Chapter 13  : Reproduction: Assistance and Control Issues 

Section 4. Readings  EXCERPTS from DONUM VITAE


Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation

Replies to Certain Questions of the Day

4. Fundamental Criteria for a Moral Judgment

The fundamental values connected with the techniques of artificial human procreation are two: the life of the human being called into existence and the special nature of the transmission of human life in marriage. The moral judgment on such methods of artificial procreation must therefore be formulated in reference to these values.

1. What Respect Is Due to the Human Embryo, Taking into Account His Nature and Identity?

The human being must be respected as a person -- from the very first instant of his existence.

2. Is Prenatal Diagnosis Morally Licit?

If prenatal diagnosis respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed towards its safeguarding or healing as an individual, then the answer is affirmative.

3. Are Therapeutic Procedures Carried Out on the Human Embryo Licit?

As with all medical interventions on patients, one must uphold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it but are directed towards its healing, the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.

4. How Is One Morally To Evaluate Research and Experimentation on Human Embryos and Fetuses?

Medical research must refrain from operations on live embryos, unless there is a moral certainty of not causing harm to the life or integrity of the unborn child and the mother, and on condition that the parents have given their free and informed consent to the procedure. It follows that all research, even when limited to the simple observation of the embryo, would become illicit were it to involve risk to the embryo's physical integrity or life by reason of the methods used or the effects induced.

The corpses of human embryos and fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings.

5. How Is One Morally To Evaluate the Use for Research Purposes of Embryos Obtained by Fertilization in Vitro?

Human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and subjects with rights: their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence. It is immoral to produce human embryos destined to be exploited as disposable "biological material."

6. What Judgment Should Be Made on Other Procedures of Manipulating Embryos Connected with the "Techniques of Human Reproduction"?

Techniques of fertilization in vitro can open the way to other forms of biological and genetic manipulation of human embryos, such as attempts or plans for fertilization between human and animal gametes and the gestation of human embryos in the uterus of animals, or the hypothesis or project of constructing artificial uteruses for the human embryo. These procedures are contrary to the human dignity proper to the embryo, and at the same time they are contrary to the right of every person to be conceived and to be born within marriage and from marriage. (32) Also, attempts or hypotheses for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through "twin fission," cloning or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union.

1. Why Must Human Procreation Take Place in Marriage?

Every human being is always to be accepted as a gift and blessing of God. However, from the moral point of view a truly responsible procreation vis-a-vis the unborn child must be the fruit of marriage.

2. Does Heterologous Artificial Fertilization Conform to the Dignity of the Couple and to the Truth of Marriage?

Through IVF and ET and heterologous artificial insemination, human conception is achieved through the fusion of gametes of at least one donor other than the spouses who are united in marriage. Heterologous artificial fertilization is contrary to the unity of marriage, to the dignity of the spouses, to the vocation proper to parents, and to the child's right to be conceived and brought into the world in marriage and from marriage. (36)

3. Is "Surrogate" Motherhood Morally Licit?

No, for the same reasons which lead one to reject heterologous artificial fertilization: for it is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person.

4. From the Moral Point of View What Connection Is Required Between Procreation and the Conjugal Act?

a) The Church's teaching on marriage and human procreation affirms the "inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, makes them capable of the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and of woman." (38) This principle, which is based upon the nature of marriage and the intimate connection of the goods of marriage, has well-known consequences on the level of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination toward man's exalted vocation to parenthood." (39)

Thus, fertilization is licitly sought when it is the result of a "conjugal act which is per se suitable for the generation of children to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh." (41) But from the moral point of view procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not desired as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say of the specific act of the spouses' union.

The moral relevance of the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and between the goods of marriage, as well as the unity of the human being and the dignity of his origin, demand that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses. The link between procreation and the conjugal act is thus shown to be of great importance on the anthropological and moral planes, and it throws light on the positions of the Magisterium with regard to homologous artificial fertilization.

5. Is Homologous in Vitro Fertilization Morally Licit?

The answer to this question is strictly dependent on the principles just mentioned. Certainly one cannot ignore the legitimate aspirations of sterile couples. For some, recourse to homologous IVF and ET appears to be the only way of fulfilling their sincere desire for a child. The question is asked whether the totality of conjugal life in such situations is not sufficient to ensure the dignity proper to human procreation. It is acknowledged that IVF and ET certainly cannot supply for the absence of sexual relations (47) and cannot be preferred to the specific acts of conjugal union, given the risks involved for the child and the difficulties of the procedure. But it is asked whether, when there is no other way of overcoming the sterility which is a source of suffering, homologous in vitro fertilization may not constitute an aid, if not a form of therapy, whereby its moral licitness could be admitted.

6. How Is Homologous Artificial Insemination To Be Evaluated from the Moral Point of View?

Homologous artificial insemination within marriage cannot be admitted except for those cases in which the technical means is not a substitute for the conjugal act but serves to facilitate and to help so that the act attains its natural purpose.

7. What Moral Criterion Can Be Proposed with Regard to Medical Intervention in Human Procreation?

The medical act must be evaluated not only with reference to its technical dimension but also and above all in relation to its goal, which is the good of persons and their bodily and psychological health. The moral criteria for medical intervention in procreation are deduced from the dignity of human persons, of their sexuality and of their origin.

