The recent Irish Supreme Court Judgement on the fate of the three frozen embryos has initiated a national dialogue on the issues surrounding in vitro fertilization (IVF). There have been calls for new legislation in the area and the enactment of such legislation has been promised by Health Minister Mary Harney.
In the context of the ongoing debate a colleague Séamas de Barra, has sent me a commentary on an article by Fr. Kevin Doran that appeared in the January edition of the 'Alive newspaper.
In his article of January 2010, 'Supreme Court judgement devalues every human life' [p. 4], Fr Kevin Doran says among other things:
The problem of the Roche embryos arose because, in the absence of legislation, clinics and hospitals in Ireland have begun to keep embryos in frozen storage.
Legislation is required to ensure that clinics which perform IVF only generate the number of embryos which can be safely transferred to the mother's womb in one treatment cycle.
Better still, research funding should be diverted to programmes which seek to prevent or to treat infertility, rather than simply trying to get around it.
In his commentary Mr de Barra sets out the following:
As regards the third paragraph we know that good work is being done by the likes of Dr Phil Boyle with his NaProTechnology/FertilityCare, and also by the staff of the National Association of the Ovulation Method of Ireland [NAOMI] who help those who are having difficulty having a child.
I disagree with Fr Doran that Mrs Roche's problem arises because of lack of legislation here in Ireland. The problem arises because of the practice of In Vitro Fertilization itself in Ireland. In its Instruction Donum Vitae (1987) the Vatican condemned the practice of IVF, and other unethical means of getting around infertility. The Vatican repeated the condemnation in the Instruction Dignitas Personae which is dated, September 8, 2008.
The first solution that Fr Doran recommends actually is condemned in par. 15 of Dignitas Personae:The reason for multiple transfer is to increase the probability that at least one embryo will implant in the uterus. In this technique, therefore, the number of embryos transferred is greater than the single child desired, in the expectation that some embryos will be lost and multiple pregnancy may not occur. In this way, the practice of multiple embryo transfer implies a purely utilitarian treatment of embryos. One is struck by the fact that, in any other area of medicine, ordinary professional ethics and the healthcare authorities themselves would never allow a medical procedure which involved such a high number of failures and fatalities. In fact, techniques of in vitro fertilization are accepted based on the presupposition that the individual embryo is not deserving of full respect in the presence of the competing desire for offspring which must be satisfied.
Let us put things in context. Of 100 embryos conceived in vitro [i.e. 'on glass', in a petri dish] and frozen, only 40 survive the thawing process. Only 10% of those 40, that is 4, have any chance of being born, and that is putting it at its most optimistic. That is, the optimum success rate is 4 out of 100. The so-called "take-home baby rate" is enhanced only because of the use of multiple-embryo transfer.
In par. 16 Dignitas Personae refers to the 'blithe acceptance of the enormous number of abortions involved in the process of in vitro fertilization'. Nevertheless in par. 19 we are reminded by means of a quotation from Pope John Paul II that 'there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of "frozen" embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons.' In other words, it is actually immoral to transfer these frozen embryos, whether by single-embryo transfer, or by multiple-embryo transfer, to their mother's womb. In par. 23 of Dignitas Personae we are reminded of the 'serious penalties in canon law' that those involved in abortion attract. The reference is to automatic excommunication, for being involved in, or voting for, the like.
The problem with IVF is not dissimilar to that of Humanae Vitae. The Church's authentic teachings on these matters are regarded by many priests and bishops as a dead letter, and instead, they give the laity their own private opinions on them.
It is vital that all voices should be heard on the issues at stake here and which have major implications for the right to life of the human embryo prior to implantation in the womb of a woman. Future legislation will without doubt have significant implications for the constitutional protection of the unborn in Ireland