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The transmission of human life is entrusted by nature to a personal and conscious act and as such is subject to the all-holy laws of God, immutable and inviolable laws which must be recognised and observed. For this reason one cannot use means and follow methods which could be licit in the transmission of the life of plants and animals.

Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (15.5.1961)

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The establishment in the modern psyche of the contraceptive mentality opens a pandora’s box of evil effects. Advances in the technology of science have made it possible for the procreation of animal life in vitro[1]. The contraceptive mentality has served to remove the moral impediment which would rigorously have excluded similar intervention in human reproduction.

This paper is a belated response to the Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation––Donum Vitae––issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as it was then, on 22 nd February 1987.


Every human act must, at the peril of the one performing it, be submitted to the rule of morals. Because man is capable of performing some act, it does not follow that the act is morally licit.

Science is, from itself, without morality. Its processes must be submitted to the rule of morals to ensure that they serve human dignity. One need only look at the excesses committed in the name of science by the National Socialist government of Germany during the Second World War to see how science can be used to serve human degradation rather than human dignity.

A good end is not of itself sufficient to justify the means which may be taken to achieve it. The means themselves must be judged morally good before they can be embraced. Even the great good of the conception and birth of a child cannot be justified if the means taken to achieve that end are immoral.

Man is not just a material being. The specific difference by which he is distinguished from the brute lies in his possession of a spiritual soul, that is, of an animating principle which is not material, manifested in the powers of intellect and free will. It is this immateriality which constitutes man a person. Now, that which is by nature immaterial cannot die. So every human person, every man, is destined by what he is for something beyond this earthly life. His body may die, but his soul cannot.

His immateriality is also the reason why a person is an end, that for the sake of which other things exist. He is not a means and may never be used as a means without a grievous breach of the rule of morals.

A distinction must be made between possession of the powers proper to the nature of man and their exercise. Because a particular man is not able, for whatever reason, to exercise the powers of his spiritual soul it does not follow that he has ceased to possess them. It is not the powers that are lacking, but his exercise of them. Nor does it follow, as some have argued, that because he is incapable of exercising them, he is thereby deprived of the dignity of the person. Even in a state of debility, man never loses his dignity as a person. To respect the dignity of man his unity in a body and soul must always be safeguarded.

Any intervention in the human body involves not only a physical action but a moral one because it affects not just a thing, but a person. In the body and through the body one touches the human person himself in his concrete reality.

Human life begins at conception. From that moment a new spiritual soul is conjoined to the apt matter provided by his parents to produce a new human being[2] which, from that moment, begins to exist. Nothing is added to the conceptus from that time onwards save nutrition, time and protection each of which is necessary for his development to maturity. Let it not be thought, however, that parents have some ineluctible contribution to the new child. Even their contribution comes ultimately from Almighty God who gives them their human nature and existence, who wills from all eternity the existence of the child they will produce.

Since it is not within the power of merely human agents to produce that which is immaterial, it follows inevitably that the new spiritual soul is created in the very moment of conception by the Creator[3]. The child’s father and mother are joined in their act of procreation by the intervention of God Himself. Thus God, who is love and life, has inscribed in man and woman the vocation to share in a special way in his mystery of personal communion and in his work as Creator and Father[4].

In Vitro Fertilisation

IVF interferes with the order of nature, the order established by Almighty God. It is intrinsically evil[5].

IVF is first an interference in the state of marriage, the state established by God ‘from the beginning’, the only setting in which the transmission of human life is licit. That interference can only occur with the permission of husband and wife but their interference is morally illicit for husband and wife are not the constituters of that state, they are only participants.

That IVF should be extended from the married to the unmarried, and even to those living in perverted states, such as that of lesbianism, is the inevitable consequence of the separation of the procreative and the unitive purposes of the marriage act in contraception of which Pope Paul VI warned in 1968 in Humanae Vitae.

Notwithstanding this compounding of evil effects, IVF remains first an interference in the state of marriage. These quasi-states of concubinage and lesbianism are nothing but evil parodies of the married state.

