Genesis is very clear about child-bearing, telling us: And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t address the matter of modern reproductive technology.
According to Pope Benedict XVI, conception is limited to the conjugal act between a husband and wife. At a convention discussing the treatment of fertility at the Vatican in February, the Pope decried artificial procreation, suggesting it lacks the human and Christian dignity of procreation.
Pope Benedict XVI (Credit Image: © Evandro Inetti/ZUMAPRESS.com)
This is a position the Catholic Church has espoused since 2008. Indeed, this year, the Vatican added fertility treatments to the list of social sins that are now appended to the Seven Deadly Sins and other classifications of vices. Bishop Gianfranco Girotti of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican committee that deals in “problems of conscience” echoed the Pope, stating that conception “must happen in a natural way between two spouses.”
To take our fertility into our own hands, according to the Church, is to offend God with our impatience, and to play creator. Not all denominations agree on the issue, with some detractors saying that it was God who granted us the ingenuity (PDF) to advance so far medically and that there is no sin provided our advances in fertility stay within Biblical boundaries. Certainly there are many who believe that there is nothing undignified – in terms of humanity or Christianity – about bringing forth a child who will be loved by his or her parents.
Whatever our consciences or faiths may dictate, infertility treatments are taking center stage in a lawsuit between an Indiana teacher and the diocese that fired her after learning she had undergone in vitro fertilization treatments. Emily Herx underwent her first treatment in March, 2010, and told her school’s principal about it, who assured Herx that she would be praying for her.
However, when Herx requested time off for her second treatment more than a year later, she was asked to meet the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne. The pastor called her a “grave, immoral sinner” and told Herx that she should not have said anything about the treatments, as some things are “better left between the individual and God” and bringing them up could only result in scandal. Eleven days later, Herx found her contract with the school would not be renewed.
According to St. Vincent de Paul, teachers who work there are required to have knowledge about the tenets of the Catholic Church and abide by them. However, according to Herx, she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong. At no point during the time that she spoke with the principal about her treatments did she receive information about the Catholic position on in vitro fertilization.
The diocese being sued sees this as a challenge to their religious beliefs.
Previous cases involving the Church and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), upon which Herx is basing her case, have not been fruitful. According to the New York Times, in the case of a teacher who was fired in 2004 by a church-run school, the Supreme Court decided that the ADA exempted “ministerial employees.” The teacher in this case, who unlike Herx, taught one religion class, was deemed to be a “minister” under the law.
In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important but so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.
Gregory Lipper, senior counsel with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told CNN that allowing the ministerial exemption to become too broad will only grant certain institutions the license to discriminate against employees.
Knowing that the Pope wants to see many forms of reproductive technology, including in vitro fertilization, banned makes it difficult to see this simply as an issue of selecting employers more wisely. What does your conscience dictate? Are fertility treatments a sin?
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