The Catholic perspective rejects assisted human reproduction techniques, but the morality of artificial insemination (AI) is open for discussion. This article aims to analyze the morality of AI from a new angle, namely whether these interventions exclude all possibility of damaging the human embryo and the offspring’s health. The scientific evidence about the children’s health who are born through AI allows us to affirm that the procedures do not comply with the principle of damage exclusion: AI does not exclude all possibility of damaging the embryo and impacting the health and exposure to disease of the offspring born through these techniques.
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Both these assisted reproduction techniques are termed “high-complexity” techniques, compared to the variants of artificial insemination, which are deemed “low-complexity” techniques.
Humanae Vitae (point 12): “The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.”
It is referred to as homologous because the gametes are from the same spouses.
It is important to note here the difference between “fertilization” (IVF) and “insemination” (AI); although both are artificial, they correspond to two different artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs), where the former includes embryonic manipulation, which is why it is considered illicit.
This last sentence is also mentioned in Donum Vitae (Ratzinger 1987).
In his dissertation on GIFT (Intrafallopian Insemination of Gametes, an AI variant), he comments: “Members of the Department of Bioethics of the Faculty of Medicine of the Università del Sacro Cuore in Rome, Monsignor Sgreccia with teachers Spagnolo and Di Pietro, they think that in the discussion of the morality of the ideal GIFT, there is no clear and definitive reason to reject the technique.” See “GIFT: Procedure and ethical assessments” (Gómez Cantero 1997).
For an explanation of the different arguments regarding AI, see “Different positions on the ethical assessment of insemination” (Páez 2012).
As clarified in Introduction, low-complexity techniques refer to AI variants.
This position is subtly different from the view of parenthood as a vocation—commonly espoused in the Catholic Church—for which a child is a gift given by God that fulfills this vocation (Padela and Clayville 2018). We agree with Martin Rhonheimer on this point: “The legitimate desire to have a child can only be simply a hope for the coming about of a new human life, and not a desire in the sense of an ‘ordaining,’ in which the desire in effect brings about (so to speak) the fulfillment” (Rhonheimer and Murphy 2010).
In an attempt to clarify or interpret the meaning of substitution or aid in a medical intervention with regard to the conjugal act’s dual unitive and procreative meaning.
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Navarro-Rubio, S., Güell, F. The Principle of “Damage Exclusion” as a Benchmark in Catholic Discussions of Homologous Artificial Insemination. J Relig Health 60, 268–281 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-019-00913-8
- Assisted human reproduction
- Offspring’s health
- Catholic morality
- Human embryo
- Gamete manipulation