Unbearable: Why Did The Pope Bother With A Conference On Infertility?

Having a child is usually a happy time in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, as we wait longer to have children, infertility and trouble conceiving can become a part of the family making process. Unbearable addresses these difficulties.

It’s an exciting time for those struggling with infertility. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that new stem cell advances may give hope for women trying to conceive. Scientists believe that they may be able to rejuvenate a woman’s egg supply, making it easier to bear children later in life. Unfortunately, there’s one person who doesn’t want you to go anywhere near this exciting new medical discovery or any of its kind: The Pope.

I know that I’m pretty late to the party. All this week, IVF advocates have been speaking out against The Pope’s comments about artificial procreation. At the Vatican’s conference on infertility, Pope Benedict XVI seemed to double down on the Church’s disapproval of fertility treatments.

In the past Pope Paul VI said that there is an “inseparable connection, willed by God, and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning.” Basically that children should only be born through sex between two married adults, not through “man’s initiative,” or a medical procedure.

Now Benedict is adding to the charges, warning infertile couples seeking reproductive assistance as well as medical professionals against “the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator.” He decried fertility specialists against seeking out easy profits, insulting a science that centers around helping determined adults bring new life into the world.

I’m not going to take time arguing against the Pope’s hateful comments. And let me be clear, as a woman who knows and loves multiple children born through in vitro fertilization, I consider his remarks hateful. They state that there is something wrong with these children, something missing because they weren’t conceived in the way the Church wishes they would’ve been.

I’m not going to argue because I’m well aware that my stance would have very meaning to the head of the Catholic Church. After all, I’m not even a practicing Catholic (though he won’t be winning me over with this type of rhetoric).

I am going to ask one very simple question, what was the point of this conference? Why did the Church bother to spend three days talking about infertility diagnosis and treatment if they’re sole purpose was tell everyone, “Too Bad”?

After all, the Church’s main battle is against IVF, but their statements point to any medical intervention on problematic. Artificial insemination, a more popular and less expensive procedure that normally precedes IVF, also occurs outside of the marriage bed. Basically, the only Pope-approved action for a fertility specialist would be prescription medication to correct hormone issues in women. My OB-GYN can give me those without ever sending me to an expensive specialist. And those only help if you’re having trouble ovulating. For a woman like me whose had an ectopic pregnancy (proving that I’m releasing eggs), medications like Clomid would be useless.

So why get everyone together to discuss a field of medicine that you don’t support in any way? Was the Catholic Church trying to shame infertile couples who seek help?

When it comes to birth control, most Catholic women simply ignore the Church’s teachings in favor of reliable contraception. It’s possible that the Pope’s newest foray into reproductive health will be met with the same indifference. Women might shrug their shoulders and decide that God can’t possibly punish them for wanting a baby.

The Vatican is currently calling for more medical research into ethical approaches to infertility. It’s amusing because they shun current, effective medical solutions. The Pope wants more medical research, but he thinks fertility professionals are arrogant and only in it for a profit. It’s a contradiction of terms that only goes to show how useless this little get together was from the start.

When it comes to reproductive medicine, it looks like the Church has again proven that it’s more concerned with ideological rigidity than actually helping its flock face real problems.

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  • Eileen

    What I don’t get is this: if an omnipotent God doesn’t want you to conceive for whatever reason, wouldn’t he just ensure that your IVF treatments fail until you find the path he meant for you, whatever it might have been? Why does the Pope have to bother?

    But I don’t think that it’s hateful to children born as a result of IVF to oppose it. (I love my cousins tons, too!) You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think that rape is wrong, for example, but I think we agree that a child born as the result is just as worthy as any other human being.

    • Lindsay Cross

      I get what you’re saying, but I still find his statements insulting. The Church’s stances is that when a child is born through IVF, “it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personality.” Basically, something is wrong with the child because you didn’t conceive it naturally.

      I’m sure that I’m overly sensitive, but that feels wrong to me.

