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IMPERMISSIBLE CASES OF ARTIFICIAL

INSEMINATION    

BY
HUSBAND (AIH)

 

Explanation of Terms and Procedures 

Artificial insemination by husband (AIH), also called  homologous artificial insemination, is "the technique used to  obtain a human conception through the transfer into the genital  tracts of a married woman of the sperm previously collected from her  husband. (l)

 

Policy 

Methods and uses of artificial insemination by husband (AIH) which replace the act of sexual intercourse between spouses are not permissible. 

 

Sources of Policy 

This principle is presented in the Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation (Donum Vitae)  from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine  of the Faith (1987): 

Homologous artificial insemination within marriage cannot be admitted except for those cases in which the technical means  is not a substitute for the conjugal act but serves to facilitate and to help so that the act attains its natural purpose. (2)

 

Artificial insemination as a substitute for the conjugal act is prohibited by reason of the voluntarily achieved  dissociation of the two meanings of the conjugal act. (3) 

     See also the entry General Policy on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), principles 3 and 4.

 

____________________ 

1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation (Washington,  DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1987), II, p. 22. 

2. Ibid., II.B.6, p. 31. 

3. Ibid., II.B.6, p. 32. 

 

COMMENTARY 

IMPERMISSIBLE CASES OF ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION 

 BY HUSBAND (AIH)

The Procedure of AIH and Its Uses 

     The procedure of artificial insemination by husband consists in placing the husband's sperm (either the entire seminal ejaculate or that which has undergone special preparation in the laboratory) within the wife's vagina, cervix, or uterine cavity. (1)  The accumulated rate of pregnancy after three cycles of intrauterine inseminations is usually greater than the natural expectancy of pregnancy which couples have during the same period of time. (2)  

Artificial insemination by husband may be considered medically when the husband is incapable of vaginal ejaculation because of psychogenic or organic impotence; when the semen shows deficiencies in the number of spermatozoa, in its mobility, or in its morphology; when there is an unfavorable cervical factor which cannot be overcome by medical treatment; and in the case of cryopreservation (freezing) of sperm before cancer treatment or vasectomy. (3)  

Through the freezing and storage of a husband's sperm,  it is now possible for a woman to become pregnant when her husband is geographically removed from her, or even after her husband's death. 

 

Moral Differentiation of Types of AIH 

The Vatican Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation  does not contain a  blanket condemnation of the procedure of artificial insemination  by husband. Rather, it distinguishes two types of artificial  insemination by husband: AIH which facilitates the conjugal  act or helps that act to attain its natural purpose, and AIH which replaces the conjugal act. (4)  Methods of AIH which facilitate the act of sexual intercourse between spouses or assist  it to achieve the objective of conception are considered morally permissible. (5) On the other hand, methods of AIH which replace the act of sexual intercourse between spouses are not morally permissible. (6)   

     In judging forms of AIH which replace the conjugal act to be morally impermissible, the Vatican Instruction  relies on the principle that unitive and procreative functions of the act of sexual intercourse ought not to be separated:  

...This teaching is not just an expression of particular  historical circumstances but is based on the Church's doctrine concerning the connection between the conjugal union and  procreation and on a consideration of the personal nature of  the conjugal act and of human procreation. "In its natural  structure, the conjugal act is a personal action, a simultaneous  and immediate cooperation on the part of the husband and wife,  which by the very nature of the agents and the proper nature  of the act is the expression of the mutual gift which, according to the words of Scripture, brings about union 'in one flesh'." Thus moral conscience "does not necessarily prescribe the use  of certain artificial means destined solely either to the 

 

facilitating of the natural act or to ensuring that the natural act normally performed achieves its proper end." If the technical  means facilitates the conjugal act or helps it to reach its  natural objectives, it can be morally acceptable. If, on the  other hand, the procedure were to replace the conjugal act,  it is morally illicit.

 

Artificial insemination as a substitute for the conjugal act is prohibited by reason of the voluntarily achieved dissociation of the two meanings of the conjugal act. Masturbation, through which the sperm is normally obtained,  is another sign of this dissociation; even when it is done for the purpose of procreation, the act remains deprived of  its unitive meaning: "It lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely the relationship which realizes  'the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation  in the context of true love'." (7) 

     For further discussion of the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of the act of sexual intercourse, see the entry General Policy on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). 

     

Applications 

     Methods of artificial insemination by husband which facilitate the act of sexual intercourse or help it to reach its objective of conceiving a child are considered morally permissible. Thus theological opinion has allowed procedures involving the temporary exteriorization, processing, and reinsertion of sperm after an act of sexual intercourse in order to enhance the chances of conception  taking place.  For example, theologians have allowed semen to be removed from the vagina and centrifuged to bring about a greater concentration of spermatozoa, and then reinjected into the vagina. (8) In another procedure considered permissible, semen is removed from the vagina and washed to eliminate sperm-agglutinating and sperm-immobilizing antibodies, and then reinjected into the cervical canal. (9)  See the entry Theological Opinion on Permissible Assisted Reproductive Technologies. 

