Understanding Catholic teaching on infertility

Treatments, NFP, moral boundaries are explained

By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant

DUBUQUE — Infertility is one of the most heartbreaking experiences married couples can face. The church has great compassion for men and women who long for children but struggle to conceive. It encourages couples to try to find ways to overcome their infertility, but teaches that the methods used must protect the dignity of human life and respect God’s plan for married love.

Catholic teaching holds that human sexuality has two essential aspects – the unitive and the procreative. Procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and artificial insemination pose serious moral problems since they separate these two aspects of sexuality and make procreation the only goal.

Other ethical issues can also arise from the use of these types of infertility treatments. Couples that turn to them sometimes use sperm or eggs donated by a third party to achieve conception, potentially creating a confusing situation for a child who later learns one of the parents who raised him or her was not the biological mother or father.

The practice of in vitro fertilization has additional moral implications, since it often times results in the destruction of human embryos. During IVF, less viable embryos may be discarded and never implanted in the mother’s womb, or embryos might be left frozen indefinitely for future attempts at pregnancy.

While the church condemns procedures such as IVF or artificial insemination, couples struggling with infertility can still seek treatment. In their 2009 document “Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasized that it’s morally acceptable to diagnose and address problems related to infertility with the hope of restoring a man or woman’s health and making conception possible.

“Hormonal treatment and other medications, conventional or laser surgery to repair damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, means for alleviating male infertility factors, and other restorative treatments are available,” the bishops said, since such “methods do not substitute for the married couple’s act of loving union; rather, they assist this act in reaching its potential to conceive a new human life.”

“The techniques of natural family planning (NFP) can also be used to locate the most fertile time of a woman’s cycle in order to maximize the chances of conceiving,” the bishops said.

Linda Manternach, the director of the Family Life Office for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, reiterated the benefits offered by natural family planning in combatting infertility. “There are many reasons why some couples find it difficult to conceive a child,” she said. “Using NFP keeps in mind the whole person, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It also keeps the couple working together and not casting blame, which only adds to the stress.”

Couples that wish to learn more about natural family planning or what NFP resources and support are available to them in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, should contact the archdiocesan Family Life Office at 563-556-0246.



This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.