    • Ellie

      That’s because it IS wrong. The Catholic church is the epitome of arrogance, trying to pretend like they know anything about the bond between parents and children.

  • Jen

    Lindsay: You pretty much summed up my thoughts on this. Instead of commenting on this issue further, let me tell you about a little tradition some friends of mine started while visiting another friend in a Catholic hospital. Everytime we see a picture of the Pope someone begins to hum the Darth Vader theme. It’s fitting because he’s an evil fascist.

    • Avodah

      Ummm, “he’s an evil facist”? Wow.

    • Jen

      When he tells Africans that if they use condoms to prevent spreading HIV they are going to hell, he is evil. When he excommunicates priests and nuns who tell Africans differently and also who protest (within the bounds of the Church, mind you) various policies of the Church that they see as harmful, he is evil. He rules over his own little fiefdom, still demands a tithe, effectively shielded pedophiles from justice for decades, ran a super secretive organization bent on reasserting the Church’s political power across the globe. So, yea. He is an evil facist.

    • b3v

      Jen, your second comment (Africa) YES. That exactly.

    • Jen

      B3V: John Paul for all his faults at least let go of the condom issue because people were fucking dying and Benedict came in and reversed every advancement AND started kicking out any priest who didn’t tow the Opus Dei inspired line.

  • Kate

    While I agree with most of your thoughts, Lindsay, there is one thing that I would like to point out. When the Pope decries fertility doctors seeking easy profit, I read that as (and hope he means it as) a condemnation of those who would take advantage of the particular vulnerabilities both of the would-be parents and the would-be children. While the vast majority of fertility specialists are trustworthy, competent doctors, sadly, there are people who are in the business simply to make money. Think of the doctor of Nadya Suleman, who implanted six embryos into her, disregarding both her own health (because carrying multiples, especially in that multitude, can be a serious risk) and the health of any children resulting from that implantation. Fertility doctors are in the relatively unique position of having desperate patients, and this can lead to questionable practices. It is similar to what is seen in cancer patients who will grasp at any ‘treatment’, regardless of how expensive or non-credible, in the hope of surviving. There will always be people who attempt to profit off of the misfortune of others, and I think (or at least hope) that this is the practice the Pope is decrying.

    That being said, taken in conjunction with his other statements, I’m probably giving him too much credit.

  • Andrea

    While I am NO fan of the Catholic church, it believes what it believes. Living in the USA, no one is going to condemn you or put you in jail for going through fertility treatments. The Pope is the head of the Catholic church and he is reminding its followers what the Catholic church stands for.

    You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to follow it, you don’t have to even respect it. Nothing is going to stop you or anyone else from pursuing fertility treatments. If you don’t like the Catholic church, there is only about 1,084,087 religions you can believe in. Or NONE AT ALL.

    And for the record, many, MANY Catholics ignore the church’s teachings when it comes to sex and reproduction. A lot of Catholics have sex outside of marriage, they use birth control, and have sex just because. In fact only 2% of Catholic women use natural family planning as “birth control”. So many feel free to pick and choose.

    • Jen

      Andrea: Yes, you are welcome NOT to believe in Catholicism (I’m a recovering Catholic myself), but the Church wants to enforce their narrow world view on everyone. The Church has taken an active role (including attempts to influence voting patterns, financial support for like-minded politicians and political groups, etc) in attempting to make their dogma the law. THAT is the problem we have with the Pope and the amount of power (both financial and political) that the institution of the Church still wields across the world (and in the USA) is what makes this more than simply a matter of disagreement between faith groups. The Church has already managed to strike a blow against women’s healthcare in the USA using it’s considerable power, why shouldn’t we all be concerned and angry that some old man who likes playing dress up and living in a palace thinks he knows what’s best for your or my vaginas?

