Wednesday, 15 September 2010


The Pope and I have a lot in common.

We were both raised Catholic. Sure in adulthood our paths have diverged somewhat. Whilst he has really pushed Catholicism to the max, I got married in a Registry Office ... 'nuff said.

We are both opposed to contraception. Although the Pope takes this to a global scale, I insist on it only between the husband and I (and when I haven't been put on it for medical reasons). Indeed I positively encourage it in the wider world; anything to avoid yet another pregnancy announcement.

And I love kids, the Pope ... shall I not go there?

The Pontiff is about to arrive on our shores for a state visit. This has resulted in the newspapers going all out for stories featuring his Holiness - with links to previous, relevant articles. I can't imagine what it was about this headline (from 2008) that caught my eye:

The church has decreed that "most forms of artificial fertilisation were 'to be excluded' on the grounds that they replaced 'the conjugal act' as a means of reproduction". Believe me, the husband and I have conjugalled with the best of them (and more importantly with each other), IVF won't replace the act but hopefully be a hell of a lot more effective.

It appears that there is another issue with IVF, namely that very often there will be embryo's that are surplus to requirements and the difficulty lies in what to do with these. The Vatican's treatise on the subject appears to rule out every possible use for the embryos: their destruction, their donation to infertile couples and their use for therapeutic or experimental purposes.

I can see it isn't an easy decision. Months ago, when I had to sign all the IVF consent forms, my pen hovered over the 'what to do with the embryo's' tick box.

Even if the NHS was willing to put everything I produce back in, I wouldn't have gone for that option. I do want children but, please, not eight at once.

I have thought about donating to other couples, and I haven't ruled it out in the future, but I really think I need to have a child first before I start imagining whether another woman - however deserving - has born the fruit of my loins. Though quite what the Church's objection (beyond the replacement of the fruitless conjugal act) to this is, I am mystified.

Disposal. I would have difficulty flushing a dead goldfish down the pan. I don't think I could consent to this.

Use for experimental purposes. This isn't an easy decision. Even though rationally, unlike the Pope and his minions, I don't think this early cluster of cells is a life, but the idea of experimentation conjures up images of kittens with scart leads in the heads and electric shocks being administered by aliens in stainless steel laboratories.

But how did we get here?

How did we manage to get to the point that my eggs can be grown, harvested, kept in a liquid solution perfectly calibrated to encourage growth, be fertilised by sperm that have been individually quality controlled, left to divide and develop, to eventually be at a stage that then can go back into a womb and produce a perfect child.

It wasn't all theory worked out on the back of an envelope. Every stage was tested, experimented with, failed, tried again, refined and worked on. IVF is only possible because of previous embryos that were experimented on. And the process isn't flawless, there is still work to be done, refinements to be made, more couples who will be helped.

How can I not consent to using excess embryos (should there be some) for tests? Of course I consented.

So despite our uncanny similarities it would be fair to say that on this subject the Pope and I are most certainly not singing from the same hymn sheet.

Another point of difference between Benedict and I is I am not convinced of my papal infallibility.

So tell me do you disagree with me, or the Pope? Have you had to make a decision about embryos? What do you reckon?


  1. Humm....that's a good question! I definitly don't agree with the pope *gasp*! I am with you, though I'm not sure exactly what I would do with any excess embryos if and when I go through IVF. That's a tough question.

  2. I'm Catholic too - at least by birth and upbringing - but I find it impossible to agree with anything the Pope has said. We made the same decision as you, although as it turned out the question was moot. We just felt that, as you did, if we could help others as we were being helped, then we should.

    Funnily, as I type this I am listening to the BBC news reporting that Cardinal Kaspar apparently doesn't like the UK...

  3. Catholic by birth too, but also ended up getting married in a registry office. Not sure whether I'm agnostic or atheist but don't have much time for the pope or organised religon generally - particularly shameful given I'm Irish!

