Is IVF a Sin?

Yes, IVF — in vitro fertilization — is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. It is always a serious sin.

CDF: “The fact that the process of in vitro fertilization very frequently involves the deliberate destruction of embryos was already noted in the Instruction Donum Vitae. There were some who maintained that this was due to techniques which were still somewhat imperfect. Subsequent experience has shown, however, that all techniques of in vitro fertilization proceed as if the human embryo were simply a mass of cells to be used, selected and discarded.” [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas Personae, n. 14.]

The deliberate destruction or killing of any human person, from conception and thereafter, is the crime and sin of murder. Whenever any prenatal, any conceptus or human embryo or fetus (or whatever the term), is directly killed, the crime and sin is that of abortion: the murder of a human person anytime from conception through birth. The usual process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and related similar techniques, as they are practiced, involve the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

The conception of at least several embryos is accomplished in the petri dish, and only some embryos are selected for embryo transfer (ET) to the womb. Other embryos may be frozen, for later possible use. The remainder are routinely destroyed. More than one embryo is created so that the ones showing the most vigorous growth can be implanted. This type of selection of which human persons will live and which will die is an abomination and a grave crime against humanity.

The frozen embryos are typically kept frozen indefinitely, with no plan to even attempt to give them life. Approximately 35% die in thawing (a conservative estimate). [Hoffman et al., Cryopreserved embryos in the United States and their availability for research, Fertility and Sterility, vol. 79, no. 5, May 2003.] Some of the frozen embryos are thawed, examined, and then directly destroyed for “quality assurance” purposes. [Ibid.] Many of these frozen embryos become separated from the parents who procreated them: the parents move and the fertility clinic loses contact with them, or the clinic closes and the storage facility does not have the record of the parents, or the parents abandon the embryos due to high yearly fees for maintaining the embryos in the frozen state.

Often, more than one embryo is implanted, because the failure rate of embryo transfer and implantation is high. Direct abortion is then used to reduce the successfully implanted embryos to the desired number. Sometimes the embryo implants and grows, but with some type of detectible birth defect, in which case, often, direct abortion is used to kill the unborn child, and the process of artificial procreation begins again, hoping for a perfect child.

CDF: “It is true that approximately a third of women who have recourse to artificial procreation succeed in having a baby. It should be recognized, however, that given the proportion between the total number of embryos produced and those eventually born, the number of embryos sacrificed is extremely high. These losses are accepted by the practitioners of in vitro fertilization as the price to be paid for positive results. In reality, it is deeply disturbing that research in this area aims principally at obtaining better results in terms of the percentage of babies born to women who begin the process, but does not manifest a concrete interest in the right to life of each individual embryo.” [Dignitas Personae, n. 14.]

As the CDF notes, the number of embryos that die, compared to the number that reach successful birth, is extremely disproportioned. Many die for each successful birth. These deaths occur by direct destruction and also by the high rate of failure of each step of the procedure. This direct destruction is abortion, a type of murder; every murder is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral under the second font of morality. At least several human persons are murdered for each child born by artificial procreation. Then, too, the high rate of failure means that several additional human persons also die. And although these persons are not directly killed, the deliberate knowing choice of an act that will likely result in the deaths of several innocent human persons, without any necessity or dire circumstances, makes the third font of morality gravely immoral. The severe immorality that is involved in this type of process is alarming, especially in its widespread acceptance, even among many Catholics.

Cardinal Ratzinger: “The question is asked whether the totality of conjugal life in such situations is not sufficient to ensure the dignity proper to human procreation…. The process of IVF [in vitro fertilization] and ET [embryo transfer] must be judged in itself and cannot borrow its definitive moral quality from the totality of conjugal life of which it becomes part nor from the conjugal acts which may precede or follow it.” [Cardinal Ratzinger, CDF, Donum Vitae, n. 5]

The Magisterium has always taught that each act stands on its own as to its morality. If a person commits a thousand good acts and one bad act, the bad act remains bad. It cannot become good by inclusion in a set of good acts. IVF is inherently gravely immoral because it separates the unitive and procreative aspects of marital relations, and because the deaths of many prenatals (fertilized embryos) are part of the process.

