In Vitro Fertilization: The Human Cost

It can be difficult initially to understand why the Church opposes procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). The Church teaches that children are the “crowning glory” of marriage. “Why oppose something that allows couples to bring new babies into the world?”

Sometimes there is more frustration behind the question: “Why does the Church think it can tell me I can’t be a grandmother” or “Who do you think you are, telling me I can’t be a mom.”

Because one in seven couples suffers from infertility or subfertility, Church teaching about IVF often leads to such genuine questions that deserve to be answered with love in truth. For many, the Church’s teaching is difficult to bear because the desire to have children is so natural and strong.

To turn minds and hearts, it must first be emphasized that the Church does not condemn persons created by technical procedure, even as we are strongly opposed to the technical procedure itself. Those born following in vitro fertilization possess dignity and are made in God’s image and likeness. Each person is a unique and unrepeatable spoken word of God, never to be spoken again. Offering qualified affirmation often opens minds and softens hearts: “I hope you may one day be a grandmother, and I imagine we agree that how you become a grandmother is very important.”

Such a disarming opening salvo establishes a point of agreement and provides an opportunity to explain how, often contrary to the best intentions of the parents, IVF involves the death of the very children a couple desires.

During the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology this July, it was announced that five million babies have been born following in vitro fertilization procedures since 1978. Today, approximately 350,000 IVF babies are born annually, and the numbers are increasing.

An eerie silence hangs over these numbers. Unspoken is that most human beings created in the laboratory will die before even given a chance. It is commonly estimated that only one in six embryos created following IVF will make it to birth. However, the numbers published by Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority may be more accurate. In July of 2011 Britain announced that for every child born by IVF thirty embryos were created.

This means that for a typical couple seeking IVF, somewhere between five and thirty of their children died so they could give birth to one. On a world-wide scale, this means that 30-150 million children have died because of IVF. In light of such staggering numbers the Church’s teaching makes perfect sense; it is “deeply disturbing” that “the number of embryos sacrificed is extremely high” (Dignitas personae n. 14). At best, IVF is like playing Russian Roulette with six people except only one chamber of the gun is empty. IVF treats the new human being as little more than a cluster of cells to be graded, selected, and discarded. As the Church has noted, “in other areas of medicine, ordinary professional ethics and the health care authorities themselves, would never allow a medical procedure which involved such a high number of failures and fatalities” (Dignitas personae n. 15).

Unfortunately, such a loss of life is ignored and accepted by the IVF industry. Such “failures and fatalities” are not even recognized for what they are by most physicians who do IVF—it has all become a normal and standardized aspect of the procedure. Further, the beautiful images of babies, slogans about “building families,” and the pristine walls of the typical fertility clinic hide this harsh reality from would-be parents.

The truth, and the gentle yet firm guidance of a priest, recently led a leading IVF doctor in Chicago, Anthony Caruso, to call it quits. As a July 30 Chicago Tribune article attests, “We see babies in our Catholic faith as children of God. …What doesn’t get thought about is the process that brought the babies to be.”

Over time Dr. Caruso came to recognize that regardless of the best intentions, the process of in vitro fertilization is a “false and deceptive solution” and an alarming attack on life. He is grateful to his parish priest for his courage to share the Church’s teaching concerning the industry that Caruso had been involved in for years. He now dedicates his professional life to promoting solutions to infertility that are consonant with Church teaching.

Like Anthony Caruso, most couples considering IVF are simply unaware of these facts, and if the information is presented compassionately they may consider life-affirming alternatives. At the end of the day we may rely upon the words of Blessed John Paul II to answer the questions we are asked about Church teaching on IVF: We are in the midst of a “dramatic clash between good and evil” and we have “the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life” (Evangelium vitae n.28).

Arland K. Nichols


Arland K. Nichols is the founding President of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family.

