Of the many cultural issues which set Catholics at odds with the prevailing culture. IVF is one of the most problematic. But recent developments that are emerging as Stonewall launches its latest campaign offer evidence that Catholics were right to have strong reservations about the principle, and also what it becoming a new practice.
It may not have emerged on your twitter or Facebook feed yet, since only a minority of our readership are likely to have trained the algorithms to keep them informed of Stonewall’s campaigns, but Stonewall is inviting all civilised people to write to their MP to support their call for ‘Free IVF -FOR-ALL (gay couples).’
This takes place in the increasingly difficult context of ever longer waiting lists for routine surgery. The elderly face pain and disability stretching ever longer.
There are not enough resources to go round. But there is no awareness in Stonewall that their demands for the expensive and resource draining IVF treatment within the NHS, are at the expense of people in pain. People who might perhaps be thought to be more vulnerable and needy even than the LGBT++ couples who seek to acquire children.
They have a point when they draw attention to the fact that some Clinical Commissioning Groups have policies which require same sex couples to pay for their first three attempts. Stonewall point out that they don’t apply the same rules to heterosexual couples both of whom will be the biological parents.
So this does constitute a prioritising of one group over another. But it is no great surprise that even the secular mind might choose to prioritise two people having their own biological child over two people only one of whom is the real parent.
The acquisition of children was always a problematic part of the gay marriage debate. From the point of view of gay men and lesbians, one could sympathise without having to agree with their determination to use surrogacy to draw children around them to make them feel more like the family that their biological sterility as a couple in reality precluded.
But the ethical argument presented by the LGBT++ community went very little further than “if you, the wider society, don’t consent to this, you are guilty of discrimination and probably homophobia.”
Secular society has been too supine over these accusations. It placed sentimentality before analysis. The illegitimate purloining from therapy of the notion of phobia has always been a dangerous underhand mechanism to introduce political thought crime. We should have all resisted it long ago. Our failure to do so has had the most serious implications for the asphyxiation of free speech.
The outlawing of any kind of discrimination is equally dangerous and unwelcome. There has to be healthy discrimination that we welcome just as there is biased discrimination we repudiate.
The very foundations of faith require us to engage in a very serious act of responsible discrimination. Belief in our God is predicated on a recognition of the conflict between good and evil. It is the first step in faith involves an act of choosing for God and against evil. This is a foundational act of discrimination from which a great deal more discrimination will follow.
Christianity would be impossibly constrained if we continue to accept that any discrimination should be outlawed and disapproved of. But Perhaps that was always the point in the culture wars.
At the root of monotheism is the discrimination between good and evil. Moreover, beyond the religious landscape, the capacity for sensible discrimination lies at the heart of any sane attempt to choose between the counterfeit and the genuine.
Moving past the accusation that not providing free IVF for all is an act of discrimination, other ethical issues have presented themselves.
The first is a defence of the rights of children (yet again.)
Conceiving children is an act of co-creation with God. It is primarily the bestowing of life on new human beings and not a means of shoring up the existential needs of grown-ups. Anything else runs the danger of children become commodities. (The catechism warns of just this:- “these techniques (infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other.” CCC 2376)
This commodification of children that ought to have rung alarm bells for us nearer the beginning of the process.
None of us (as far as we know) ask to be born. But if there was any human right that deserved to go to the top of the list of potential values that needed defending, having access to one’s biological mother and father should be at the top of the list.
Beyond this primary right, there are functional issues too. We know that having access to our biological parents is a vital element in self-understanding, in the same way that we also know that having both male and female role models in a mother and father as parents is essential in giving us the capacity to form healthy and balanced relationships with both sexes as we grow up.
IVF poses the most serious questions to a society that finds it difficult to go beyond the notion of ‘you do something simply because you can.’
There is something disturbingly dysfunctional and incoherent in a society that on the one hand destroys millions of viable embryos every year through the widescale practice of abortion, never has enough children to satisfy the needs of heterosexual parents who are desperate to adopt, and at the same time supports the enormously expensive practice of IVF, not only with straight couple who sadly have difficulty conceiving, but for same sex couples for whom conception will always exclude one of them from being a real parent and deprive a child of access to one of its biological parents.
Stonewall has already recently found itself in philosophical as well as political trouble. In prioritising Trans rights, it has been accused of abandoning its lesbian constituency. There was always an incoherence hidden within what critics have called its ‘alphabet soup’. But in pushing free IVF for all gay couples it discriminates not only against the elderly unable to get operations to manage their pain, but also against the children is it trying to have created in the petri dish who will never know both biological parents.