BEGETTING VS. MAKING BABIES
William E. May
Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology
John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
at The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C. 20017
(A Paper for the Symposium, “Human Dignity & Reproductive Technology,”
sponsored by the John Paul II Newman Center, The Catholic Medical Association,
and The Society of Catholic Social Scientists, Chicago, Il, March 4, 2002. This paper has now been
published in the volume, Human Dignity and Reproductive Technology," ed. Nicholas Lund-Mofese and
Michael Kelly. Lanham, MD: University Publications of America, 2003, pp. 81-92." )
In October 1999, fashion designer Ron Harris’s Web site, www.ronsangels.com, caught national and international attention. On it he set up an auction of the eggs of six superstar models—portrayed in erotically seductive fashion. The bids started at $15,000 to $150,000 for each egg, plus a 20 percent commission for Harris. In the first few days following the news of this story on national television on October 25, 1999, Harris’s Web site had 5 million visits, and Harris then decided to expand the Web site, adding more supermodels, including men whose sperm would be auctioned off. Three years later (January, 2002) the Web site (pornographic in nature) boasts that it is “the most visited egg and sperm site in the world,” and that “over 5,000 articles and 500 television stations worldwide have featured Ron’s Angels.”
I have chosen to begin this paper by referring to Ron’s Angels Website and its wares to illustrate some of the more extreme and grotesquely commercial uses to which the “new reproductive technologies” have led. I acknowledge that these technologies—in vitro fertilization with embryo transfer whether homologous or heterologous, artificial insemination whether by husband or vendor, cloning, etc.—were primarily developed to help married couples, unable to conceive children through normal marital intercourse, to have “a child of their own,” and we are all familiar with the pictures of a radiantly happy couple holding in their arms the “miracle child” made possible by these new technologies. Without them these couples would still be childless, their homes empty of the joy that children can bring, their hearts aching for a child to whom they can give a home, affection, and love. The fact that these technologies can be put to bad uses in no way shows that their use is necessarily evil. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that “by their fruits you shall know them,” and on the whole the “fruits” of the new reproductive technologies seem to be happy husbands and wives delighting in the love and care they can now bestow on a child who otherwise would not even exist and children whose parents so deeply love them that they overcame tremendous obstacles, endured heavy financial burdens, and patiently suffered (particularly the mothers) the ministrations of medical experts in order to have the child they so ardently desire.
It nonetheless remains the case that these “miracle children” have been generated, not through the conjugal act that makes husband and wife one flesh, but rather through the “new reproductive technologies.” That is, these babies are not “begotten” in the act of conjugal love “proper and exclusive to spouses,” but are rather the “products” of reproductive technologies. They are “made” and not “begotten.” Thus the question can and ought to be asked, is there any significant moral difference between “making” and “begetting” babies? To answer this question I propose that we first (1) distinguish between “making” and “doing,” second (2) contrast the “begetting” of children outside of marriage with “begetting” them in and through the conjugal or marital act; and third (3) on the art of “making” babies with the help of “reproductive” technologies.
But before doing this, however, I believe it very important to point out that human babies, no matter how generated—whether through the conjugal act, the copulation of fornicators or adulterers, or by the use of the new reproductive technologies—are persons, not things. As such, they are equal in personal dignity to those who have generated them. They are priceless, because the ultimate author of their life and being is the all-holy God who wills to give to them a share in his own inner triune life.
1. The Difference Between “Making” and “Doing
Long ago Aristotle clearly distinguished between “making” and “doing,” and St. Thomas Aquinas, following the “Philosopher,” commented on the significance of this difference. In making, the action proceeds from an agent or agents to something in the external world, to a product. Autoworkers, for instance, produce cars, cooks make meals, bakers bake cakes, and so on. Such action is transitive in nature because it passes from the acting subject(s) to an object fashioned by him (or them) and external to them. In making, which is governed by the rules of art, interest centers on the product made--and ordinarily products that do not measure up to standards are discarded; they are at any rate regarded as "defective." Those who produce the product in question may be morally good or morally bad, but our interest in making is in the product, not the producer. If we did not know the identity of the producer, most of us would rather have a delicious pie made by Osama bin Laden than an indigestible concoction made by Pope John Paul II.
