Vatican bans most artificial insemination techniques


VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican condemned surrogate motherhood, test tube baby production, most artificial insemination techniques and human cloning Tuesday in a long-awaited document on bioethics.

The 40-page document, entitled 'Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,' also called on governments around the world to outlaw experimentation on and mutilation or destruction of human embryos.


Urging Roman Catholics to fight to change civil law judged immoral by the Vatican, the document said legislation must prohibit embryo banks, surrogate motherhood and the donation of gametes between people not married to each other.

Under preparation since the early 1980s, the document compiles both old and new church teaching on subjects ranging from abortion to commercial trafficking in human fetuses.

A Vatican source stressed the document was not spurred by any specific case, such as that of Baby M -- the baby who is the subject of a New Jersey court custody fight between a surrogate mother and the couple who signed a contract with her to have the child.


The Vatican document, issued at the request of Pope John Paul II, attacks as 'morally illicit' a wide range of high-tech procedures that might allow childless Roman Catholic couples to produce children.

The standard artificial insemination techniques for husbands and wives in which technology substitutes for sexual intercourse were among those banned.

Also outlawed were test tube baby production, the artificial insemination of a woman with sperm of a man not her husband and use of a man's sperm to fertilize the egg of a woman not his wife,

'That which is technically possible is not of itself also morally admissible,' said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department once known as the Inquisition, which issued the document.

'The conjugal act ... is the only cradle worthy of a new human being,' the conservative, German prelate told reporters.

Surrogate motherhood was deemed morally illicit in all cases.

'It is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person,' the report said.

In vitro fertilization -- the test-tube baby technique in which an egg is fertilized outside the womb, then implanted -- also was deemed morally illicit in all cases -- whether it involves sperm or eggs taken from a husband and wife or donor sperm or eggs.


The report also held that masturbation to obtain sperm for in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination is immoral because it 'disassociates the conjugal act' from procreation.

The only case in which artificial insemination might be morally licit, Vatican officials said, is between a husband and wife when 'the technical means is not a substitute for the conjugal act.'

The document itself, however, did not list any current techniques that might fit the Vatican model.

'We wanted to leave open a category of possible methods and new developments that assist the conjugal act,' said the Rev. Bartholomew Kiely, a moral theology professor at Rome's Gregorian University. 'There is so much happening so fast. I can't be a crystal ball.'

When pressed, however, Kiely mentioned Gamete Intrafallopial Transfer (GIFT), a complicated technique that involves collecting a husband's sperm from a perforated condom, putting it in a catheter with an egg from his wife, leaving an air bubble between the egg and sperm, then reinserting both into the wife.

The technique seems to meet Vatican criteria -- egg and sperm from a husband and wife, sperm collected during intercourse, fertilization occurring within the body of the wife.

The document, written in a question-and-answer format, said childless Catholic couples should remember a child is a 'gift,' not a 'right' of marriage. It urged them to adopt children, work in schools or with poor or handicapped youngsters instead of resorting to immoral techniques to have their own children.


Other medical procedures condemned as morally illicit:

-Abortion. Always morally illicit, for whatever reason.

-Prenatal diagnosis: permissible only if aim is to save a fetus. Gravely immoral if diagnosis seeks to determine malformation or hereditary disease that might lead to a decision to abort.

-Embryonic research: permissible only if parents consent, if there is no threat to the life of mother or child, and if the procedure is 'directly therapeutic.'

-Embryonic or fetal cadaver research: such cadavers 'must be respected just as the remains of other human beings. All commercial trafficking must be considered illicit and should be prohibited.'

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