  • Objectivetruth

    As always when we violate God’s laws of nature, there are staggering social consequences that are born. Sperm banks, for example, do give potential customers the physical attributes of the seed of the donor they are purchasing (brown hair, blue eyes, etc.) There is no regulation on how many purchases can be made from the same donation. Consequently and disturbingly, there is a sperm donor in California whose attributes where in great demand that today he has 150 children, none of whm he has ever met. Similar to adopted children, IVF children search for their biological parents. The psychological damage of knowing that you are the result in this world of a transaction and basically a procured product, and have 149 siblings out there that you do not know or a father who could care less, must be extensive. As contraception turns humans in to sexually desired objects, IVF-ET turns humanity in to a product no better than shopping for a new Mini van or dining room table. These affronts to God’s plan for us degrades and lessens the dignity and respect we are due.

  • Bedarz Ilaici

    So IVF would be acceptable if the process was so improved as to involve no deaths of embryos?
    Also are the embryonic deaths intended or foreseen but unintended? Surely this ought to play some role here?

    I think that IVF is or should be objectionable apart from the embryonic deaths since it is a perversion of the act of procreation.

    • Arland Nichols

      Of course not. The Church makes two basic lines of argument against IVF. The primary argument is that IVF replaces the conjugal act instead of assisting it. It separates the procreative from the unitive meaning of intercourse. In short, it offends the marital act. This was not the focus of this particular article.
      The second line of argument is that it offends the fundamental rights of the child. I have in this article focused on a portion of that second line of argument that the Church makes. I did so in order to draw attention to only one of the characteristics of IVF that is problematic. IVF is intrinsically evil and it is so for numerous reasons.
      The Principle of Double Effect has no bearing on this discussion because IVF is an intrinsically evil act. The Church makes this clear in Dignitas personae.
      I suggest in this article that by focusing on the loss of life with IVF we are able to open doors to discussions and change of heart. This topic can then lead to a fuller appreciation for the manifold reasons IVF is wrong. Experience has shown that leading with an argument concerning unitive and procreative meanings of sexual intercourse is ineffective because most people use contraception. We have to meet people where they are, and leading with the issue of loss of life does that for many couples who are pro-life. From there, God willing, we can draw the person into a greater appreciation of the entirety of Church teaching on this matter.   

      • givelifeachance2

        I can understand the temptation to point to the lives lost by the others conceived (because they are real lives to balance against the photogenic IVF successes), but most people rationalize that there are also lives naturally lost after in vivo conception (how many conceptions actually make it to implantation?) and so figure that the test tube process is only mirroring nature. If  “most people use contraception”, then we need to show people where they need to go, for their own good.

        I agree with the commenter that we cannot just present a sub-argument, lest we  lose our credibility.  The reason IVF is an inherent evil is because it alienates the child from the marital bond which should be its nest.

        • IVF baby

          How does it alienate the child from the marital bond? If you have ever done IVF, it bonds the parents together just as much as sex. Btw – they don’t actually stop having sex – don’t be an idiot.

          Conception in a dish vs conception in a Fallopian tube is irrelevant and the “blastocyst” has no knowledge of its conception. You are being daft.

          I was born from IVF. I wasn’t alienated from anything and my parents very much wanted me. Which is more than I can say for a lot of oops babies. You have no idea what you are talking about. If it wasn’t for IVF – I wouldn’t be alive.

      • You’re a moron

        The conjugal act isn’t working, dipshit. That’s why they are seeking IVF. At $10,000 a pop, couples would conceive naturally they could.

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  • Ed Hummel

    As a former NFP teacher, am disappointed in this article.  We are to reverence and respect the natural law as it pertains to the God-given gift and process of bringing new life into the world.  This is where the emphasis must be.  Let me also add that an attempt at IVF invites masturbation which in itself is mortally sinful.

    Ed H.

    • Seriously??????

      u people r a bunch of whack jobs. I had my son thru invitro. I prayed to God for years to have a child & when my husband & I both succeded in getting pregnant it was because God helped us, he was there with his arms around us thru the whole process. A lot of the posts are completely incorrect in what they are saying. This is why people turn from the Catholic church. i know many people who act as if they are good christians on Sunday & the rest of the week they damage others. I will pray for all of you, that you learn love & acceptance. Our son is beautiful & God loves him as well as myself & my husband. He does not look at us differently. he created the doctors who helped to create our son. Hate is a sin as well as teaching it. If IVF is so bad, then how about all these “christian” organizations who offer adoptions charge thousands of dollars to adopt a child? But I am the sinner……..seems to me that wthose who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. PS…Marraige equality for all!!!!! I am sure my post be be collapsed by the community & if so, fine. But at least I have the courage to stand up for myself & I plan to teach love & acceptance to my son. I thought that is what God’s love is all about. My son will be baptized in the Catholic church & God will shine on him that day, as he will shine on all children in this world

