Once again, it looks like the Catholic Church is out of step with progress, peace and the general happiness of the human race.

The scientist who pioneered in vitro fertilization (IVF) — vigorously opposed by the Church — has been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine. The prize committee said Englishman Robert Edwards’ work had brought “joy to infertile people all over the world.” 

Edwards, a biologist, and a medical doctor worked together to create the first “test-tube baby” in 1978. The procedure has been perfected, and it is estimated that in the past few decades more than 4 million children have started life in a petri dish. 

Many of the more extreme of the initial fears about the technology have proven untrue. That first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, is still alive and healthy, and nearly four years ago had a baby herself (the natural way). 

Infertility, which affects an estimated 10 percent of all couples around the world, can be deeply disappointing and even psychologically traumatic. IVF has proven an apparent boon for them. 

So, why is the Church, which is supposedly pro-family, opposed? 

Ethicist and biologist Father Tad Pacholzcyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, has made something of a specialty of explaining the Church’s stance on IVF. He has said that from the numerous talks he’s given around the country, and his informal polling of his audiences, he figures Catholics resort to IVF at about the same rate as non-Catholics, and that many Catholics have only a vague notion of what the Church teaches and why it does. 

Over the years, he’s pulled together a list of reasons why IVF is morally wrong as well as dangerous for marital relationships, and physically risky. His points are not just worth reflecting on, but also keeping handy for the not-so-infrequent occasion of coming across neighbors or fellow Catholics who haven’t given the issue much thought: 

First, IVF undermines the meaning of sex. “It says that intimate sexual giving is not essential to creating human life,” Father Pacholzcyk told an interviewer. “It says that it is simply OK to manufacture life in a laboratory as if it were a commodity, when it should be the result of human love. It turns procreation into manufacture.” 

Second, it doesn’t take a bioethicist to know that you shouldn’t ever freeze other humans. But that is frequently what is done with the embryos created in IVF. “You often cryopreserve embryos in liquid nitrogen and end up either abandoning them in this state of suspended animation or pouring them down the sink if they are not useful, or donating them for research.” And yes, that research often entails the destruction of the embryonic human being. 

Third, IVF typically requires masturbation on the part of the man, which is a violation of the gift of sexuality. 

Fourth, because clinics are attempting to increase their success rates and generate more business, they implant multiple embryos, and there is an elevated risk of twins, triplets or quads. Those who become pregnant with multiple children are often encouraged to undergo “selective reduction.” “IVF is generally portrayed as a life-giving technology, but when we violate the moral law by adverting to it we quickly discover these other death-dealing dimensions of the technology as well,” Father Pacholzcyk points out. 

Fifth, babies born via IVF have an elevated risk of birth defects; according to one study, twice as high. 

The desire for children is natural and good. But fulfilling it never justifies trampling human dignity, or destroying human lives.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.