My heart froze when I heard about the eradication of Down syndrome in Iceland. According to CBS News, “Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.” Doctors perform these tests on a naturally conceived baby. They can also perform the test on fertilized embryos outside of the womb. When done as a part of IVF, the fertilized embryos not chosen are either discarded or never implanted. IVF helps eradicate down syndrome and potentially could harm other genetic disabilities.
I want to live in a world where disabilities exist!
My relationship with other people with disabilities
My parents were my primary caregivers growing up with a disability. They helped assist me with daily living skills. Growing up with a disability, I didn’t have too many opportunities to rebel against my parents. One of my few moments of independence consisted of going away to summer camps. I would attend camps for people with disabilities. At these camps, we would get to participate in a wide range of activities. Some activities included canoeing, swimming, and arts and crafts. At the camps, there were multiple people with disabilities represented. Meeting people with different physical and mental capacities expanded my horizons.
I met two young bright girls with Down Syndrome. Forget every stereotype you know about people with Down syndrome. these girls broke all of the stereotypes. They were witty, funny, and articulate. Did they have struggles? Yes, they struggled to focus and communicate with a group. They had to share their answer independently. This was very frustrating as a group leader. Yet, I’m glad we got to hear their voices. My experience helped me appreciate different perspectives.
Yet given IVF technology, we are approaching a disability-free world.
What the Catechism says
A child is not something owed to one but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.”170 (CCC 2378)
IVF is wrong because it invites a third party into the marital chamber. Likewise, it makes children into a product we choose. The movie Gattaca embodies this perfectly. The movie describes their first child as a product of love. Not wanting to make the same mistake for the second, the parents opt for IVF. The doctor asks them what they want for their child. The parents sheepishly reply that they were hoping to leave it up to chance. Then the doctor replies, “no you want to give your child the best of you.” He lists out their specifications and encourages them to choose a gender. It is no longer a product of love, but design.
A lot of people feel that it is wrong to knowingly bring a disabled child into this world. They argue that when all things are equal, having a healthy child offers more well-being. The argument is that disabled children are not harmed by not being brought into existence1. People, who make this argument, tend to value what a person can contribute.
We need not look at disability as a disease that society needs to eradicate. Rather, we should see disability as a respectable form of human variation. Disability should be similar to sex, race, and ethnicity. It is morally suspect to choose males over females. Yet a similar decision occurs when we choose disabled over non-disabled. Furthermore, society dictates normal species functioning. Imagine if a majority sprouted wings and could fly. Society would consider those without wings to be disabled.
As someone, who has a disability, I do not want to live in a world where disability no longer exists. My disability has made me a stronger and more resilient person. I am glad that those girls got to have a voice. We soon may be living in a world where people with Down Syndrome don’t exist.
In October, Catholic Sistas ran a heartrending and powerful story about one couple’s experience with in vitro fertilization (IVF). In today’s post, author Jenny Vaughn* answers some tough questions posed by readers about her experiences.
Have you heard of or considered Natural Procreative Technology (NaProTechnology)?
Yes. But we didn’t find out about NaProTechnology until after our retreats. At that point, we still had four frozen embryos in vials. So we focused on our frozen children first over attempting to get pregnant naturally.
After we didn’t get pregnant from the transfers, I went on a strict diet for polycystic ovarian syndrome, which helped my body to begin cycling. We learned the Creighton Method, and consulted with a NaPro doctor for procedures that might help. The doctor suggested ovarian drilling and wedging, but I was overwhelmed by the invasive procedures I had gone through with IVF and didn’t want to do more. The Creighton Method made me a bit OCD about my mucus and some of the wording in the manual bothered my husband and me. So we decided that NaPro wasn’t for us.
I went to a naturopathic doctor who put me on inositol (a B vitamin), reinforced my diet, and introduced me detoxing techniques such as hydrotherapy and castor oil packs on my liver. I am about eight months into this regimen, and am now having periods every month for the first time in my pubescent life. Other than these changes, we’re leaving the growth of our family up to God.
NOTE: NaProTechnology is a women’s health science that aims to help couples conceive by resolving the underlying health problems that hinder conception. All procedures and practices are in accord with the Church’s teaching on the sacredness of human life and the conjugal act between spouses. NaProTechnology can assist women in resolving a variety of reproductive health issues, not just infertility, and more information can be found at the NaProTechnology website.
Did you consider adoption before IVF? Have you considered adopting since finishing IVF?
