In Vitro Fertilization
BOTH JUDAISM AND ROMAN CATHOLICISM VALUE THE FAMILY and understand the full blessings of marriage to include children as well as loving companionship. For both traditions, marriage and sexual relations include unitive and procreative dimensions. Procreation normatively occurs within marriage, and—at least in the ideal case— conception arises from marital intercourse.
Complications arise when a married couple wishes to have children but is not able to do so. Infertility has been a concern throughout human history. The Bible reports that women such as Sarah, Rebecca, and Hannah suffered because of their infertility. Rachel cried to her husband Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die.”1 About 7 percent of couples in the United States are infertile—unable to have children after one year or more of trying to do so. A variety of medical and technological interventions have been developed, which help many infertile couples to have a child.2 Religious thinkers have raised questions about which of these interventions are morally appropriate. For Jewish and Catholic writers alike, having children represents an area in which medicine must be practiced in a manner consistent with responsible and reverent stewardship. Differences arise with regard to how to specify and balance values such as human dignity, love of neighbor, compassion, healing, and a human stewardship that is both active and respectful of divine sovereignty.
One of the most dramatic interventions is in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF involves fertilization of an ovum outside the body; “in vitro,” literally meaning “in glass,” refers to the laboratory equipment in which sperm and ova are combined. In the first successful use of IVF as a reproductive technology, British researchers Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe fertilized an ovum produced by Leslie