Medicine which seeks to be ordered to the integral good of the person must respect the specifically human values of sexuality. (55) The doctor is at the service of persons and of human procreation. He does not have the authority to dispose of them or to decide their fate. "A medical intervention respects the dignity of persons when it seeks to assist the conjugal act either in order to facilitate its performance or in order to enable it to achieve its objective once it has been normally performed." (56)


The spread of technologies of intervention in the processes of human procreation raises very serious moral problems in relation to the respect due to the human being from the moment of conception, to the dignity of the person, of his or her sexuality, and of the transmission of life.

With this instruction the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in fulfilling its responsibility to promote and defend the Church's teaching in so serious a matter, addresses a new and heartfelt invitation to all those who, by reason of their role and their commitment, can exercise a positive influence and ensure that, in the family and in society, due respect is accorded to life and love. It addresses this invitation to those responsible for the formation of consciences and of public opinion, to scientists and medical professionals, to jurists and politicians. It hopes that all will understand the incompatibility between recognition of the dignity of the human person and contempt for life and love, between faith in the living God and the claim to decide arbitrarily the origin and fate of a human being.


Outline by  Don Berkich,  University of Texas, Corpus Christi (by permission)

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a document stating the official position of the Catholic Church with respect to a number of reproductive technologies. We begin by considering the three principles established by the Congregation.

  1. The human being ought to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception.
  2. The Unity of Marriage: Marital Fidelity requires that each spouse become a parent only through the other.
  3. The Unity of Parentage: Each child has a right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world, and brought up within a marriage.

The Catholic Church uses these principles as a sort of litmus test for the moral permissibility of various reproductive technologies. For instance, Principle (A), not surprisingly, implies that abortion is morally impermissible, and Principle (B) implies that heterologous artificial insemination is morally impermissible, since in heterologous artificial insemination either an egg or sperm is obtained from a donor outside the marriage.

The notes list those reproductive technologies found to be morally permissible by the Congregation and those reproductive technologies found to be morally impermissible by the Congregation.

A simple exercise is to take a particular reproductive technology and figure out, if it is written off as morally impermissible, which principle or principles excludes it. Take cloning, for instance. The Congregation finds that human cloning is morally impermissible. Why? Principle A does not seem to tell us much. Principle B isn't much help either. Principle C, however, prescribes what is to count as morally licit reproduction and included in this is the assertion that each child has a right to be conceived. If we understand 'conceived' in the way that we are clearly meant to, it follows that cloning is impermissible since it is not reproduction by conception, as the term is understood by the Catholic Church.

At this point you ought to be vexed by two puzzles:

First, why are there no arguments to justify principles (A), (B), and (C)?

Perhaps the authors of "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" felt that the principles are intuitively obvious. But as we have seen so often this semester, a proposition which is intuitively obvious is not necessarily true. (As a general observation, the history of science is littered with such propositions!) So the appeal to intuition is not particularly useful here.

Perhaps the authors felt that the principles are obvious implications of NLT; they did not feel the need to show that NLT has these implications. I suspect this is likely, but it also confronts us with the problem NLT has in getting past the Standard of Clarity. Why on earth should 'proper purpose' be interpreted in such a way as to imply an almost absurdly narrow understanding of terms like 'marriage' and 'parentage'?

Which brings us to the second puzzle: Why should we study this document?

Note that we have read a number of authors who might be lumped together insofar as their arguments are decidedly and obviously unsound: Noonan, Gay-Williams, Lipkin, etc. In each case I argued that these are valuable articles to read because they represent traditional views on issues in medical ethics. Knowing what those views are is the first step in refuting them.

A similar answer can be given for this article, provided that we note an important difference.

To be sure, arguments like those found in the Noonan, Gay-Williams, and Lipkin articles have been influential in some circles. But Noonan, Gay-Williams, and Lipkin have, fortunately, never had the opportunity to enforce their views.

The Catholic Church is different: It owns and operates many hospitals throughout the United States and other countries. In some cities there are no non-Catholic hospitals. What this means is that the Catholic Church is in position to impose the conclusions it draws in "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" on many, many people, no matter how indefensible or absurd those conclusions may be.



Three Moral Principles:

  1. The human being ought to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception.
  2. The Unity of Marriage: Marital Fidelity requires that each spouse become a parent only through the other.
  3. The Unity of Parentage: Each child has a right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world, and brought up within a marriage.

Morally permissible procedures:

  1. Prenatal diagnosis for the purpose of safeguarding or healing the fetus is morally permissible.
  2. Reasonably safe therapeutic procedures on the human embryo are morally permissible.
  3. Research on live embryos is morally permissible only if
    1. Neither the mother nor the fetus are thereby harmed.
    2. The parents give free and informed consent.
    3. The experimentation is therapeutic.

Morally impermissible procedures:

  1. It is morally wrong to destroy extra embryos produced by fertilization in vitro or use them in research.
  2. Abortion is morally wrong. (Abortion is homocide.)
  3. Cross-fertilization between human and animal gametes is morally wrong. (No Humonkey's Allowed)
  4. Gestation of human embryos in animal or artificial wombs is morally wrong.
  5. Cloning is morally wrong.
  6. Freezing embryos is morally wrong.
  7. Heterologous Artificial Fertilization is morally wrong.
  8. Surrogate Motherhood is morally wrong.
  9. Homologous Artificial Fertilization is morally wrong.

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Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

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