        On the other hand, methods of artificial insemination which replace the act of sexual intercourse between spouses are not morally permissible.  As noted in the Instruction, one way in which this can occur  is by the method used to obtain the sperm for insemination, for example, when the sperm is obtained through masturbation. (10)  Or again, through the freezing and storage of a husband's sperm it is now possible for a woman to become pregnant when her husband is geographically removed from her or even after his death.  The very absence of the husband indicates that this is a use of artificial insemination which replaces the act of sexual intercourse between spouses. (11) 

            The practice of freezing sperm "prior to initiating cancer therapies likely to destroy future sperm production has been utilitzed for some years." (12)   The sperm may subsequently be used for intrauterine insemination (one form of artificial insemination), conventional in vitro fertilization, or in vitro fertilization with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). (13)  Most likely, the artificial insemination of a wife with her husband's preserved sperm will take place in a clinical setting, apart from interpersonal acts of sexual intercourse.  On a common sense level, this clinical procedure is intended to substitute for the conception of a child through acts of sexual intercourse since the cancer treatments have adversely affected the husband's fertility. 

    1. International Federation of Fertility Societies, "International Consensus on Assisted Procreation," Artificial Insemination, http://www.mnet.fr/iffs/a_artbis.htm.

    2. Ibid. 

    3. Ibid. 

    4. Congregation  for  the  Doctrine  of  the  Faith,  Instruction on Respect for Human  Life  in  Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation  (Washington,  DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1987), II.B.6, pp. 31-32.  For  the relevant texts, see Policy Statement, "Sources of Policy" and note 7 below.  Following this moral distinction, sometimes a terminological distinction has also been made.  Methods of AIH which facilitate the conjugal act have been referred to as assisted insemination while the terminology artificial insemination (or totally artificial insemination) has been reserved for forms of AIH which replace the conjugal act.  See, for example, Orville N. Griese, Catholic Identity in Health Care: Principles and Practice (Braintree, MA: Pope John Center, 1987), pp. 41-2, 481; Donald T. De Marco, "Catholic Moral Teaching and TOT/GIFT" in Donald G. McCarthy (ed.), Reproductive Technologies, Marriage and the Church (Braintree, MA: Pope John Center, 1988), pp. 123-4.   

  5. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and On the Dignity of Procreation; for the relevant texts, see Policy Statement, "Sources of Policy" and note 7 below. 

  6. Ibid

 7. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and On the Dignity of Procreation II.B.6, pp. 31-2. 

 8. Griese, Catholic Identity in Health Care: Principles and Practice, p. 45; John W. Carlson, "Interventions Upon Gametes in Assisting the Conjugal Act toward Fertilization" in Kevin William Wildes, S.J. (ed.), Infertility: A Crossroad of Faith, Medicine, and Technology (Boston: Kluwer, 1997), p. 112. 

 9. Griese, Catholic Identity in Health Care, p. 49, n. 86; Carlson, "Interventions Upon Gametes in Assisting the Conjugal Act toward Fertilization," p. 112. 

 10.  See note 7 above.  Methods of obtaining sperm other than sexual intercourse or masturbation have been developed.  In the procedure of microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration (MESA), the epididymis is exposed through an incision in the scrotum, and then an operating microscope is used to dissect individual epididymal tubules.  Specially prepared micropipettes are then used to aspirate sperm from these tubules. Sperm can also be obtained through testicular biopsy. MESA or testicular biopsy are sometimes employed to obtain sperm for use in the procedure of in vitro fertilization with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). (University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Advanced Reproductive Care, "Microsurgical Epididymal Sperm Aspiration," http://www.uihc.uiowa.edu/pubinfo/ arc.htm)  However, should sperm be obtained from a husband by such methods for placement into his wife, we would again have a case in which AIH replaces the conjugal act.   

   11.  This  point  would  hold true even if  the  sperm  were  originally  obtained in a  morally  licit  way, e.g., collected in a perforated condom during an act of sexual intercouse.       

      The Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and On the Dignity of Procreation explicitly states that "the artificial fertilization of a woman who is...a widow, whoever the donor may be, cannot be morally justified." (II.A.2., p. 25).  As noted in the document this case also violates the principle that human procreation must always take place within marriage. 

   12.  Michael  S.  Opsahl,  Edward  F.  Fugger,  Richard  J. Sherins,  and  Joseph D. Schulman, "Preservation of Reproductive Function Before Therapy for Cancer:  New  Options  Involving  Sperm and Ovary Cryopreservation," The Cancer Journal from Scientific American (1997) available at http://www.givf.com.

    13. Ibid.

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