Dear Father Angelo,
I’ve been wondering recently about how to help a friend of mine. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer, and among the various procedures before undergoing chemotherapy, he was asked to cryopreserve (forgive me the term) his semen in case he wishes to have children in the future. It appears that in his case, there would be a high probability of damaging the genetic integrity (with a greater risk of developing genetic disorders, including transmissible ones) or even becoming infertile. In this case what solution would be best to follow considering both issues, i.e. providing the paternal seed without moral disorder, and its cryopreservation? Should he accept the risk of becoming sterile? Would it be wise to avoid having children later on, albeit through natural methods, in order not to expose them to genetic risks? Or undergo the medical treatment instead and entrust himself to God even for any future offspring? I’m asking all these questions in order to be able to give a Christian and fraternal answer to this dear friend of mine, and not to mislead him myself with wrongful suggestions. I would also ask you to pray for him that the Lord’s will be done, and shoulh any healing to be bound to prayer, may He accept it.
God bless you Father Angelo!
The priest’s answer
1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses artificial insemination, even homologous insemination and fertilization (i.e., with the husband’s gamete) which substitute the conjugal act, as always morally unacceptable. (tn. cf. Donum Vitae, 5)
The words of Pope John XXIII always remain an enlightening guide: “The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. He is not therefore permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life”. (Mater et Magistra, 193).
2. Human generation is not merely the result of the fusion of two gametes, but of a personal act of mutual self-giving: a two-in-one-flesh marital union.
An act of donation of oneself and not only of one’s reproductive abilities.
Before John XXIII, Pius XII said: “The child is the fruit of the conjugal union, when it is expressed in its fullness, by the implementation of the organic functions, the sensitive emotions which are connected to it, with the spiritual and disinterested love which enlivens it. It is within the unity of this human act that the biological conditions of generation must be proposed.” (p. 9, Address of Pope Pius XII to the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, 19 May 1956).
3. John XXIII, in addition to saying that a child is the result of a personal act, also added: “and conscious“.
In artificial insemination, including homologous fertilization, the conscience of both parents is not present because it is not an act performed by them, whereas is present that of the doctors.
The woman, at that moment, is only a passive subject.
4. Given what we just said, it can be concluded that the child is not the product of the fusion of two cells, as it happens for plants, but of the generous, personal, conscious donation of his parents.
5. Both fruit of a gift and a gift himself, as such he must be welcomed from the beginning, and treated for the rest of his life.
A child is not something that parents own, with whom they can do whatever pleases them.
Sadly, not an infrequent behavior in parents, as they do what they want, right from the womb, when confronted with malformations or handicaps, that is, they suppress the child through abortion.
6. It is not wise to take the place of the Creator in transmitting human life.
Since the Old Testament, the Holy spirit has said: “I have seen the limits of all perfection, but your commandment is without bounds.” (Ps 119, 96).
Science has its own limits, too. It doesn’t know everything like God.
The relentless and endless – thank God – progress of science is a clear evidence of this.
7. Risks in a child conceived with assisted reproductive technology, in addition to the failures of the various attempts before a couple can actually hold their baby in their arms, are much more numerous than in the children conceived naturally. And science knows it.
Not to mention the many limitations that become evident as time goes by.
Already in the sixties of the past century zootechnical engineers realized that calves born by artificial insemination were sterile.
So it is right to humbly acknowledge that we cannot replace God in great events such as the conception of a human being.
It is very fitting to mention again the expressions of the Psalm: “I have seen the limits of all perfection, but your commandment is without bounds“. (Ps 119, 96).
8. Finally, before the many people saying “I have the right to have a child”, the Church specifies that spouses have the right to perform the acts that are ordered to procreation.
Here is the quote by the Church: “Marriage does not confer upon the spouses the right to have a child, but only the right to perform those natural acts which are per se ordered to procreation. A true and proper right to a child would be contrary to the child’s dignity and nature. The child is not an object to which one has a right, nor can he be considered as an object of ownership: rather, a child is a gift, “the supreme gift” (Gaudium et Spes, 50) and the most gratuitous gift of marriage, and is a living testimony of the mutual giving of his parents. (Donum Vitae, II, 8).
9. In another document, Dignitas Personae, it is said that: “The Church recognizes the legitimacy of the desire for a child and understands the suffering of couples struggling with problems of fertility. Such a desire, however, should not override the dignity of every human life to the point of absolute supremacy. The desire for a child cannot justify the “production” of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.
In reality, it seems that some researchers, lacking any ethical point of reference and aware of the possibilities inherent in technological progress, surrender to the logic of purely subjective desires and to economic pressures which are so strong in this area“.(DP 16).
10. In conclusion, you can tell that friend of yours that the Church, addressing us this way, does not want to put limits on science, instead She wants to protect the greatest good of people, especially the unborn child.
I have not dealt with the issue of cryopreservation of gametes, on which a lot could still be said from an ethical point of view.
I gladly assure you of my prayers for your friend and his future.
I also wish you all the best, I will remind you to the Lord and I bless you.
translated by Riccardo Mugnaini