    We ticked the box to donate any excess embryos to science. The logic behind it for us was that the science of IVF wouldn't be as advanced as it is today if others hadn't given their excess embryos to science. It's our way of saying thanks to those who gave up their embryos for our benefit today and also our way of hoping that our embryos will bring benefit to someone else in the future.

  4. Where I am having my IVF (Germany) the law doesn't permit (because of the terrifying Nazi past - as a foreigner, not mine thankfully) the freezing of embryo's, a fact which I have only just become aware of. They can only freeze the fertilised eggs. If they create an embryo, they have to 'put it in', which means that they can only make 2 at a time and they aren't allowed to 'select' them either. Of course this causes a whole set of other issues for couples undertaking IVF. But - if I could donate my embryos, I would, without hesitation.

    With regards to Cardinal Kaspar equating the UK with a third world country on account of our' aggressive atheism' - I think the Catholic church needs to take a long hard look at actual third world countries where the 'faithful' are following the word of the Papacy to the letter and where as a direct result AIDS and poverty are rife...

  5. Oh, I remember that consent form. My husband and I weren't entirely on the same page, yet it seemed ridiculous to put too much thought into a situation that seemed so utterly unlikely. (i.e., my husband and I both dying, leaving no time to consider what the clinic should do with our orphaned embryos. Also, in that scenario we're dead, so I would probably feel slightly less invested in the whole situation.) But you make a good point with the experimentation option. I suppose they learn from each client who uses the clinic, but somebody's else's donation for medical purposes certainly helped my little guys survive... tough call.

  6. I was a fan of John Paul II, but Benedict leaves me cold. But, I don't agree with the Church on much - I just like their basic teachings, the rituals (excluding confession), and their excellent charity work. I'm not a very good Catholic. Oh well, I guess that means a loooong time in Purgatory for me. :)

    I'm totally in the science camp, partially because I'm a scientist. Partially because I believe that you really have to choose to be evil for God to interpret an act as evil. And partially because I believe that if God didn't intend for the sciences to proceed, he would have done some serious smiting a few centuries back.

  7. I think that God wouldn't have given us IVF, or the potential to use such technology if he didn't want us to use it.
    In terms of embryos - I couldn't dispose of them, it seems wrong, though this is influenced by my experiences of miscarriage. I would donate them, as to help anther woman out of her childless state would be good. I would just have to not think too much about someone else bearing my genetic material! I feel uncomfortable with the thought of scientists experimenting on my offspring, but probably would, as long as I didn't think about it too much, as like you say - we wouldn't have this if others hadn't in the past!

  8. We also had to tickbox what option we wanted for those embryos (which was a useless question for us since we barely made enough for transfer).

    I'm fascinated by the German approach to this question from the previous commenter!

  9. A big bug bear with me.

    There are a dozen other reasons I have no time for the man or his organisation, but this is one them.

    We never had to make the decision, but it would have been on the horizon, and to be honest I don't know what we would have done. I suspect we would have allowed them to be used for research.

    The church's stance on so much is just so far removed from reality it's almost amusing. Over the last couple of years it came to a head with me and I'm now in the official defection process.

  10. (Damn. I should have genuflected when I met you.
    What a gaff!)

    I think you're right about the embryos, donation of and so on - wait and see what happens. If there are some you don't use, you can think about it then. You decide on the basis of what you know at time, I reckon.

  11. It's a tough decision. Because we were doing PGS we knew that all our embryos were abnormal. Before starting the cycle, we specified that they could use the abnormal ones - but no left over normals (ha) - for research purposes. But it was not easy to come to even that conclusion.

    I agree that you should wait until you are with child before you decide what to do with extras. I don't see that there's any hurry there, as long as they're put on ice. At that point, the field will have changed.

    I was a lapsed-and-very-bad Catholic when the Rotweiler came on the scene (also married in a registry office). His arrival has only driven me farther from the fold.