In "doing" the action abides in the acting subject(s). The action is immanent and is governed by the requirements of a moral virtue, prudence. If the act done is good, it perfects the agent; if bad, it degrades and dehumanizes him. It must be noted, moreover, that every act of making is also a doing insofar as it is freely chosen, for the choice to make something is something that we "do," and this choice, as self-determining, abides in us. Thus we can ask the question, are there some things that we ought not freely choose to make? Ought we, for example, freely choose to “make” babies?
2. “Begetting” Children through Heterosexual Congress, Marital and Non-Marital
Until the use of artificial insemination in the late 19th century and the development of in vitro fertilization, with its various permutations and combinations in the last quarter of the 20th human babies came into existence as the result of the heterosexual genital union of a man and a woman; and even today this is the most common way leading to the generation of human children.
The man and the woman whose genital union results in the generation of the child can be either married or not married. But it is not good for a new human life to come into existence through the copulation of nonmarried males and females. It is not good precisely because nonmarried males and females have failed to make themselves fit, through their own free choices, to receive this life lovingly, to nourish it humanely, and to educate it in the love and service of God and neighbor.
Indeed, practically all civilized societies, until very recently, rightly regarded it irresponsible for unattached men and women to generate human life through their acts of fornication; and in my opinion it is a sign of a new barbarism that many today assert the “right” of “live-in lovers” and of single men and women to have children, whether the result of their coupling or the “product” of new reproductive technologies. A great majority of children so generated end up in “fatherless families,”  and competent studies have shown that one major sociological result of children who grow up without the care of a father who loves them and their mothers is a large number of teenage youth, in particular boys, prone to violence and crime. 
Nonmarried individuals do not have the right to generate new human life precisely because they are not married. They refuse to give themselves unconditionally to one another and to respect the “goods” or “blessings” of marriage, among which are children and faithful conjugal love. Nor do nonmarried men and women have the “right” to genital sex. They do not have this right because this unique and intimate way of “touching” a human person of the opposite sex is meant to be a sign of a special union between the man and the woman engaging in it. It is meant to unite two persons who have, by their own free choice, made each other unique, irreplaceable, nonsubstitutable, nondisposable. But acts of fornication in no way unite irreplaceable, nonsubstititutable persons precisely because those engaging in them have refused to make each other irreplaceable and nonsubstitutable. Such genital acts merely join two individuals who remain replaceable, substitutable, and disposable.
But married men and women, precisely because they have freely chosen to give themselves irrevocably to one another in marriage, have by doing so made themselves fit to generate new human life. They have, by their free and self-determining choice to marry, given themselves the identity of husbands and wives who can, together, welcome a child lovingly and give it the home it needs and to which it has a right if it is to take root and grow. Because they have committed themselves to one another and to the “goods” or “blessings” of marriage, they have capacitated themselves to welcome the child lovingly, to nourish it humanely, and to educate it in the love and service of God and neighbor.
Here an analogy may be useful. I do not have the right to diagnose sick people and to prescribe medicines and courses of action to help them. I do not have this right because I have not freely chosen to study medicine discipline myself so that I can acquire the knowledge and skills needed to do these tasks. But doctors, who have freely chosen to submit themselves to the discipline of studying medicine and of developing the skills necessary to practice it, do have this right. They have freely chosen to make themselves fit to do what doctors are supposed to do. Similarly, married men and women have, by freely choosing to marry, made themselves fit to do what husbands and wives are supposed to do; and among the things that husbands and wives are supposed to do is to give life to new human persons and to provide them with the home they need.
