovingly "knit together" (see Psalm 139) the fragile and beautiful beginnings of every human being. There is no impropriety in drawing attention to this beautiful truth. As the place where new life should begin, being more fitted to the inherent, God-given dignity of every human person--hands down, the womb beats a glass petri dish every time!

Indeed, without being inappropriate, I think that the womb certainly is worthy of particular reverence because it is a three-dimensional living canvas in which the master artist of the universe lovingly forms and brings to life His greatest and most cherished creations. Would it be strange to suggest the womb is somewhat like a custom designed studio, perfectly suited for what the master artist who designed it intends to create there?

Only one place was made by God for the purpose of sheltering and nurturing nascent human lives. He could have made various other places. But he made only one: the womb. This is the sacred place He made within which He might reach down and bestow His divine power of creation upon the spiritual-physical union of husband and wife. It seems almost crazy to me to suggest the idea that an inert, non-living object such as a glass dish in a lab could ever be just as appropriate a canvas for God's creative power to touch as the living womb of a woman who is herself precious to and beloved by God!

The ultimate purpose of our lives is to become living vessels of divine grace--each a unique, living jewel of divine truth and love--sharing as a family in the bliss of the heavenly paradise. Our Father in heaven arranged the world in such a way that we--creatures with such high dignity and transcendent purpose--should come into being in a context worthy of the nobility He has given our lives. This context is that we should appear on the stage of existence through a loving soul-body union of our mother and father. And the only place adequate to the great worth of each of us as we begin the earliest stages of our fragile life is the womb of our mother. How beautiful this is!


  1. And the great news for those struggling with Infertility: and most significantly:!

    Rates for helping infertile couples achieve pregnancy are up to 80% success (depending on the cause of IF). These numbers are miles above IVF success rates. And I can attest to my own beautiful success whom I chase after every day. :)

    Scott, are you aware of the American Academy of Fertility Care Conference that will be in Harrisburg in July?? You might enjoy the ethics banquet Sat night:

  2. Thanks, Elisabeth! I didn't know about the conference. I'll look into it.

    For anyone reading this, Dr. Hilgers, the Pope Paul VI Institute, and those trained by him, do wonderful, important, life-changing work. Anyone considering IVF because of fertility problems should definitely contact them, or any health care provider who is part of the Fertility Care Centers of America.

  3. IVF has helped children be born to those that have become infertile through kemo treatements,lost ovaries due to cancer, ect.. IVF is a very personal union between a man and a woman, it takes every piece of your being to just prepare your body and mind to enter the process, to put your hopes and dreams and finances into a doctor that has been blessed with the skills to help parents that so much want to give birth to a bio baby. My only advise is IF couples should be counciled on the alternatives before starting. There is one thing of wanting a pregancy, (which IVF never promises a positive VS adoption where you are 99.9% positive of becoming a parent. Every family has a different path of staring a family, they do it with much thought and weigh all the choices. Octo mom just gives bad press to parents that push too far.


Thank you for civil and well-considered comments!