Friday, April 12, 2013

A Perfectly Normal Baby

I remember long ago, when I was 14 years old listening to the news on the radio with my mom.   The big news on this particular day was that some doctor in England had delivered a baby, since named Louise Brown.  Louise Brown was special.  She was the first baby ever conceived outside of the mother’s womb.  The popular press called her a ‘test-tube baby', I suspect as a way of denigrating the controversial procedure.  I was not exactly sure at the time quite what this news meant, but I do remember my mother’s shocked reaction.  “This is not right.  You have to wonder if that baby even has a soul!”  The future was already coming too fast for my young mother.

This morning, I learned of the death of the pioneer of in-vitro fertilization.  Dr Robert Edwards, along with his partner Dr Patrick Steptoe, were responsible for the conception of Louise Brown outside of her mother’s womb.  The concern of my mother, that the conception of a baby inside the womb is somehow the only means of imparting to that baby an immortal soul, was echoed by the pastor of our church.  Although I never heard the implication express aloud, I suspect that the logical conclusion was drawn that this child may not even be human.  Every human child in the history of the world, from the creation of Adam some 6000 years before until July 24, 1978 was conceived as God Almighty had designed, purposed and intended – inside the natural and fleshly womb of the mother.  The conception of every baby, without a single exception, was through this mysterious procedure, and the fecundity of the mother was viewed as a blessing and gift from God.  The reproduction of the child, especially as viewed by the Catholic Church, was only possible through the whim of God, and administered through the authority of the Church.

Suddenly, on July 25, 1978, this natural order of the world was changed forever.  Louise Brown, conceived in some cold, clinical and unnatural laboratory, was born surrounded by the curious press.  Denigrating terms like ‘test tube baby’ were used for their fearsome impact.  I imagined a near future in which women would never again be pregnant, and babies would be born in factories.  An army of fetuses, swimming in some kind of alkaline solution in labeled petri dishes and lined up on an automated production line was the image put in my mind.  The world was becoming more godless and soulless, more artificial and superficial, and this was just one more sign that Jesus would soon return to our lost and dying world.

Women, unable to conceive for whatever reason, are now able to transcend what was once the whim and will of the Almighty.  In-vitro fertilization, once the procedure begins, is never a certainty, and may come with certain risks to mother and child.  But there is now hope of conception where there would otherwise be none.  Before 1978, the woman was left in the hands of God as ‘barren’.  In-vitro fertilization is just one more piece of claimed territory by lustful and prideful humanity that was once the sole domain of the Almighty.

The fear of ‘test tube babies’ in 1978 did not last and the worry of soulless babies was quickly forgotten.  Now, 35 years and some 5 million ‘test tube babies’ later, it is almost impossible to imagine that in-vitro fertilization was once met with such fear and skepticism.  I have not heard a single sermon against the procedure since 1978.  In fact, I do not recall ever hearing a single word of condemnation from a single Christian since those early, fearful days.  I never heard my mom mention it again and today she would never think twice about it.  What was once a shattering of the natural order is now routine.

According to their catechism, the archaic dinosaur called the Catholic Church still considers in-vitro fertilization to be “morally unacceptable”.  What else is new?

2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."
2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate 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."  "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses' union .... Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person."

I could comment on the questionable ethics of that bit of religious instruction, but that is going a bit off course of what I started writing about.  A rememberence of Dr Robert Edwards and the hope he helped give millions of women.  Well, not really much of a eulogy for Dr Edwards, and probably not one he would even approve of.  But these are the thoughts that ran through my head when I thought of his death.  We seem to quickly recover from our shock and hysteria, once we realize we can actually get away with reclaiming one more small piece of the Almighy’s turf.  It is almost as if He were not even looking.

1 comment:

... Zoe ~ said...

Really enjoyed this trip down memory lane HeIsSailing. It would be interesting to know the statistics for the number of Catholics who have conceived by invitro.