      • Jewels

        I totally agree, so they say the Catholic Church will accept surgeries and other forms of hormone prescriptions, is that natural?? And be opposed to IVF does not make any sense, I have two beautiful twin daughters that my husband and I tried to have for over 10 years, of course we would have had naturally, we were both fine, It was unexplained infertility and I had many fibroids. IVF was our 3rd step. they were miracles, born 3 mths early and it made us all stronger. Why should they not be raised Catholic like us, maybe we should turn to a different religion that accepts us or serious changes need to be made, that is just plain discrimination.

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  • TotusTuusFamily

    Are there any numbers, studies for the U.S.?  Are we at the same 1 to 6 ratio as Europe?  

    I ask because in my own family a member is attempting IVF and saying that no babies will be lost. While I agree with Catholic teaching on the marital act and rights of children, they do not . They say that all their embryos will be used, so I wonder if US docs use less or are they too being mislead or believing what they want to believe….sigh….

    • AC

      Most likely left off of this is the ‘of the implanted embryoes all that take will be kept’.   It is not uncommon for 30 eggs to be fertalized then all of them graded, the best 2 or 3 attempted for implantation and the remaining to ‘go on ice’ (-80F) for later attempts.    Thus your family member is probably repeating what was said by the IVF clinic.

      I’d suggest further research.  I’d heard advertized on the radio once about 15 years ago that most female issues (80%+) were issues of hormonal imbalance that could be treated, thus treating the underlying issues, not just going for a cure with IVF.   I don’t have any more info than that, good luck to you.

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  • Littlebird

    God knows what He’s doing as He is the author of life. Babies produced during natural intercourse are going to be the strongest ones anyhow. If the sperm are strong enough and able to swim where they need to go, this is a good assurance. When you have IVF, you don’t know if the environment is hostile or not or if the best swimmer is getting there. . .  We should stop playing God and accept Children as a GIFT from God, not something He owes us or we demand from Him.

    • IVF Baby

      Fuck you. Who do you think you are to say that natural ones are “stronger”? No human is any more inferior than another.

  • NaPro Advocate

    I realize that the article only focuses on a specific aspect of IVF, and I thought it was a good article considering that point.  I only wish there had been a bit more info about the alternative methods that are in line with Church teaching.  The reader may be interested to know what exactly they are.  I recommend that those interested look into NaPro Technology (Natural Procreative Technology), which is entirely in line with Church teaching and addresses the underlying issues causing infertility so that the couple can go on to conceive naturally rather than ever using unnatural means.  Some of their treatments (depending on the specific underlying cause) involve surgery or may be as simple as treating a hormone deficiency with a hormone prescription.  Try for more info

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  • I have nothing against the Catholic church, but IVF is okay for me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with undergoing IVF. Actually, this helps couples reproduce, which is one message of the Church.

  • RubyR

    I take offense to all of the above really. I was born through IVF as was my brother, we have different sperm donors and I found out this year that I have 19 donor conceived siblings. My mum had three IVF treatments and only one didn’t take, nothing died it just didn’t happen. I think labelling IVF “evil” is absurd, without it I wouldn’t be alive today to enjoy all the wonderful things that life has given me.

    • Art Deco

      I take offense to all of the above really.

      You’ll get over it.

    • Daniel P

      Ruby, do you agree that good consequences can arise out of bad actions? For example, lots of people became much stronger and wiser people because of World War II, but that doesn’t mean Hitler acted virtuously. Or a person might be conceived because of a violent rape, but the person conceived is nevertheless a valuable and irreplaceable contribution to the world.

      My point is that it’s possible for someone to claim that IVF is bad without insulting you or wishing that you don’t exist. I’m very glad you exist, but I am very uneasy about IVF in general. God can work good consequences out of anything, however. So whether or not IVF is moral, I’m honored to have you as a sister in Christ.