Prior to IVF (while we were doing the intra-uterine insemination), we decided that if we had a chance to have a biological child of our own, we were going to do ALL we could to make that happen before adopting. Looking back, I now see that as selfishness–we wanted our own children and felt that if we adopted it just wouldn’t be the same. We feared we wouldn’t be able to love an adopted child as we would our own. We are planning on getting involved in foster care when our son is older and can understand why children are coming and going. If God leads us to adoption down the road, we will follow His will.
How did your family respond to your conversion?
Some of my family seem to agree and understand somewhat what has changed in me and why. Others do not agree; one of my cousins just gave birth to a baby that she and her husband purchased as an embryo (along with two of his sibling-embryos).
My mother was VERY resistant as I shared with her what God was showing me about the sacredness of fertility and human life. “How can you reject the procedure that gave YOU and your children life?!” she would ask repeatedly. She felt that I should be grateful and accepting of these procedures.
But as we discussed things more over the course of a year and she learned about the violence of most artificial reproductive technologies, as well as the slippery slope that they lead people down, she began to open up to the truth. Now she completely understands and agrees that artificial insemination and IVF go against God and His will for us. We talk about it openly and she prays that God helps me to share this story for the benefit of others. My sister and I have just reconnected in the last year, too, after a long estrangement and my experience of IVF was what triggered that reconciliation. Like my mother, she has understood and supported me.
How would you approach a person who is considering IVF (or has done IVF) to help them see the truth about it?
This is a hard question because I remember how resistant I was to anyone who spoke against IVF.
When talking to those who are just considering IVF, you may have take a more forthright approach, because there’s so much at stake. But you also have to consider your relationship with the person. My cousin and I were able to have a fairly candid conversation before she transferred the embryo she and her husband purchased last year. I simply told her I did not agree with her decision and that it broke my heart that we can participate in the commoditization of babies, who are so innocent and vulnerable.
If you perceive the person is exceptionally resistant, you may need to be very gentle. Mention that you read a story online about a couple that went through IVF (like mine) and encourage them to read it. Ask what is prompting them to take that route and if they have considered alternatives? Have they spoke to their priest? Do they believe life begins at conception? If so, encourage them to read how their babies will be treated.
For those who have done IVF, ask them to share their story with you. Let them share and ask questions about why they decided on that route. How many BABIES did you say were made? Ask them if they named them or buried the ones that died. Talk to them and acknowledge ALL the children that were created in the IVF process. Ask how they feel about the procedure now that they are on the other side. Allowing parents to speak of their journey and about the lives created is a non-confrontational way to encourage them to open their hearts to see things more clearly. There’s no point in browbeating them about the wrongness of the process, which would most likely just cause them to shut down and disconnect.
There’s one exception to this advice and that’s clergy–if you are a moral authority, you have a duty to point out that this procedure is profoundly offensive to the children’s dignity and to God. You must do this sensitively and gently, and you should be prepared for anger from the person, but love demands that our priests be willing to guide our errant souls to repentance for these sins, so that we may be reconciled with God.
During my own life-changing Confession, the priest told me, “All I know is that children conceived in this way…their rights are violated from the moment of their conception.” I was LIVID at him for saying that! I thought, “You are telling me–their MOTHER–that I would want these children so badly to do all of this, that I’m violating their rights in the process?!” Yet that experience triggered a deep and fundamental humbling in my soul that allowed God in. And He used it to start working on me in ways I couldn’t even comprehend and still cannot.
Sometimes, no matter how gentle or diplomatic you are, a person’s feelings will be hurt and they’ll be defensive and offended. But the discomfort of conflict is a small price to pay if we can save babies lives by helping people understand how their decisions impact those around them, even those yet to be conceived. Jesus was not always gentle or concerned about feelings, especially for a righteous cause like casting out the money changers in the temple.
Practically speaking, it’s a good idea to remind people if they believe life begins at conception, then embryos are babies and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Emphasize the gory details if necessary–a woman having her vaginal walls pierced with a needle so that eggs can be aspirated from her ovaries is not dignified…embryonic babies being frozen and then housed in a laboratory is not respectful. Being sucked into a syringe and shot out into your mother’s womb–or even a stranger’s uterus–is violent, not to mention undignified. If these details are shocking to the person considering IVF, encourage the person to become more educated on how the procedure is done. Let the horror speak for itself.
*Jenny Vaughn in a pseudonym to protect the privacy of the author’s husband and son.
In our family, we have a tradition when it comes to finding out the sex of our unborn babies. We have our 20-week sonogram, have the tech put a note with “boy” or “girl” in a sealed envelope, and then we open the envelope that evening as a family over a nice dinner. We have our names picked out by then and it’s always exciting to find out whether we’re having a “Bella” or a “Justin.” We also love that we get to call the baby by name after that.
