Question: I believe that there is a moral fabric in the world that is rent…
Stories of lives frozen in time explain the painful consequences of artificial interventions
In 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the leadership of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a long and detailed instruction on the respect for human life at its origin and on the dignity of procreation. Known as Donum Vitae (“The Gift of Life”), the instruction answered questions pertaining to biomedical issues and concerns that had developed in recent years as a result of certain scientific advances. The document gave a comprehensive explanation of the respect due to human embryos (fertilized eggs that are now new lives), and a thorough examination of the interventions now possible to use for procreation, including artificial insemination, surrogacy and in vitro fertilization. In the past 30 years, Donum Vitae has become the definitive source for Catholic teaching on these highly sensitive and personal topics.
In our emotionally driven culture, however, an intellectual, scientific and moral instruction issued by the CDF might not be successful at winning over hearts, especially hearts dealing with the heartbreaking effects of infertility.
A new piece in The New York Times, however, might. Titled “The Lost Embryos,” and published on April 16, the article recounts the heartbreaking story of Elaine Meyer and Barry Prizant, a couple, now in their 60s, who turned to in vitro fertilization in the 1990s after suffering three miscarriages. The process resulted in the creation of at least 18 embryos, one of which became the couple’s son, Noah. The article stated: “After his birth, (Meyer) and her husband were optimistic they could have another child. There were nine embryos left over from the three cycles, and they signed agreements with the hospital to “cryopreserve” them for transfer in the future.
“Dr. Meyer felt an acute attachment to the embryos, calling each ‘a spark of life,'” the piece continued. “She would drive out of her way to pass by the hospital, stopping in the parking lot to sing lullabies to them while in her car. ‘We were always coming back for our embryos,’ she said. ‘That was always the plan.'”
And they thought they had, though they never again achieved pregnancy. A few years ago, however, the couple received an invoice for the storage of embryos from the hospital where they had undergone their fertility treatments. “I thought, ‘This can’t be right,'” Meyer told The New York Times. “We know we went back for all of our embryos.”
The hospital, though, had found two of the couple’s embryos in a broken glass vial at the bottom of a storage tank. Because of the crack in the glass, the embryos likely were no longer viable. The couple was devastated, and they sued the hospital. They also retrieved the embryos and are contemplating burial on their property or within a cemetery, an action that acknowledges, on their part, a respect and love for the lives that might have been.
It’s a tragic story — one that illustrates the agony of infertility and also the painful consequences of using immoral scientific interventions as a replacement for sexual intercourse to bring about new human life. (At the same time, Donum Vitae teaches, medical intervention that helps or assists couples in becoming pregnant naturally is perfectly licit.) Couples in no way should be faulted for wanting children. But while children, the Church teaches in Gaudium et Spes, are “the supreme gift of marriage,” they are not a right — a truth to which so many faithful couples who have had to bear the painful cross of infertility can testify. And despite what scientific progress has enabled, taking the creation of life out of God’s hands into our own can have devastating and unanticipated effects, as Meyer and Prizant’s story shows us.
Donum Vitae explains why the Church teaches what it does regarding procreation. The hundreds of thousands of embryos considered “abandoned” in fertility clinics across the country — lives literally frozen in time — tell the rest of the story.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editorial director for periodicals at OSV. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.