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THEOLOGICAL OPINION ON PERMISSIBLE ASSISTED REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES (ART) 

 

     The Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and On the Dignity of Procreation from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1987) (1) does not explicitly mention any  specific assisted reproductive technologies which satisfy the principles set out for a procedure being morally permissible.  Thus we must rely on the opinion of theologians in this area. 

     The following is a list of assisted reproductive technologies which theologians, either historically or more recently, have argued are morally permissible according to Church norms.  In all cases, it is understood that the procedure may licitly be used only by marital spouses. 

 

1) Procedures involving the repositioning of sperm or ova before or after an act of sexual       intercourse 

       A surgical procedure moves sperm past a blockage in the epididymis, followed by a normal act of sexual intercourse. (2)  

       After an act of sexual intercourse, a syringe is used to syphon the semen from the vagina and to propel it into the uterus and fallopian tubes. (3)  

Low Tubal Ovum Transfer (LTOT) This procedure begins with ovulatory drugs being administered to the woman to stimulate the maturation of multiple ova.  The couple engages in sexual intercourse just prior to the predicted time of ovulation.  Immediately thereafter, a laparoscopy is performed to retrieve the woman’s ova.  The ova are then repositioned in the mid or lower portion of the fallopian tube or in the uterus, and the couple repeats sexual intercourse  to enhance the chances of fertilization. (4)  (Although this procedure was judged to be morally acceptable by Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati in 1983 (5) as well as being supported by theological opinion (6), it is no longer used because of unsatisfactory success rates. (7) ) 

 

2)  Procedures involving the temporary exteriorization and processing of sperm after an act of sexual intercourse 

       Semen is removed from the vagina and centrifuged to bring about a greater concentration of spermatozoa, and then reinjected into the vagina. (8) 

       Semen is removed from the vagina and washed to eliminate sperm-agglutinating and sperm- immobilizing antibodies, and then reinjected into the cervical canal. (9)

       Semen is collected from acts of intercourse, by morally acceptable means, and spun down  to leave a residue containing a heavy concentrate of viable spermatozoa.  This concentrated deposit of active sperm is reinjected into the woman’s generative tract either immediately before or after an act of sexual intercourse in order to mix with and fortify the husband’s ejaculate. (10) 

 

3)  Procedures involving the temporary exteriorization of ova after an act of sexual intercourse 

Low Tubal Ovum Transfer (LTOT) -- described above. 

 

4)  See also the handbook entry Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT).  

1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Insstruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and On the Dignity of Procreation (Donum Vitae) (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1987). 

2. 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. 109.   

3. Orville N. Griese, Catholic Identity in Health Care: Principles and Practice (Braintree, MA: Pope John Center, 1987), pp. 42, 45; Carlson, “Interventions Upon Gametes in Assisting the Conjugal Act toward Fertilization,” p. 111. 

4. Donald T. DeMarco, “Catholic Moral Teaching and TOT/GIFT” in Donald G. McCarthy (ed.), Reproductive Technologies, Marriage and the Church (Braintree, MA: Pope John Center, 1988), pp. 125-6. 

5. Letter of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk to Thomas Hammer, Chair of the Board of Trustees, St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Dayton, Ohio.  See also Peter Feuerherd, “New Hospital Infertility Program seen as a Blessing,” The Catholic Telegraph, Cincinnati, Ohio, Sept. 9, 1983 at 124. 

6. See, for example, Donald McCarthy, “Infertility Bypass: A Possible Treatment of Blocked Fallopian Tubes,” Ethics and Medics 8/10 (1983); Donald McCarthy, “Should Catholic Hospitals Encourage Low Tubal Ovum Transfers?” Hospital Progress (March 1984): 55-6; DeMarco, “Catholic Moral Teaching and TOT/GIFT,” p. 126; William May, “Catholic Teaching on the Laboratory Generation of Human Life” in Marilyn Wallace, RSM and Thomas W. Hilgers (eds.), The Gift of Life  The Proceedings of a National Conference on the Vatican Instruction on Reproductive Ethics and Technology (Omaha, NB: Pope Paul VI Institute Press, 1990), p. 87. 

7. DeMarco, “Catholic Moral Teaching and TOT/GIFT,” p. 127; David S. McLaughlin, “A Scientific Introduction to Reproductive Technologies” in Donald G. McCarthy (ed.), Reproductive Technologies, Marriage and the Church (Braintree, MA: Pope John Center, 1988), p. 64. 

8. Griese, Catholic Identity in Health Care: Principles and Practice, p. 45; Carlson, “Interventions Upon Gametes in Assisting the Conjugal Act toward Fertilization,” p. 112. 

9. Griese, Catholic Identity in Health Care: Principles and Practice, p. 49, n. 86; Carlson, “Interventions Upon Gametes in Assisting the Conjugal Act toward Fertilization,” p. 112. 

10. Griese, Catholic Identity in Health Care: Principles and Practice, pp. 45-6; Carlson, “Interventions Upon Gametes in Assisting the Conjugal Act toward Fertilization,” p. 117; Thomas J. O’Donnell, S.J., Medicine and Christian Morality, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Alba House, 1991), p. 238.

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