In addition, married men and women have made themselves fit for and capacitated themselves to engage in the conjugal act. By giving themselves irrevocably to one another in marriage, they have made each other absolutely irreplaceable and nonsubstitutable in their lives. As the 20th century German Protestant theologian Helmut Thielicke so aptly put the matter: “Not uniqueness establishes the marriage, but the marriage establishes the uniqueness.” Thus the conjugal act truly unites two persons, one male, the other female, wo are absolutely irreplaceable and nonsubstitutable because they are married. The conjugal act is not simply a genital act between a man and a woman who just “happen” to be married. It is rather, an act that participates in the marital union itself, an act “open:” to the “goods” of marriage, to the communication of a unique kind of love, spousal or conjugal love, and to the gift of new human life. Thus, if the husband, for instance, in choosing to have sex with his wife, refuses to give himself to her in a receiving sort of way  but rather seeks simply to use his wife as a mere means of satisfying his sexual urges, he is not, in truth, engaging in the conjugal act, nor would his wife be doing so were she to refuse to receive him in a giving sort of way. 
Now when human life comes to be in and through the marital act, it comes, even when ardently desired, as a "gift" crowning the act itself. When husband and wife engage in the marital act, they are "doing" something, that is, engaging in an act open to the communication and fostering of their unique conjugal love (its "unitive" meaning) and open also to receive the gift of new human life from God should the conditions for receiving this gift be present (its “procreative” meaning). When they engage in the marital act, husbands and wives are not "making" anything: they are not "making" love, because love is not a product but is rather the sincere gift of self. Nor, should human life come as a gift crowning their personal union, do they "make" the baby. The new human life that crowns the marital act of husband and wife is surely not treated as if it were a product. The life they beget is not the product of their art but, as the Catholic Bishops of England accurately noted some years ago, is a "gift supervening on and giving permanent embodiment to" the marital act itself. When human life comes to be through the marital act, we can truly say that the spouses are "begetting" or "procreating" new human life. They are not "making" anything. The life they receive is "begotten, not made."
3. The “Art” of Making Babies by Use of New Reproductive Technologies
But when new human life comes to be as a result of artificial insemination (heterologous or homologous) or by in vitro fertilization and its varied combinations and permutations (heterologous or homologous), it is the end product of a series of actions, transitive in nature, undertaken by different persons in order to make a particular product, a human baby. The males and females involved "produce" the gametic materials which others then use in order to make the final product, the child. In such a procedure, the child "comes into existence, not as a gift supervening on an act expressive of the marital union...but rather in the manner of a product of making (and, typically, as the end product of a process managed and carried out by persons other than his parents)."  The new human life is "made," not "begotten."
Precisely because artificial insemination/fertilization, whether heterologous or homologous, is an act of "making," it is standard procedure to overstimulate the woman's ovaries so that several ova can be retrieved and then fertilized with sperm (usually obtained through masturbation), with the result that several new human beings (zygotes at this stage of development) are brought into being. Some of these new human beings are usually then frozen and kept on reserve should initial efforts to achieve implantation and gestation to birth fail. Moreover, it is not uncommon for several embryos to be implanted in the womb to enhance the probability of successful implantation and, should a too large number of embryos successfully implant, to discard the "excess" number of human lives through a procedure some euphemistically call "pregnancy reduction." Moreover, it is common, in practicing in vitro fertilization, to monitor the development of the new human life both while it is still outside the womb and afterwards to determine whether or not it suffers from any "defects." Should serious defects be discovered, abortion is frequently recommended. As a form of "making" or "producing," artificial insemination/fertilization, whether homologous or heterologous, leads to the use of these methods, for they simply carry out the logic of manufacturing products: one should use the most efficient, time-saving, and cost-saving methods available to deliver the desired product, and quality controls ought to be put in place to assure that the resulting "product" is in no way "defective."
One readily sees how dehumanizing such "production" of human babies is. Human babies are not to be treated as products inferior to their producers and subject to quality controls; they are persons equal in dignity to their parents.
Many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, can understand why heterologous insemination/fertilization is not a morally good way to generate human life even if, in some highly unique situations, they might be willing to justify such ways of generating human life. They recognize that when a man and a woman marry, they “give” themselves exclusively to one another and that the “selves:” they give are sexual and procreative beings. Just as they violate their marital commitment by attempting, after marriage, to “give” themselves to another in sexual union, so too do they dishonor their marital covenant by freely choosing to exercise their procreative power with someone other than their spouse, the one to whom they have “given themselves,” including their procreative power, “forswearing all others.” They likewise recognize that heterologous modes of the new reproductive technologies raise very critical and thorny issues regarding the parentage of the children so produced.
