On March 10, 1987, the Vatican statement on human reproduction was made public. In a tightly reasoned, logical fashion, its architects apply traditional Roman Catholic understandings of the nature of the human person and of marriage to several crucial ethical issues of the day—abortion and fetal experimentation, artificial fertilization, and legislation in these areas.

Basically, this document voices a necessary caution regarding the advancing technology that threatens respect for the mysteries of human life and procreation. But one point has already generated special interest and controversy: the evaluation of artificial insemination.

The document rightly distinguishes between two types of artificial fertilization: “heterologous” (conception apart from the husband-wife bond) and “homologous” (conception between husband and wife). The magisterium is surely correct in warning against conception outside the marriage bond. This warning is based on a properly high view of marriage: “The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other.”

To this basis could be added the practical problems our society faces when artificial fertilization brings parties other than husband and wife into the procreative process. Cases of children seeking their genetic fathers or mothers, lawsuits surrounding the rights of surrogates, and the problem of disposing of the unwanted embryos from in vitro fertilizations are but the beginning of what could develop in the future. Although the proper Christian response to this may not be the simple categorical rejection proposed by the Vatican, the Catholic hierarchy has ...

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