The Magisterium condemns artificial procreation (e.g. IVF) for the same reason as contraception, the unitive and procreative meanings are not united in one and the same act. The deprivation of either or both the procreative and unitive meanings makes the act intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. But artificial procreation is condemned regardless of whether a couple is married or not, because the basis for the condemnation of artificial procreation is not the presence or absence of the marital meaning, but the separation of the unitive and procreative meanings. The same is true for contraception; the act is condemned because the unitive and procreative meanings are not united in one and the same act. The presence or absence of the marital meaning does not change the immorality of separating the unitive and procreative meanings.

Automatic Excommunication for the Sin of Artificial Procreation

Is a Catholic who procures a type of artificial procreation, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), automatically excommunicated? Yes, if he or she knows that the Church issues a sentence of automatic excommunication for the procurement of a direct abortion, and further knows that IVF (and other similar forms of artificial procreation), as practiced by fertility clinics today, always include the direct destruction of multiple conceived prenatals.

The penalty of automatic excommunication applies to anyone who deliberately chooses and accomplishes a direct abortion, with knowledge of the penalty attached. This penalty applies to any direct abortion, accomplished in any manner, at any time from the moment of conception. It is not limited solely to surgical abortions. It is not limited to prenatals of a certain number of days or weeks after conception.

So if a Catholic uses an abortifacient drug to procure a direct abortion (e.g. the so-called ‘morning after’ pill), the sentence of automatic excommunication applies, just as if the person had gone to an abortion clinic for a surgical abortion. The same applies to Catholic women who use the IUD (intra-uterine device). The IUD is an abortifacient device, and its use, while sexually active, constitutes the procurement of direct abortion.

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has noted that IVF (in vitro fertilization) and ET (embryo transfer) involve the direct destruction of innocent unborn human life, and therefore the sin of abortion:

CDF: “It has already been recalled that, in the circumstances in which it is regularly practiced, IVF and ET involves the destruction of human beings, which is something contrary to the doctrine on the illicitness of abortion previously mentioned.” [Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World, p. 150.]

The same document also uses the term “procured abortion” to refer to this type of direct destruction of human embryos. Therefore, when a woman or a couple authorize IVF, they are, in fact, authorizing a type of procured direct abortion. And this grave sin carries with it the penalty under Canon Law of automatic excommunication.

Moreover, those accomplices without whose help this crime against humanity would not have been committed are also automatically excommunicated. Certainly, such accomplices would include all physicians and essential staff working at the IVF clinic. Therefore, no Catholic may work for the type of fertility clinic that offers IVF or any similar procedure. In addition, any politicians who vote to legalize or substantially broaden access to IVF (and any similar procedure) are also automatically excommunicated, at least as accomplices, if not as co-perpetrators who have authorized these grave sins.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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5 Responses to Is IVF a Sin?

  1. Denis says:

    Great article! It is sad to say I have never heard a homily preached on this subject. There must be tens of thousands of Catholics who have procured (or worked in) IVF over the past 40 years. Judging from Youtube, IVF is becoming a growing industry and the few Youtubers I have communicated with see no moral conflict in this procedure. See this video where two couples explain why they ‘donated’ their ‘excess’ embryos to ‘research’ (i.e. destruction) –

    I understand that infertility is a great cross for couples and such couples are very much goal oriented when they approach IVF, however, their moral blindness is astonishing. One also cannot help but attribute some of this blindness to a lack of education on grave moral issues by the Church, the wider Christian community and society in general.

    I might be wrong, but I believe because IVF (& other artificial methods) is an abomination that goes to the heart of the Genesis narrative, it will not be allowed to flourish for long and IS the moral catalyst for the tribulation that lies in our near future.

  2. svrt says:

    Kindly flesh out the meaning of “ET.”

    • Ron Conte says:

      ET means embryo transfer. Artificial procreation unites sperm and egg in a petri dish. Some embryos are selected for transfer to the womb. Many of the rest are destroyed. Some might be frozen.

  3. Matt says:

    I have extended family members who had children through IVF. I am quite disturbed by what they did. I’d rather stop talking with them but it would cause a huge fallout with my spouse. I pray for them so that when the Warning occurs that they repent of this gravely immoral sin.

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