  12. Oh, I'd totally let them experiment on my excess embryos.

    Of course, I've been working with med students on cadavers all week, so I'm in that mindset. I'm thinking, "If you're not using it, and it's not going to hurt anybody, why not let it do some good?" Giving my organs/embryos/body to science seems like a no-brainer.

    Though I completely understand why others wouldn't want to. It's a real personal issue.

  13. We ticked the research box for what to do in the doomsday everyone dead scenario. In the end we didn't have any left over as they either went in or died at the thaw.

    I'm not a fan of the Pope mostly because of the lunacy of the anti-condom stance given the ravages of HIV/AIDS.

  14. If we reach that stage, we will probably tick the research box. I would like the IVF stats to improve, as 33% live births from IVF just seems so low.

    As for the Pope and all other religious mother always said, if I have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all, so I'll bite my tongue or in this case, I'll stop typing.

  15. I disagree with the new Pope on MANY issues. My husband is Catholic, but has trouble going or taking communion because of similar beliefs. It's really beginning to upset me because his family drives me INSANE with their obsession that I become Catholic and that we raise E that way. sigh

  16. p.s. Very wise to wait until you decide I think.

  17. That was brilliant, and thoughtful.
    Also, thanks to these comments I found out something about the situation in Germany I wasn't aware of. Sigh. This is not getting easier.

  18. Christina in Pope disagreement shock!

    Illanare, I know that whatever decision we make we might not have enough embryos for ourselves let alone anything else but just thinking and talking about it from a theoretical point of view is still an important part of the process. (And are you amazed that I have access to a computer in this little 3rd world country?)

    TheSheila, have you been disowned by half your family?! You put much more succinctly my thoughts exactly – thanks.

    Anon – Berlin, That is really interesting (why do I always sound sarcastic? I’m not) I actually almost thought of writing that the term experimentation conjured up visions of Nazi’s in white coats, instead of Aliens – but thought that would sound too inflammatory (especially as I still harbour an ambition to live in Berlin one day).

    How is the IVF going? Did your 10 follicules deliver? Are you in the waiting for things to go back in stage?

    Finch, yes lots of the scenarios you imagine are on the never-never but I still think it is interesting to talk them through.

    Areyoukiddingme, Oh this is getting philosophical – is intention rather than the act what makes something evil? I reckon I’ll be with you in purgatory for a few millenia which should be long enough to get to the bottom of that.

    Fragmentedhopes, the thought of these things isn’t very nice – and I absolutely agree, the thought of disposing of them is abhorrent to me.

    I know, Rambler! you forget how Germany is still shaped by their past.

    Martin, I had to read your comment twice, first time I read defecation … which probably isn’t that far off the mark.

    Well I didn’t want to say at the time, Twangy, but I do usually expect people to throw themselves prostrate on the floor when they meet me. Next time?

    Adele, there seem to be a lot of us Fenians about! But you right, this is one decision that can very easily be put on ice.

    Kelly, quite, waste not want not and all that.

    Betty M, I know, I joked about it but the Catholic church’s stance on contraception has my blood boiling.

    The Cat Lady, yes, there is lots of room for improvement (Oh! I totally wrote that before realising I was referencing my own blog there) in IVF stats.

    Barb, sounds like you have a tough balancing act with your in-laws – good luck.

    Conceptionally Challenged, no it doesn’t get any easier, but yeah the comments were fascinating weren’t they?

  19. Well, If my hub and I were in that situation (we don't have the money for IVF and haven't considered it an option yet), then we would certainly tick the donate box. I wouldn't want my embryo's to be researched on..that makes me sad thinking about it..maybe it is selfish, yes, but I just can't help thinking that. I know that it can help but I just couldn't bring myself to let that happen. Donation, certainly though. Your entries always make me giggle..the part where you say "Believe me, the husband and I have conjugalled with the best of them (and more importantly with each other)," nearly had me rolling around on the floor with laughter! You have such a great sense of humor, and even though all of your post's are serious, you still embed a bit of lightheartedness into them and I love that!


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