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 CNS Story:

BIOETHICS-REACTION Dec-12-2008 (820 words) Roundup. xxxn

Document offers teaching moment on infertility, Catholic leaders say

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A new Vatican document on biomedical ethics provides a teaching opportunity, especially for infertile Catholic couples who often do not understand the church's stand against in vitro fertilization, Catholic leaders said.

"We have a tremendous job ahead of us to teach what the church really says," said Steve Bozza, director of the family life and respect life office in the Diocese of Camden, N.J., who said he knows priests who have been approached by couples in their parish for a blessing the day before undergoing an in vitro fertilization procedure.

But as reaffirmed in "Dignitas Personae" ("The Dignity of a Person"), the instruction issued Dec. 12 by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Catholic teaching opposes all fertilization techniques that separate procreation from the conjugal act because they "proceed as if the human embryo were simply a mass of cells to be used, selected and discarded."

Dr. Kathleen Raviele, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Tucker, Ga., and president of the Catholic Medical Association, said she has treated thousands of couples with infertility problems in her natural-family-planning-only medical practice.

"I hope Catholic couples will read the new document and try to follow church teaching," she said, adding that church-approved methods of treating infertility "can help them almost as well as in vitro fertilization."

Raviele said the emphasis in infertility treatments accepted by the church is on "fixing whatever is not working properly" in the reproductive systems of the man and/or the woman. She said she has had "great success" in following the techniques of natural procreative technology, or NaPro technology, developed by Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, founder of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb.

"But too often couples get shuttled off very quickly into in vitro fertilization," when other treatments might work, Raviele added.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Pro-Life Activities, said the Catholic Church is often portrayed in the media as "against fertility treatment."

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said, noting that Catholic physicians have been using methods acceptable to the church, "sometimes with a greater degree of success than" those who use techniques to which the church objects.

Bozza said it is sometimes challenging to get the word out about the damage that in vitro fertilization can cause to "the dignity of the marital act" and to the child "produced" in the procedure.

"Couples don't understand why they can't do it, and many have already gone that route," he said. "But when they realize that the desire for a child can lead to a true destruction of the dignity of this child -- that hits home."

Bozza said some couples "react out of anger" when they hear about Catholic teaching on in vitro fertilization, because the issue of their becoming parents touches them so deeply. The key is to "get into their hearts" and help them to discuss the topic more rationally, he said.

"This document isn't going to ruffle feathers anymore than they have already been ruffled," he added.

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said in a statement it is "not surprising that many Catholics may have confusion about the morality of a particular technology" in light of the complexity of technology today.

"Technology can be a blessing yet, like all science, its use must include moral and ethical reflection for it to be truly at the service of human life," he said. "No medical, scientific or technological advance should take place divorced from human conscience and ethics, and a respect for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death."

Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the document "as theologians, medical personnel, researchers and married couples consider new scientific and medical procedures that have profound ethical implications bearing upon the procreation of children and the integrity of marriage."

"We applaud developments which advance medical progress with respect for the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception," he said in a statement. "We oppose discarding or manipulating innocent lives to benefit future generations, or promoting the creation of new human life in depersonalized ways that substitute for the loving union between a husband and a wife."

In Great Britain, where Catholic bishops have spoken against legislation that allows human-animal hybrids to be created as long as they are destroyed within two weeks, Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, Wales, welcomed the instruction and noted that it supported "ethical scientific research that seeks to cure disease and relieve suffering."

In a statement the archbishop, chairman of the English and Welsh bishops' department of Christian responsibility and citizenship, welcomed the document's encouragement of the development of new adult stem-cell therapies, because "their use raises none of the problems created by embryonic stem cells which require the destruction of human embryos."


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