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  • bkatbsc

    As Ed said, you people are nuts. My wife and I tried for the better part of 10 years to have a child. We got to the point where we figured it wasn’t going to happen. Due to the medication that I take for seizures, one of the side affects is, it significantly lowers my sperm count. When we read about IVF it was our last chance. After a successful procedure we found out my wife was pregnant. In March she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. For any of you to sit behind a computer and have the nerve to tell someone, because they might not be able to have a child naturally due to circumstances beyond their control, that they are wrong for trying IVF is beyond absurd. For any of you to even think “Babies produced during natural intercourse are going to be the strongest ones anyhow.ere able to conceive naturally” shows how truly demented some of you are. If I were you I would be far more concerned that people of this thinking, and the churches refusal to modernize some its is beliefs, is going to lead to the deterioration of the church.

    • Jack

      Based on your personal story, I think, you haven’t really shown how IVF is good. You have merely shown that it is has been successful for you. But it is not always successful, the truth is that IVF increases risks of birth defects, nevermind about the embryos, I don’t really consider them really human until they take to the woman’s inside. The fact remains, after many studies, this unnatural distortion through science of this reproductive process increases risk of defects. It might well be that some babies are born healthy like yours luckily (emphasis on luck) but there is still that higher risk of developmental issues as opposed to natural conception, that is a clear indication that science is not meant to meddle around this far into biology, it is an insult against nature, it crosses boundaries. If we could do it better than nature could, maybe that would be a different story, but we can’t. For the science that allowed your healthy child to come into being, it has also in its meddling harmed many more. It is nice for your child to now be alive, but in it you risked his well being, and that is both selfish and irresponsible. It is irresponsible because of the potential harm, and selfish because you could not step back from your ego (needing to further your genes) and consider other options, such as adopting one of the many children suffering in orphanages around the world.
      Allow me to tell you the story of a family of whom I know, brother and sister both had bad genes rendering them subfertile, or infertile.. like yourself (or in your case a medication), and in the brothers case it could have something to do with all the drugs he did in highschool, but anyway. Both tried to concieve naturally, the sister almost succeeded, but had a misscarriage, the doctor tried to convince her to do IVF, she, knowing all of this I just told you, declined. Instead, they adopted a gypsy child from Romania, I ended up loving her to no end, and that couple was able to bring light to her terrible world, and love to her damaged life.
      The brother, like you, could not get his sperm to impregnate his wife, as it was both low in count and low in quality. Yet again, a doctor assured him he would be able to circumvent nature and find a few sperm worth using, and a few eggs (since there was also a problem with the wife’s eggs). The brother was positive that he wanted a child with his (substandard) genes, and refused to adopt because the child wouldn’t be his. Arrogance. Selfishness. The boundaries of nature are being crossed here – In this case there was not the same success that you had, although a healthy child in many respects, the unnatural method of conception, and trying to replicate nature had backfired. The child was born as defected and dysfunctional as the methods employed to conceive him, autism along with many intellectual deficits are the result of this arrogance, of this selfishness. Thousands more have problems like these, nature was simply not meant to be distorted this way, forced or replicated, it is wrong.

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  • I’m better than god.

    This is garbage. 30 embryos will die because of IVF? This person has no real knowledge of the reproductive system. Those embryos – if fertilized in the womb through IUI – would have died anyway.

    In a year period, a woman has a 10% change of getting pregnant. All eggs are fertilized, but only 10% of those eggs will attach and stay attached. This is because not every egg is good, and not every sperm is good. Sometimes a bad sperm will pollute a good egg, or a good sperm will be wasted on a bad egg. Or both sperm and egg are bad.

    So what IVF does is make sure to put good sperm with good eggs. Over half those fertilized eggs don’t grow properly to make it to a blastocyst stage.

    This author is pulling numbers out of his ass.

    • IVF baby

      Thank you!

  • maria

    If your not able to become pregnant, adopt. If you cannot afford that, adopt a pet. But IVF goes against nature. Its science at it’s worst. I’m agnostic, so my opinion has nothing to do with religious values. If I am unable to bear children, I will adopt, adopt a pet, etc. There are TOOOO many people and animals thrown away. There is no justification for IVF, its purely selfish.