In vitro fertilization (IVF) and Euthanasia seem strange bedfellows. “Polar opposites” is what comes to mind at first. After all, the one is about generating new life, it would seem, while the other is about ending it prematurely. Yet after hearing about two cases of IVF among my acquaintances recently, I was struck by the fact that they have more in common than we think, and that the mentality behind the one leads to the other.
A mother at my daughter’s preschool told me about her IVF-procedure: she had lied to her doctor about the time she and her husband had tried to conceive – it had been 8 months instead of 12. For some reason, she was convinced they would never have children naturally, panicked (she was in her late 30s) and decided to take the IVF-route as quickly as possible.
Even if one has no ethical or other issues with in-vitro, this woman’s story – as I heard more – told me, that this had been an unnecessary procedure. She’d had a miscarriage less than a year before attempting IVF, which shows that she was able to conceive. Had she been truthful and confided in her doctor, had they talked things over or had he been more knowledgeable or honest, she might have found out that this miscarriage was in a certain respect promising, that she would probably have conceived again and have been able to carry to term the next pregnancy. This was confirmed by the sequel to the story: two years after her IVF-conceived child was born, she prepared for another in vitro fertilization. However, a few days before they started with the procedure, she found out she had gotten pregnant naturally.
That IVF is often unnecessary and that other procedures such as the Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning and Napro-Technology are statistically much more successful than IVF is generally unknown, as is the fact that in vitro is fraught with many potential medical and psychological problems – not to speak of the moral issues. But this is not what I want to focus on here. What strikes me in this case (as well as in another one I heard of recently where the couple, though attempting to conceive naturally for a year, didn’t try much else), is the lack of patience and the need for complete control these couples exhibited.
Don’t get me wrong. I have much sympathy for infertile couples and their sufferings, since it took us 9 years before we had a little daughter, and we’ve been suffering from secondary infertility for some years now. It is particularly difficult to feel utterly out of control, to be waiting month after month, have one’s hopes go up only to see them dashed yet again. There are still so many unknowns regarding infertility that doctors can’t pinpoint what the problem is in about 20% of the cases or vary in their predictions as to the likelihood of a given couple having children (doctors have gone from telling me we would never have children to prophesying with much conviction that we would). It feels like one is banging one’s head against a wall, and there seems little one can do to fulfill one’s desire for a child if one’s condition doesn’t happen to be easily detectable and treatable. IVF, therefore, seems to many the much-longed for solution to cut short this painful waiting. That IVF only has a 30% success-rate during the first cycle (which includes three rounds of attempted implantation), that many women miscarry, the physical and psychological risks for the child, mother and egg-donors, remain often undisclosed. Anyway, infertile couples would rather attempt something with a low success-rate than nothing at all.
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Patience comes from the Latin word “pati” which means to suffer; thus patience is required by and at the very core of suffering. Bearing a chronic illness, a slow decline or a condition which one can’t resolve or control is particularly difficult. One is being stretched to one’s limits, at least that’s the way it feels – only to be stretched even further, having to bear the unbearable. It is only natural to seek a way out, and one should do so, as long as the solution doesn’t go against the dignity of the human person and thus makes us commit morally wrong acts.
Suffering is a trial which either teaches patience or leads to rebellion and despair. Our age seems particularly in want of the first. Everything is fast-paced. We’ve lost the sense that good things are worth waiting for, while some things have to be born, and that there is some meaning to be found in and personal growth which can come from suffering. We want immediate gratification, and hence lost time (or what feels like it), suffering and lack of control become inacceptable. It is a terrible thing to be stripped of one’s heart’s desire, of health, of happiness. It becomes unacceptable, when all one has to look forward to is the here and now. If this is the only life I have, then having no children, no spouse, no success, no riches is to be avoided at all cost as is suffering in general.
That cost, as it turns out, can be life itself. It is the lives of the in-vitro children that are discarded since they are less than perfect, or who are frozen and abandoned. The life of my wanted IVF- child is built on the grave of its siblings. Those who demand euthanasia in order to avoid a long and painful dying-process put not only themselves at risk (for it may turn out that they are quite willing to live on, after all), but those others who don’t have a say. Children will soon be legally euthanized in Belgium. People who are disabled, comatose, or seriously ill have been killed for many years under the radar-screen, without drawing the attention of the media or having their family put up a fight. It has mainly been a silent killing so far; now it is coming out into the open.
IVF and euthanasia promise the avoidance of suffering, but this proves to be a lie. Suffering should not be avoided at all costs, otherwise it comes back to haunt us in other, worse ways. I personally know some families where a member demanded to be legally euthanized for fear of old age and sickness. These families are left distraught and troubled, feeling abandoned by their loved one who didn’t trust them sufficiently to walk this difficult path with them. There is no act – let alone an act of such magnitude – without an impact on others and society at large. People conceived through IVF speak of the trauma they have experienced, despite the love of their parents. Some feel violated by having been conceived in a cold lab rather than through the intimate embrace of their parents, and feel instrumentalized in order to cater to the needs of their parents. Either I am willing to carry my cross with the grace of God and the help of others, or I will throw it on other people’s shoulders.
The cross is tremendously heavy, if we carry it on our own. Christ promises that it will become light, if we carry it with Him. It becomes unbearable, if we try to discard it. If we do, then the consequences of our acts will come to haunt us for generations to come like the Furies in Greek tragedy. The choice is ours to make.