Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Catholic Teaching and the Law concerning the New Reproductive Technologies

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Catholic Teaching and the Law concerning the New Reproductive Technologies

Article excerpt


The Roman Catholic Church has had much to say on the vast topic of New Reproductive Technologies ("NRTs"). According to some leading voices in the field, the Church's teachings lie outside the pace of development and acceptance of many of the new technological means for satisfying couples' and individuals' desires for children. Still, the Church is able to command attention for various reasons. In part, it is because of its visibility and global size, but it is also because some of the Church's ideas have secular counterparts; many observers have expressed concerns that mirror some of those proposed by the Church, even those writing from no particular religious viewpoint.

This Article will set forth the fundamental teachings from which the Roman Catholic Church derives its positions on the NRTs. It will further demonstrate the application of these teachings to some of the specific medical techniques commonly used in the course of NRTs. The Church's legislative recommendations will then be summarized. For the most part, these recommendations have not found their way into law or practice. Still, it will be explained that many of the Church's most deeply-rooted concerns about both the processes and effects of NRTs are echoed by legal scholars and others who ground these concerns not in Catholic, but in "human" terms. At the same time, these secular voices often come to different conclusions than those reached by the Church. This Article will explain how these diverging views develop from fundamental differences in starting points. They flow also from perceptions about the Church's "agenda" in proposing legislation concerning NRTs.


A. The Nature of the Human Person

In a general sense, Catholic teaching about NRTs is an excellent example of Catholic moral reasoning. Such reasoning often begins with an is and proceeds to one or more oughts. (1) In the case of NRTs, the Church begins by exploring the implications of the is of the human person, and the is of the nature of human sexual intercourse, to reveal the oughts regarding proposed methods of human procreation. The Church has established a baseline to enable us begin this analysis:

   The fundamental values connected with the techniques of artificial 
   human procreation are two: the life of the human being 
   called into existence and the specific nature of the transmission 
   of human life in marriage. The moral judgment on such methods 
   of artificial procreation must therefore be formulated in 
   reference to these values. (2) 

The Church has repeatedly defended its expertise in defining the nature of the human person. Perhaps the most well-known occasion was during the speech of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations in 1965, wherein he called the Church an "expert in humanity," at the service of life and love. (3) The Church has disavowed any intention to speak scientifically, but rather, "having taken account of the data of research and technology" it puts forward the "moral teaching corresponding to the dignity of the person and to his or her integral vocation." (4) The criteria for moral judgment concerning the dignity of the human person are threefold: 1) respect for the human person; 2) the human being's "primary and fundamental right to life"; and 3) the transcendent aspects of the human person including a human soul and humanity's destiny in communion with God. (5) A deeper look at these starting points reveals important implications for some of the technological imperatives of NRTs as they are practiced today.

The Church teaches that one ought to respect the human person because she has been created by God, and made in the very image and likeness of God. (6) Furthermore, humans are made by God not out of need, but out of love. We are the only creature on Earth whom God has "wished for himself," (7) and this places us in a special relationship with God. …

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