Political Grandstanding on IVF Ignores Its Abuse of Human Dignity

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: The reality that human life begins at conception isn’t religious doctrine, it’s basic biology.

Until a couple of weeks ago, few believed that Democrats and Republicans were capable of uniting on any issue, let alone one so seemingly out of left field as in vitro fertilization. But here we are.

What prompted this sudden concern for the plight of couples struggling with infertility was a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last month that embryos created through IVF are human persons protected under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

Contrary to what politicians and many in the media would have you believe, the court’s Feb. 16 decision didn’t ban IVF in Alabama, nor did it prohibit the long-term storage of frozen embryos. But it did scare the highly lucrative and unaccountable IVF industry, which temporarily shut down clinics in Alabama to sound an alarm for everybody else, including their clients and leaders of both political parties.

In the triggering climate we live in today, publicly opposing IVF will make you instantly unpopular — and, for politicians, quite possibly unelectable. In a recent CBS News poll, 86% of Americans said they want IVF to remain legal, and an Axios-Ipsos survey found 66% don’t believe IVF embryos are children.

But there is a bigger issue at stake than winning elections or steering clear of the cancel culture: the truth.

That truth begins with basic science. Whether the embryo is created through natural procreation or when sperm and egg are joined in a petri dish, it is a human being in the earliest of stages. This isn’t a religious doctrine or a conservative court’s opinion. It’s a biological fact, one that wouldn’t change even if 100% of Americans said otherwise.

Another hard truth, hidden behind the happy family photos and heartwarming testimonials you’ll find on their websites, is that IVF clinics are just as death-dealing, on an industrial scale, as Planned Parenthood.

For every successful IVF-aided birth (there were more than 97,000 in 2021, according to federal data), multiple surplus embryos are either destroyed, used for experimentation (mostly to hone the industry’s own techniques), or frozen for possible future use.

According to a recent worldwide survey, the vast majority of rejected embryos are simply tossed in the trash. Why? Sometimes it’s because of a genetic disorder like Down syndrome. Increasingly, though, as IVF clinics continue to evolve into designer baby boutiques, human embryos are screened out for non-medical reasons, like the baby’s sex or eye color.

“It’s like going to a sandwich shop and ordering a ham sandwich with cheese. Do you want to put pickles on?” one IVF doctor recently told The Washington Post.

This callous, transactional mindset is ingrained in the IVF industry, which also recruits Ivy League college women as egg donors and destitute women in places like Ukraine as surrogates to carry babies to term for high-playing clients.

And what to do with the industry’s growing surplus of frozen embryos? There are no good answers. In the United States alone there are an estimated 1.5 million embryos in cold storage, equivalent to the population of the city of Philadelphia. Celebrity Paris Hilton boasts of having 20 unborn baby boys on ice. If she’s fortunate, some random person won’t wander into an unsecured cryopreservation area and accidentally drop them on the floor, which is what tragically happened to the embryonic children of three Alabama couples who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against their IVF clinic — the same civil case the state Supreme Court was asked to weigh in on. (In 2018, 4,000 embryos were destroyed when a high-capacity freezer tank malfunctioned at a fertility clinic in Cleveland.) And what happens to Hilton’s embryos if she and her partner split up? Whose “property” are they?

It’s because of this legal and ethical mess that other countries regulate IVF, to varying degrees. But here in the United States, it’s the Wild West. Our political leaders won’t touch IVF with a 10-foot pipette.

We’ve seen that play out in recent weeks. In a panic over the media-fueled frenzy over the state Supreme Court’s ruling, Alabama’s Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor rushed through a law that grants IVF clinics broad legal immunity for anything they do, including the kind of blatant negligence that triggered the Alabama lawsuit in the first place. Democrats on Capitol Hill would have gone even further, giving the industry exceptional protected status by inventing a national “right” to IVF. Fortunately, Senate Republicans stopped this sweeping overreach of federal power, at least for the time being.

Where do we as pro-life Catholics fit into this? It’s a difficult situation. Many sincere Catholic couples who have struggled to start a family see IVF as an answer to their prayers. We want to support them, not judge them. But the reality is that many Catholics simply aren’t well-informed about everything that IVF entails or about the basis for the Church’s clear teaching against it.

Those who think the Church is only concerned about married couples producing offspring are missing the fundamental principle behind its pro-life ethos: human dignity.

Before the world’s first “test tube” baby was born in 1978, the Church foresaw the Pandora’s box that this technology would open because IVF egregiously violates human dignity by commodifying human life and de-humanizing and de-personalizing the sacrosanct process of procreation.

The Church recognizes that every child has a right to be conceived in a natural way, not in a petri dish in a cold laboratory at the hands of anonymous technicians.

Likewise, each child deserves to be protected and nurtured in the warmth and privacy of his or her mother’s womb, not stored in a freezer in cryogenic nurseries. Weeding out embryos because of certain subjectively undesirable traits is eugenics, plain and simple, and allowing them to be experimented on before they’re destroyed is gravely evil.

It’s beneath our own dignity as a society to continue blindly down this destructive path, allowing an unfettered, profit-driven industry to lead us into ever greater ethical disasters, including three-parent babies, human cloning and human-animal chimeras.

We can’t remain willfully ignorant about or indifferent toward the innocent lives destroyed by IVF or the souls abandoned in an indefinite state of suspended animation.

While the yearning to have children is good, resorting to means that trample on the dignity and rights of unborn children isn’t the answer. Couples struggling to start a family need compassion and support, but they also deserve the truth. Thankfully, there are some voices of reason countering today’s emotion-driven narrative on IVF, including the U.S. bishops and other pro-life leaders, who have spoken out against the grandstanding going on in Congress.

It’s also heartening to see that a growing number of lay-run fertility resources today are helping couples navigate this difficult medical and ethical landscape, groups like The Fruitful HollowSprings in the Desert and Them Before Us.

The Saint Paul VI Institute and other principled Catholic medical practitioners play a critical role, too, by offering couples ethical alternatives to IVF, such as those based on the FertilityCare System and NaProTechnology. These efforts need to be replicated across the country.

Finally, I urge you to support with your prayers and understanding couples close to you who are struggling with infertility. Public opinion may not be on your side, but the truth is. It may be your witness and charity that changes everything.

May God bless you!

Michael Warsaw

Michael Warsaw Michael Warsaw is the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, and the Publisher of the National Catholic Register.