August 30, 2009

Artificial Insemination

Resources and a Few Thoughts


Although the Church has often preached self control over her nearly 2,000 year history, her words have seldom found acceptance among her members, from the 16th century conquistadors to modern high school students. Our failure to observe the teachings regarding artificial birth control is well-known in these times, but the message is at least known. The Church’s teachings on artificial insemination are both ignored and seldom voiced. This page attempts to provide some resources and a brief reflection for those contemplating this action, which the Church calls “gravely immoral” (Catechism 2376). This page was not written to convince so much as to inform and support the development of a well-formed (and informed) conscience.

Although I accept the Church’s teachings on all matters of faith and morals, as a non-bishop I am not in a position to “bind and loose” according to the teaching of Jesus. While I will answer e-mail gladly, I cannot absolve guilt for future actions nor make these teachings go away. Neither can any priest or minister, although some may claim this authority. Complaints should be directed elsewhere: I can only echo and reflect on the Church’s wisdom. The teaching is what it is.

As a second note, this page is only for Catholics and those whose own (possibly non-Christian) religious tradition parallels that of Rome on this matter. Otherwise, take what you can, but whether Catholic or not, I have no moral authority, I am only presenting what the bishops teach.


First of all, we should look at the Catechism, because it most clearly and succinctly states the Church’s position. It is the final word on the Church’s teaching.

The relevant paragraphs are 2373 to 2377, but it is better to read the whole section. Clicking on the above link will open a new window. Please read it before continuing.

The next document is somewhat longer, and you may need to skip down farther to find the relevant text. Please let me know if you have trouble viewing it. The format is a bit difficult.

Instruction on Respect for Human Life In Its Origin and the Dignity of Procreation: Replies To Certain Questions of the Day

To determine the morality of artificial insemination, we cannot simply look it up in the Bible. After all, Jesus said divorce and remarriage are wrong but that doesn’t stop millions of Catholics from doing it. This is a modern problem, and it takes both faith and reason to understand the morality of it.

A Scriptural Reflection

Having said all this, consider the following story from the book of Genesis. Please read it before continuing. To save time, click on each of the links below in order. This will take you to the necessary Scriptures.

God promises descendants to Abram (Genesis 15:1-6)

God promised descendants to Abram (Abraham), even though he was old. Abram believed God.

Sarai has another solution (Genesis 16)

Sarai (Sarah) wanted a child very badly, and did not believe the child would come from her. Her solution was to use a surrogate mother (Hagar) to produce the child Ishmael (ancestor of the Arabic peoples, often enemies of Israel even to the present day).

God repeats the promise, and demands obedience (Genesis 17:1-9)

Ishmael’s hand will be against everyone, but the covenant will be Isaac’s (Genesis 17:15-22)

Because Ishmael is Abraham’s child, he cannot be entirely rejected or destroyed, but neither is he the one God had in mind for the promise. He will be famous and powerful, and do much damage.

God repeats the promise yet again, Sarah laughs (Genesis 18:1-15)

Sarah still does not believe. The child of the promise will come from a pleasurable union of Abraham and Sarah.

God fulfills the promise, Hagar and Ishmael exiled (Genesis 21)

Isaac is born, the promise begins to be fulfilled. Hagar and Ishmael are exiled, but they survive with God’s help.

With technology, we can do many things. They aren’t all good, even though they can appear to be. God has a plan, but we often try to do His job, and we really aren’t very good at playing God.

Final Thoughts

It’s a bit personal, but I’m the child of a sterile father. My dad was severely wounded in World War II. He was declared sterile, and (I’m told) was paid some amount of money as compensation. I think he would have paid the Army, though, because he wasn’t the family type. Anyway, my mother got pregnant with me, and thank God I look like my dad: there can’t be any doubt about my being the child of both parents. We never know what God may do.

On the other hand, I’m a skeptic, and I don’t look for miracles, although I believe they are possible. So, what solutions are we offered (for having a “traditional” family) when there is true inability to conceive or carry to term?

A) One parent is the “true” parent: (artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood)

B) Neither parent is the “true” parent: (artificial insemination & surrogate motherhood)

C) Adoption (you knew this would get mentioned)

The Church says A & B are “morally unacceptable.” Basically, they both involve masturbation, medical intervention in place of healthy sex, and/or intentional adultery or fornication.

I’ve got six children, as of the time of writing this, but I’ve considered adopting more, especially when I think of the older children with almost no chance of being adopted. I can barely stand to think of a child being raised in an institution, especially when I see the joy in our family. Although I enjoyed seeing my children born, most of my joy is in seeing them grow. I am pleased with them as they are today, and I don’t cling to memories of the past. When I teach children, there is a part of me that adopts them because I love them so much.

To adopt is to participate in the saving work of Christ in a concrete way. It is to take on a job (parenting) that someone else would not or could not do. It is a chance to warm a cold child, to love the unloved, to light a flame that may one day light the world, to teach love to someone who very much wants to learn it.

Did you know Dave Thomas, the founder of the Wendy’s chain of restaurants, was adopted?

Well worth looking at: The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

I hope this page has at least been a useful resource. Some decisions can’t be undone, so they should be made very carefully. As usual, it is good to discuss these things with those you trust and admire.

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