Modern man derives much of his sense of himself as master of all he surveys from science and technology in general, but nothing feeds his notion of being the master of life itself more than the new birth technologies. They can be dated from July, 1978, forty years ago this month, when two scientists in England produced the world’s first test-tube baby. She weighed 5 pounds and 12 ounces at birth and was given the name Louise Brown.
Polls at the time showed that a large majority of Americans and other peoples overseas were opposed to in vitro fertilization (IVF), but the past two centuries, and especially the past fifty years, have seen men and women become inured pretty fast to all kinds of things they shouldn’t. So it is that seven million like Louise Brown have been produced since she was. In fact, the production of these synthetic babies is a $17 billion-a-year industry. No doubt profits will increase when scientists finally succeed in engineering the artificial womb that many are working at, thus freeing women from the burden of pregnancy if they choose to have a child.
Let me outrage any feminists who have strayed onto the SBC website by adding quotation marks to the word: “burden”. I add them because I’ve never heard a Catholic woman describe her pregnancy that way, not one who was practicing the Faith and not even if the pregnancy was hard on her. They have all described the babies they carried as a gift from God.
Of course nominal Catholics may not feel the same, and even if they see pregnancy as a burden may choose to have a baby or two. That may especially be the case when an infatuation they mistook for love has cooled. They may then look to a child as an anchor for an anemic marriage. They may then ignore the Church’s teaching on IVF even as a couple who choose not to have children, or “not now,” will ignore the teaching on artificial contraception.
For the sake of casual visitors to the website who may be unfamiliar with the Catholic position on IVF, it was condemned as “morally illicit” in Donum vitae, an authoritative document approved by Pope St. John Paul II and promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1987. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) was Prefect of the Congregation at that time.
Doubtless the infertile couple resorting to IVF in order to have a baby, for whatever reason, will see the technology as a good. Dr. John Rock, Harvard scientist and Catholic, also claimed he was doing good when he developed the Pill in the 1960s. It was a means, he said, for women to be able to regulate their periods in order for couples to practice so-called Natural Family Planning (NFP) with greater surety. When Bl. Pope Paul VI, after much consultation, judged and condemned the Pill as a means of chemical contraception, Dr. Rock was not Catholic enough to remain Catholic. He renounced his membership in the Church when Humanae vitae was promulgated.
One supposes all modern scientists, not simply the ones working in the area of the new birth technologies, see themselves as doing good. They are “advancing” human knowledge, they say. Some, however, are candid enough that what they say suggests they see themselves doing the most good when they believe their work will demonstrate the inutility and speciousness of religion in general and Christianity in particular.
Such a one was Dr. Robert Edwards. He was one of the two scientists who produced Louise Brown. In 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine. Prior to that, in an interview with The Times of London in 2003, he acknowledged that producing Brown was “about more than infertility. I wanted to find out exactly who was in charge, whether it was God himself or whether it was scientists in the laboratory. It was us.”
There are two points to be made. 1) The road to hell is paved with good intentions. 2) Burn Dr. Edwards’s words into your brain so you may recall them when you hear anybody trying to make the argument that modern “advanced” science and Christianity are somehow compatible.