Secondly, IVF involves an illicit interference in the human body. [T]he principle is inviolable. God alone is the lord of man’s life and bodily integrity, his organs and members and faculties, those in particular which are instruments associated in the work of creation. Neither parents, nor husband or wife, nor even the very person concerned, can do with these as he pleases[6]. Husband and wife do not give themselves their bodies; they are given them on trust by Almighty God who will at the end of their lives demand an account of their use.

Thirdly, since through contrivance it removes the gametes (sperm and eggs) from, and fuses them out of, their proper setting, IVF involves falsity in the transmission of human life. All who cooperate in that activity––specialist, doctor, nurse, husband, wife––are involved in that falsity.

The permission of husband and wife of intervention in their reproductive apparatus, parallels the intervention involved in any act of contraception. Indeed, though the opposite may appear to be the case, such conduct is radically contraceptive because it interrupts the natural order leading to conception.

Human life is of God, not of man. Divine providence determines whether a married couple will be favoured with children and which out of an infinite number of possible children will be born to them. Those who engage in IVF manifest, so to speak, an attitude of knowing better than God whether a child should be brought into the world, or what child should be brought into the world.

As the Congregation for the Faith has well remarked: IVF dissociates the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children[7].

Evil Effects

A multitude of evil effects flow from IVF. The most fundamental of these is the loss of the sense of the person, of the truth that a child is a spiritual being, not just a material one. The embryo is viewed as a thing. His production––the fertilisation of ovum and cultivation in vitro for some days––and the artificial implantation in the womb, proceeds not with the good of the embryo in view, but the perceived good of the couple that the wife fall pregnant and proceed to delivery.

But the process is more insidious still. For while a number of ova are withdrawn from the woman, fertilised and cultivated, not all are transferred into her genital tracts. Some embryos, called ‘spare’, or ‘excess’, are destroyed in the process, or frozen. On occasion, some of the implanted embryos are sacrificed for various reasons. Thus, the process entails the deliberate destruction or utilisation of human beings. That the woman may give birth to one child, many others in the embryonic stage are destroyed, or frozen. That which is an end in itself, the person, is treated as a means to an end[8]. Thus the IVF process feeds, and is fed by, the abortion mentality.

The natural course whereby married couples bring a child into the world is hijacked as, feeding on the fears of some women of an inability to conceive, IVF experts insist that involvement in the process is essential to family life. A child becomes a consumer item. Payments are high and success is not guaranteed.

All barriers to experimentation having been removed, the IVF process inevitably suggests ‘the designer child’. The idea takes on a life of its own. The need for marriage is discarded. Men and women are now treated as nothing more than the sources of gametes for the production of ‘apha pluses’ in a working out of the bizarre theses of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. So does the process reach its logical conclusion in which man sets himself up as the giver of life and death by decree. Man elevates himself to the place of God.

Necessary Distinctions

What is at issue here is not the end––the child––but the means, the scientific intervention whereby he was brought into existence. Two distinctions, therefore, must be made. The first is that between means and ends. The child born as a result of in vitro fertilisation is a child nonetheless, a creature of God, a man with the infinite potential accorded every man, deserving of that dignity which is proper to man.

Secondly, the fact that the child may have resulted from scientific intervention casts no shadow over his existence. One might as well say that a shadow lies over the survivor of a Nazi Concentration camp because he survived the activities of those who enslaved him, while thousands of his fellows perished. The shadow lies over those who connived at, and those who cooperated in, the in vitro fertilisation process. This being said, it must be noted that scientific studies have shown that there is a significant increase in the risk of birth defects, beyond that which is usual, in babies conceived through IVF.

The Anti Life Program

It is as well to recall the processes which lead to, and which follow, IVF. There are five steps in the degradation of the human family, each of them an attack on man in the person of the child. With each, the attack becomes more concentrated.