    • Michelle

      Jen: LOL at recovering Catholic. My husband is one as well…

    • Andrea

      Well Jen, yes and no. I am a staunch believer that no one, and I mean NO ONE, has any say on what happens with, around, or to my reproductive organs. However, as a recovering Catholic, you know that these beliefs aren’t new. They have been around for over 2000 years. They never had to contend with science that challenges those beliefs until recently. But they have always believed that families should be created “naturally” (please don’t slam for using that term, I DON’T believe that an in vitro baby is unnatural), they have always been against birth control, and always been against abortion.

      I think we shouldn’t waste our time. They will ALWAYS believe what they believe. That will not change. And science will continue to advance. That will not change. But the more that happens, the more the Church needs to hold on to what they believe. Why would you want them to compromise their beliefs? Do you like it when people try to tell you that the values you hold dear are evil, mean, outdated, and just plain wrong?

    • Jen

      Andrea: As a recovering Catholic I know that the idea that the Church is immovable and hasn’t changed its doctrine in 2,000 years is a crock. When I was growing up in the Church girls couldn’t serve on the altar because apparently our vaginas would “sully” the space (not actually what the said, but the gist of it). All of a sudden in 7th grade John Paul decided that bit of doctrine was incorrect and changed things. When my parents were growing up in the Church they were taught that babies who have not been baptized (even ones who came from good, Catholic parents) go to Limbo instead of heaven and all non-baptized adults go to hell. They were also taught that Latin was the only language of the Mass and any use of the vernacular was akin to heresy. The Church decided that doctrine was false as well. Two hundred years ago the Church backed slavery, five hundred years ago they backed “divine right” of monarchs and boiling Protestants alive in oil, one thousand years ago they backed violently conquering non-believers with the added bonus of sending children into war (with the promise that no matter how much rape, murder and cannibalism the Crusaders participated in, a death in battle would be a direct ticket to heaven). The early Church had married priests and female officiants, they lived as communists (literally). The Church changed its doctrine when it was politically or financially good business, when it saw an opportunity to gain more control or when it was forced to by good people inside the Church standing up for what was right.

      Make no mistake, Benedict WILL use this opposition as a means to stir up the most fanatical members of his Church in a pathetic attempt to remain relevant in a time when the Church is shedding members faster than ever before. Benedict would like nothing more than to get into bed with EVERYONE in the world, regardless of their beliefs, and make sure that they live according to (current) Church doctrine.

  • gradchica

    Actually the Catholic Church supports infertility research and treatment–see http://www.naprotechnology.com/infertility.htm . NaPRO, for example, has a much higher success rate than IVF because it corrects the underlying problem causing infertility, such as unblocking blocked tubes or surgically treating PCOS. The Church wants infertile couples to conceive–it just will not condone breaking what it considers the will of God to do so.

    The Church understands infertility as a difficult, heartbreaking problem and doesn’t tell people “too bad, folks!”, but it also refuses to treat children as commodities. Children are created and exist as soon as sperm meets egg, creating an embryo and are either destroyed deliberately because they are surplus or thought to be genetically deficient or even the “wrong” gender, or placed in cold storage indefinitely or until they are killed for their stem cells or disposed of when the parents no longer wish to pay the storage fees. IVF–and contraception and abortion–support a culture in which children are only acceptable when and how the parents want them, at the “perfect” time, and considered at best an inconvenience otherwise.

  • Byron

    I think it’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Catholic but shrug at the Pope’s words and keep going. If you want to be a Catholic you really do need to take his words as the words of God and follow them with devotion and no thoughts.

    Now, I don’t agree with him nor do I plan to follow his advice in my future, you know what makes me a non-hypocrite? I’m Greek Orthodox, not Catholic.

    I don’t mind people not believing in God or w/e, I mind people saying they do but acting as though they’re either insanely arrogant (by substituting their minds for the one of the person who they believe speaks with God) or just behaving hypocritical about the whole deal and in a way that instantly disqualifies them from the faith they proclaim to be parts of without ever admitting they are not parts of it any more.

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