The Polish press reports another instance of in vitro fertilization (IVF) gone amuck: a little girl born to a woman who subsequently discovered she was not her genetic mother.
The child was born, apparently in August 2014, to a 30-year-old woman in Szczecin province along the Baltic coast. She had turned to the IVF “Laboratory for Assisted Reproduction” in Police, associated with the Pomeranian Medical University (Pomorska Uniwersytet Medyczny), and gave birth to a girl suffering from “various genetic defects.” Upon closer DNA examination, it appears that the clinic used the woman’s husband’s sperm to fertilize another woman’s ovum; the embryo was subsequently implanted into the woman and she carried it to term. One article suggested that the containers carrying ovum were manually marked rather than barcoded, so the lab assistant used the “wrong” one. Polish Health Minister Bartosz Arkułowicz cancelled the government’s IVF agreement with the Szczecin Clinic and imposed the maximum allowable fine—10% of the value of the government contract—a 76,000 Polish złoty fine (about $20,700) on the Clinic. Clinic Director Rafał Kurzawa told Radio Szczecin the sanctions were “incomprehensible and hasty” and might even be used as an excuse to “close the clinic.” He called the occurrence “a single mistake.” It seems nobody knows from whom the “wrong” ovum came.
The Clinic’s contract was part of the current Polish Government’s “Program for Treating Infertility through Extracorporeal Fertilization for 2013-2016,” a three-year program presented as the “first time in the history of Polish medicine that in vitro procedures will be financed out of public funds.”
Where does one begin?
- Although it might be called a “program for treating infertility,” such titles typically run afoul of truth in advertising. The cause of the infertility is neither addressed nor overcome; it is simply ignored through the process of manufacturing a child for the barren woman.
- More than half a century ago, Pope Pius XII (in his 1951 “Allocution to Italian Midwives”) prophetically warned that “To reduce the common life of husband and wife and the conjugal act to a mere organic function for the transmission of seed would be but to convert the domestic hearth, the family sanctuary, into a biological laboratory.” Gamete mix-up generally does not occur in the “domestic hearth”—when it does, it is called “adultery” (something else public policy no longer seems to sanction)—but can be quite routine in a real clinical laboratory setting. After all, the late Professor William E. May pointed out that one of the key faults of IVF is that it “in principle” regards the separation of procreation from spousal unity as divisible: The only thing that holds the (not necessarily married) couple’s desire to use their own gametes is their pure act of will about which, for any reason, they can change their minds and “outsource.” This is precisely what the 1987 Vatican Instruction Donum vitae warned against: The process is inherently dehumanizing, both in terms of the child who becomes a designed product, and the couple who desecrate what should be their act of unitive love into a question of mere biological technique.
- IVF inherently devalues life. While unmentioned in the current story, the fact that multiple ova are fertilized and a technician subsequently makes life-or-death choices as to unborn children “most likely to succeed” means many such children are destroyed. (There are critics who will accuse me of biasing the story by using the term “children,” but that is what the couples want: No IVF couple enters the process expecting to get frogs!) But in this instance, what becomes of this disabled child? There is no “money-back guarantee” from the Clinic (unless we adopt the Giublini-Minerva thesis about “post-birth abortion” for unwanted children, disabled or not. Indeed, most of the reaction to the Szczecin “mix-up” has been about the deceived woman (who clearly was deceived throughout her pregnancy), not the abused, disabled little girl. The erosion of disabled children’s rights continues apace.
- The state subsidizing what, at a minimum, at least significant numbers of people would deem morally corrupt. Poland has gone beyond the United States in providing government-funded IVF programs but, in the wake of Obamacare and its commitment to “reproductive options” the possibility of U.S. Government IVF funding cannot be excluded, especially if homosexual “marriage” is mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the wholesale theoretical separation of marriage from parenthood such a decision would entail may in theory leave room for society to demand that parenthood remain associated with sexual differentiation, I surmise that any such barriers will soon likely collapse. Such “couples” will claim that nature “discriminates” against them by requiring sexual differentiation as a prerequisite to parenthood and, in a society where dualist notions of personhood prevail, overcoming the “physical” barrier of infertility through utilitarian applications of technology in support of the couple’s wants will be deferred only long enough for an article or two to wring hands about a “brave new world” before boldly going into it.
The only problem, as Polish philosopher Witold Stawrowski observed, is that in all these instances the strong and well-situated, pretending to be victims, get what they want while the real victims—children, especially disabled ones—get the shaft. He called it “sleek barbarism”.
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John M. Grondelski (Ph.D. Fordham) was formerly associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey (USA).