With more than 15 per cent of Filipino couples unable to conceive naturally, there has been a tremendous search for infertility treatments but which do not violate human dignity and the institution and foundation of marriage. In last December’s International Congress on Bioethics 2005, which the University co-sponsored with the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Life, international bioethicist Dr. John Haas clarified, however, that the Church does nozt deem all reproductive techniques immoral.

Citing Donum Vitae or “The Gift of Life”, a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 1987, Haas said that “an intervention that assists the marriage act to attain its natural end is moral, but if it replaces the marriage act upon attaining its natural end, it is immoral.”

Some of the procedures cited by Donum Vitae to be questio-nable are in vitro fertili-zation (IVF), artificial insemi-nation, gamete intrafa-llopian transfer (GIFT), lower tubal ovum transfer (LTOT), surrogate mothering, and cloning.

Among the above procedures, artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are practiced in the Philippines, said UST Bioethics Chair Dr. Edna Monzon, of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.

In IVF, the fertilization of the egg takes place outside a woman’s body in a glass laboratory dish, “thus in vitro, which means outside the body,” said Monzon. Several eggs are collected from the woman’s ovaries after taking a hyper-ovulatory drug, which increases production of egg cells. Semen is then collected from the man and the gametes are artificially joined in the dish. The embryo formed is left to develop for several days before finally placing it inside the mother’s womb.

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“Also, there can even be other parties involved,” Monzon said. “It may not be the sperm of the husband, so there is the third person and the wife, who are not married.”

The procedure, according to the Church, deprives the couple the meaning and value of marital union because it is done outside the bodies of the couple.

Further, IVF, which costs anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000, has roughly 20 per cent of succeeding. Most of the time, to hold down costs and the odds of success, the doctor implants five or more embryos to increase likelihood of success, but this results in more babies being carried in the womb than the couple wants. This activity leads doctors to perform “fetal reduction”, a form of abortion where the doctor eliminates unwanted babies through injection of a chemical that kills it within minutes, and is treated as miscarriage.

“If we believe that life begins at fertilization, at the time when the egg and the sperm meet, then the embryo is a human being. And to kill that embryo, (the person) is killing a human being, which is wrong,” Monzon told the Varsitarian.

A study conducted at Brown University and the Women and Infants Hospital in

Rhode Island, USA, has determined that women who become pregnant using “frozen embryos,” which are conceived artificially and are treated with liquid nitrogen for later use, are 17 times more likely to suffer ectopic pregnancies than women using fresh embryos.

Other foreign reproductive technologies

Meanwhile, in GIFT, ova are also removed from the woman after taking a hyper-ovulatory drug. The couple then engages in the conjugal act, with the husband collecting the semen with a condom while allowing some to set in the vagina. The collected sperm are then placed in a thin catheter, later to be placed in the fallopian tube for the contents to be deposited. This method claims that conception happens inside the body, but with artificial intervention. Up to now, the morality of this method divides ethicists around the world.

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On the other hand, LTOT has not yet received judgment from the Vatican. Usually done when there is a blockage in the fallopian tube, the procedure collects ova from the ovaries, injecting them again into the fallopian tubes just below the blockage. Normal conjugal act follows after the procedure, although conception may or may not occur.

“It has passed the judgment of ethicists and is accepted to be moral, though the success rate is small,” Monzon said.

Surrogate mothering is the method most looked down upon by the Church, which deems it to be “reducing the divine calling of parenthood to a mere commercial contract” where the surrogate, or the woman, carries a baby under contract. The surrogate carries to term in her uterus a child to which she is a genetic stranger. If the child shows some defects, the contracting couple can order an abortion.

Donum Vitae rejects this procedure as a violation against the child by depriving it of its right to be conceived and born within the bounds of marriage and the marital union of the couple. Also, in this “commercialization” of the marital act, there is the danger of abusing women who might consider surrogate mothering as an option.

Cloning, where technicians remove the nucleus of a person’s egg to be replaced by the nucleus carrying the DNA of the cloned person was banned in 2005 by the United Nations General Assembly in all its forms, including research on therapeutic cloning. There had been a great number of presented reasons on the legitimacy of cloning but none of them proved to be morally legitimate, according to the Church.

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These methods point to only one cause: infertility is a limitation. Scientific research and technology are most welcome in helping couples overcome the handicap. However, these methods should assist, but not replace human procreation, the Church teaches in Donum Vitae.

“If the technology will replace the conjugal act, it is considered wrong. But if it will help improve the possibility of being pregnant and it is not a substitute to the conjugal act, it is allowed and morally acceptable,” Monzon said.

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