Church Teaching and Human Reproduction

July 23, 2009 09:00 AM

By John B. Shea, M.D., FRCP(C)


The Catholic Church teaches that “the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth. Equally excluded … is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or the woman.” This teaching prohibits contraception by means of the condom, intrauterine device, vasectomy, tubal ligation and chemical contraception by the use of oral contraceptives, morning-after pills, or the administration of contraceptives by injection or in a skin patch. The reason for this prohibition is that contraception breaks the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning of the conjugal act.

Contraception greatly dishonors marriage, the greatness of which is beautifully described by Dietrich von Hildebrand. “No natural human good has been exalted so high in the New Testament. No other good has been chosen to become one of the Seven Sacraments. No other has been endowed with the honor of participating in the establishment of the Kingdom of God. … The wonderful, divinely appointed relationship between the mysterious procreation of a new human being, and this most intimate communion of love … illuminates the grandeur and solemnity of this union … Thus it is that in order to preserve the reverent attitude of the spouses toward the mystery of this union, this general connection between procreation and the communion of love must always be maintained.”

History has clearly demonstrated how prescient Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) was when he predicted that the practice of contraception would cause the man to lose respect for the woman, considering her a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment. The gigantic increase in the incidence of abortion and of sexually transmitted infections bears witness to the promiscuity that followed the legalization and wide availability of chemical contraceptives. The pope also warned of the danger that public authorities which take no heed of moral exigencies would try to solve problems of the community by means illicit for married couples. Witness the worldwide promotion of contraception and abortion fostered by the United Nations today, and also the mandatory one-child policy of the government of China.

Paul VI, in Humanae vitae, stated that “if, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate births without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.” Pius XII taught that unless some serious circumstances arise, spouses are obliged to have children. However, he also teaches that it is moral for the spouses to limit their family size or even to refrain from having children altogether, if they have sufficiently serious reasons. He stated that “there are serious motives, such as those often mentioned in the so-called medical, eugenic, economic, and social ‘indications,’ that can except for a long time, perhaps even during the whole duration of the marriage, from the positive and obligatory carrying out of the act.”

The 1965 Vatican document The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes) teaches that “among the married couples who thus fulfill their God-given mission, special mention should be made of those who after prudent reflection and common decisions, courageously undertake the proper upbringing of a large number of children.” It also states that it is the duty of the parents, and of them alone, to decide on the number and spacing of children, and that they should take “into consideration their own good and the good of their children already born or yet to come, and ability to read the signs of the times and of their own situation, on the material and spiritual level, and finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society, and of the Church.”

The morally acceptable way for spacing the birth of children is called “Natural Family Planning.” One of the best methods is the Hilgers system. The effectiveness rates of this method for avoiding pregnancy have been shown to be 99.5 to 98.8 at the twelfth month of use. This compares favorably to the pill, of which Planned Parenthood’s web site states, “Of 100 women who use the Pill, only 8 will become pregnant during the first year of typical use.”

Relevant medical facts

Some chemical “contraceptives” abort all of the time. All of them abort some of the time. They do this by preventing implantation of an embryo in the uterus.  Elites in the medical profession try to justify their use of the word “contraceptive” by stating that there is no embryo before implantation. This statement is false. The science of human embryology demonstrated, over 100 years ago, that a new individual human being comes into existence when the single-cell zygote is formed, either by fertilization or by cloning. Using the oral contraceptive pill before the first child is born causes a 40-percent increase in the risk of breast cancer. Taken for four or more years before the first child is born increases that risk to 72 percent. The OCP also increases the risk of cancer of the cervix of the uterus and of the liver.

The condom does not provide complete protection from the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infection.
Artificial reproductive technologies:

A human being can be brought into existence by the fertilization of an ovum by a sperm. This can be achieved by sexual intercourse or in the laboratory by in vitro fertilization. Reproduction of a human being can also be achieved by cloning. There are many different methods of cloning that include nuclear transfer, embryo splitting, etc.

The Church teaches that IVF and human cloning are morally forbidden. Why? IVF between husband and wife is condemned because it is illicit in itself, and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and the conjugal union. IVF in which the sperm or ovum of a third person is used is also condemned because, in addition, it violates the reciprocal commitment of spouses and shows a grave lack of regard for that essential property of marriage which is unity. It also deprives the child of her or his filial relationship with parental origins, can hinder the maturing of personal identity, can damage personal relationships within the family and has repercussions on civil society.
IVF is neither, in fact, achieved nor positively willed as an expression and fruit of a specific act of conjugal union. The human embryo is treated as a product of technology and not as a gift of God. In its use and in the use of many other techniques of genetic engineering, a human person is objectively deprived of his or her proper perfection. Such fertilization establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the person. This domination is contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children. Therefore, IVF and cloning are morally unacceptable.
Relevant medical facts

• Few children conceived by IVF are ever born. In each cycle, six to eight embryos are conceived. At most, two are implanted. The rest are either disposed of immediately or are frozen, and eventually, most die. Only 25 percent of those conceived are implanted, and of them, only 20 percent are born. Therefore, only five percent of IVF embryos are born alive. The Australian bioethicist Nicholas Tonti-Filippini calculates that the chance of saving a given frozen human embryo by implantation is less than two percent.

• Birth defects associated with assisted reproductive technologies: 4.9–7.2-fold increase in malignant tumor of the retina; five percent incidence of Beckwith–Wiedemann Syndrome (large tongue, predisposition to cancer); in Brazil, incidence of cancer increased 117 times; cerebral palsy increased 1.4–1.7 times; fourfold increase in developmental delay; premature birth increased 5.6 times; low birthrate increased 9.8 times and heart deformity increased four times.
• To achieve IVF, a woman is given hormones to stimulate the development of many ova at the same time. This may cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and breathing difficulty. In rare cases, blood clots, kidney or lung disease may occur and may be life-threatening.

• Dr. Thomas Hilgers’ FertilityCare System: Dr. Hilgers’ Natural Procreative Technology is a method of care that involves precise diagnosis of the hormonal caused of infertility, and its appropriate treatment. It is also morally acceptable as a way to help an infertile woman to conceive, and is two to three times more successful than IVF, at a fraction of the cost. One study on women who had previous failed IVF, showed a success rate of 36.2 percent. The Hilgers system has been shown to be up to 80-percent successful in helping women to have a successful pregnancy after they have suffered repeated miscarriages. It cuts the rate of premature birth in half, thus helping to reduce the incidence of brain damage. For more information, about the Hilgers System for avoiding or achieving pregnancy, contact the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Centre Fertility Care Program; 688 Coxwell Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4C 3B7, Canada; phone 416-365-2868; e-mail


Dr. John B. Shea is a retired diagnostic radiologist and a fellow of the Royal College of Canada. This article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Catholic Insight magazine and is reprinted here with its kind permission. For more information on the availability of the FertilityCare System in the U.S. and Canada, visit; call 402-390-6600; or write to FertilityCare Centers of America, 6901 Mercy Rd., Omaha, NE 68106. 

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