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The Vatican, Stem Cell Research, and Fertility Treatments

A few weeks ago, the Vatican released its first authoritarian proclamation on reproductive science in more than two decades (the last one was in 1987)—and sparked intense debate worldwide among physicians, researchers, Roman Catholic scholars, the clergy, and the general population.

The 35-page document—widely seen as an effort by the Catholic Church to address a new generation of technologies used by more and more individuals and couples in the U.S. and around the globe—condemned “designer babies,” cloning, stem cell research, the genetic testing of embryos to discover imperfections, and a variety of contraceptive techniques.

The Vatican also denounced most forms of fertility treatment (egg and embryo freezing, the injection of sperm into eggs), since “they substitute for the conjugal act…which alone is truly worthy of responsible procreation.” The Church singled out in-vitro fertilization, saying the procedure reduces the human embryo to “simply a mass of cells to be used, selected, and discarded.”

On the plus side, the authors did not specifically ban the freezing of ovaries as a method of preserving fertility for women with cancer, a large part of USCF’s Fertility Preservation Program.

While many are quick to dismiss the document, saying it is proof positive that the Roman Catholic Church is once again out of step with the needs and desires of the modern world, it should be remembered that the Vatican’s declarations do guide Catholic doctors and hospitals throughout the U.S.

Please rest assured that whereas USC Fertility’s work is not affected by religious directives of any kind, we continue to respect the religious wishes of all of our patients. For example, some of our Catholic patients have found it acceptable to be treated with GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) rather than IVF, because the sperm and egg are not joined until they are back in the woman’s body. And we are prepared to allow sperm collection to take place with special (silastic) condoms if the standard method of sperm collection is not acceptable.

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