  • Divorce––by which the bond of marriage is destroyed and the upbringing of the child is disrupted;
  • Contraception––by which the end of marriage, the reproduction of children, is thwarted in the separation of the unitive and procreative ends of the marriage act;
  • Abortion––by which the results of ‘failed’ contraception, the unborn child, is destroyed;
  • In vitro fertilisation of human ova––by which science is permitted to interfere, and does interfere, in human procreation producing thousands of embryos which are either destroyed or placed ‘in storage’––an evil akin to, but worse than, slavery; and,
  • Experimentation on ‘excess’ human embryos produced by the IVF process—an evil akin to the abominations in experimentation carried out by the Nazis and worse than slavery.
Forgiveness And Grace

All this being said, there is no sin which Almighty God cannot forgive, provided only that the sinner acknowledges his sin and seeks His forgiveness. Every priest of the Catholic Church throughout the country who has faculties from a bishop of this Conference, is available to see and to discuss with any person, whether Catholic or not, in complete confidence, issues of conscience in this matter of in vitro fertilisation that are troubling him. Such a priest has the power, moreover, if the person involved is baptised, to hear his confession and to give him absolution provided that he manifests true sorrow and a firm purpose of amendment of his life.

Such a person, converted from the evil into which, perhaps unwittingly, he has been led, may then join the fight to turn around the anti life mentality.

Failures Of The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference And Apology

It is a matter of great regret that when, in 1987, Donum Vitae was released the members of this Conference did nothing to warn publicly of the dangers of this interference in human sexuality nor of the grave offence to God that it entails[9]. Its members did not speak up. They did not oppose the evil. They did not urge the faithful committed to their care to appose it. Worse, they did not warn the faithful that involvement in the process is mortally sinful.

In the absence of such opposition the evil flourished. The scientists produced and froze ‘surplus’ embryos to cover ‘a failure rate’. By early 2002 the ‘surplus’ had grown to the point where some 70,000 of them were kept in suspended animation and pressures were exerted by secular humanist scientists to use these ‘surplus’ embryos for experimentation. So they pressed state and federal politicians for legislation authorising them to do so. They dressed up the idea in such a way as to appeal to a populace ignorant of moral principle with the prospects of material advantage––embryonic stem cell research. The consequence was the passage of the Commonwealth Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 permitting such experimentation.

The passage of this legislation might have been avoided if the members of this Conference had preached publicly and persistently on the immorality of the IVF process and had pressed the priests in their charge to do likewise.

This Conference offers its hearfelt apologies not only to Catholics but to all Australians for the failure of its members in the past to address the evil of IVF and the great damage to society that has flowed from its failures.

Prayer And Penance For The Overturning Of The Anti Life Program

The members of this Conference urge all Catholics and all men of good will to reject the evils of contraception, abortion and in vitro fertilisation. They will institute throughout the country in every diocese a systematic program of Masses, of adoration of the Blessed Eucharist, of prayers and penance on the first Saturday of each month and the Sunday following for the overturning of the evils of contraception, abortion and IVF and the repealing of the Research Involving Human Embryos Act.

Each bishop of this Conference will put in place in his diocese such a program.

[1] Literally, ‘on glass’, or, by transference, ‘in a glass vessel’. The expressions in vitro fertilisation and IVF are used here to signify in globo the artificial procreation of human life however it may be contrived.

[2] Saving only the issue of twinning (ie monozygotic twinning) which involves not the addition to the conceptus of life, but the multiplication of lives through the provision by the Creator of more than one spiritual soul which serves to divide the zygote.

[3] Cf Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis n. 36 [Denzinger–Schönmetzer 3896]; Paul VI Professio Fidei (Credo of the People of God).

[4]Donum Vitae, Introduction n. 3

[5] This was proclaimed in Donum Vitae, confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.2376-7 (11.10.1992) and in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae n. 14 (25.3.1995).

[6] Pope Pius XII, Allocutio to the Fourth International Congress of Surgeons, 20.5.1948.

[7]Donum Vitae II, B, 5

[8] In respect of the material in this and the following paragraphs, see Donum Vitae Pt. 2

[9] The source of this failure lies in the long standing ambivalence of the members of the Australian episcopacy to the Church’s teaching on contraception–which dates at least from 1974–and their failure to uphold that teaching in accordance with the mind of the Church. This has been dealt with in a separate paper issued by this Conference.