I’m currently five months pregnant and last week, we reenacted this tradition yet again. Unlike previous “Find out who we’re having!” dinners, however, this one was especially fraught with emotion; in the past five years, we’ve lost two little boys, one to late miscarriage and another to a failed adoption. The losses have especially devastated our now nine-year-old son, who is our only remaining boy. So from the time we found out we were pregnant this time, all of us had secretly prayed for a little boy.
Then we opened up the envelope: a girl. Another girl. A FOURTH girl.
I was initially disappointed and upset. Not because I don’t love this baby or secretly prefer boys. Not even because I wanted our family to be “balanced” or look a certain way. No, I just wanted our little boy to have a baby brother, because I imagined having a brother would heal his wounded heart more than another sister would. Four months of praying and sacrificing had even convinced me he needed a brother, so much so that it would take almost a full day for me to really accept that we were having a girl this time. I kept getting online that evening to look at crib linen sets, only to realize again and again I was shopping for a boy, not a girl.
It’s hard to be wrong. It was hard to accept that (shock!) my human wisdom was flawed. But as usual, God reminded me that His ways are not mine, that only He has an eternal perspective and knows what our son and the rest of us need to grow in holiness and get to heaven. Which is why Scripture tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding.”
It was my faith that helped me to move beyond those initial feelings and truly embrace the little girl I’m carrying. Because it’s Catholicism–and Catholicism alone–that insists each person created is a unique, irreplaceable being created in God’s perfect way and in His perfect timing. Mother Angelica, in her famous miscarriage prayer, articulated this beautifully when she imagined God saying, “I create for My Kingdom and each creature fills a place in that Kingdom that could not be filled by another.” God didn’t send us a girl this time, he sent us this amazing little person we’ve decided to call Clare. And Clare isn’t a disappointment or a mistake in any way, because she is the only person designed specifically by God to join our family right now. I’m just sorry my imperfect trust in God’s wisdom clouded my ability to see that for a while.
But if I’d wanted to, I could have replaced Clare with the little boy we wanted, by using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), an in vitro fertilization technique that allows couples to choose the sex of their babies. Articles in Slate, as well as many other publications, have recently highlighted the growing trend of couples using PGD to obtain a child of a specific sex. Interestingly enough, American women are using the technology to have daughters, unlike women in India and China who prefer boys.
With three awesome girls running around, I know the precious, special gift that girls can be. So to some extent, I understand these women’s desire for a beautiful little girl. But I also know that it’s just plain wrong to manufacture children in a laboratory just to obtain the “right” baby. The couple in the Slate article created nearly two dozen embryos. The first dozen were discarded for being “unusable.” In the second dozen, about half were discarded right off the bat simply for being boys. Of the remaining embryos that were implanted, only one produced a living baby. That’s right: more than 20 children created and destroyed in the quest for ONE little girl.
This is love? No, this is selfish, shallow human desire…a desire fed by a culture of death that promises to deliver every misguided thing we want, regardless of the consequences to others or even to our own souls.
Moral considerations aside, I can’t help but shudder at the pressure the little girls created via PGD will live under, with mommies willing to kill–literally–to have them. The women desperate to have daughters want one because they have pink, frilly visions of baking and sewing with little girls, of doing “girl stuff.” Or because they believe they can relate better to girls than boys. Jennifer Thompson, author of Chasing the Gender Dream, used PGD for a girl because, “I’m not into sports. I’m not into violent games. I’m not into a lot of things boys represent and boys do.”
What happens, then, when their daughter turns out to be athletic or technologically-inclined after all? Many of us have little tomboys (or are a tomboy ourselves), who have no interest in “girly” clothes, who hate pink, and whose interests and aptitudes are more traditionally masculine. Fortunately, as Catholic women, we know that femininity is rooted in our inherent ability to conceive and bring new life into the world, not based on how we dress or what hobbies we have. But if a mother is willing to throw away the embryonic children she created or even abort mid-pregnancy simply because the child is the wrong sex, is it likely she’ll embrace her daughter in her uniqueness as a person later on? More likely, the girl will suffer emotionally from knowing she doesn’t meet her mother’s expectations of what a “girl” should be.
All of us have dreams of what we’d like our family to be. The danger is in letting those dreams rule you, to the point you’re willing to usurp God’s sovereignty over human life to get what you want. The use of sex-selection technology to obtain a child is tragic for everyone involved, from the embryonic children created (just to be destroyed), to the “lucky” girls allowed to be born (to suffocate under mommy’s expectations), to the parents losing their souls in their quest for a designer baby.