But many of these same people, including Catholics and among them some well-known theologians, note that homologous insemination/fertilization does not involve the use of gametic materials from third parties; the child conceived is genetically the child of husband and wife, who are and who will remain its parents. They also point outthat homologous insemination/fertilization does not require hyperovulating the woman, creating a number of new human beings in the petri dish, freezing some, implanting others, monitoring development with a view to abortion should "defects" be discovered. Nor need there even be, in the use of homologous reproduoctive technologies, the use of masturbation—a means judged intrinsically immoral by the Church’s magisterium—in order to obtain the father’s sperm, for there are nonmasturbatory ways of obstaining it (e.g., through the use of a perforated condom). According to them, if these features commonly associated with homologous insemination/fertilization are rejected, then a limited resort by married couples to artificial insemination/fertilization does not necessarily transform the generation of human life from an act of procreation to an act of reproducing. They conclude that n some instances recourse to artificial insemination by the husband or in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer is fully legitimate, since it does not seem to violate anyone’s rights but to the contrary seems to help a married couple’s love blossom into life. They reasonably demand to know what evil is being willed and done? Cannot married couples make good use of modern technologies to overcome their infertility in order to have a child of their own so long as they refuse to consider freezing “spare embryos,” aborting should some “defect” be detected, etc.?
A leading representative of this school of thought, Richard A. McCormick, S.J., argues that spouses who resort to homologous in vitro fertilization do not perceive this as the "'manufacture' of a 'product.' Fertilization happens when sperm and egg are brought together in a petri dish," but "the technician's 'intervention is a condition for its happening; it is not a cause." Moreover, he continues, "the attitudes of the parents and the technicians can be every bit as reverential and respectful as they would be in the face of human life naturally conceived."  In fact, in McCormick's view, and in that of some other writers as well, for instance, Thomas A. Shannon, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and Jean Porter , homologous in vitro fertilization can be considered as an "extension" of marital intercourse, so that the child generated can still be regarded as the "fruit" of the spouses' love. While it is preferable, if possible, to generate the baby through the marital act, it is, in the cases of concern to us, impossible to do this, and hence their marital act--so these writers claim--can be, as it were, "extended" to embrace in vitro fertilization.
Given the concrete situation, any disadvantages inherent in the generation of human lives apart from the marital act, so these authors reason, are clearly counterbalanced by the great good of new human lives and the fulfillment of the desire for children of couples who otherwise would not be able to have them. In such conditions, the argument runs, it is not unrealistic to say that in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer is simply a way of "extending" the marital act.
This justification of homologous fertilization is rooted in the proportionalist method of making moral judgments. It claims that one can rightly intend so-called "premoral" or "nonmoral" or "ontic" evils (the "disadvantages" referred to above) in order to attain a proportionately greater good, in this case, helping the couple have a child of their own. But this method of making moral judgments is very flawed and was explicitly repudiated by Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor. It comes down to the claim that one can never judge any human action morally evil because of the object freely chosen, but that one can judge an act to be morally good or morally bad only by taking into account its "object," the circumstances in which it is done, and above all the "end" for whose sake it is done. If the end for whose sake it is done is a "proportionately greater good," then the evil one does by choosing this object (e.g., making a baby in petri dish, intentionally killing an innocent person) can be morally justifiable. 
In addition, it seems to me that the reasoning advanced by McCormick and others is rhetorical; and not realistic. Obviously, those who choose to produce a baby make that choice as a mean to an ulterior end. They may well "intend"--in the sense of their "further" intention--that the baby be received into an authentic child-parent relationship, in which he or she will live in a communion of persons which befits those who share personal dignity. If realized, this intended end for whose sake the choice is made to produce the baby will be good for the baby as well as for the parents. But, even so, and despite McCormick's claim to the contrary, their "present intention," i.e., the choice they are here and now freely making, is precisely "to make a baby"; the baby's initial status is the status of a product. In in vitro fertilization the technician does not simply assist the marital act (that would be licit) but, as Benedict Ashley, O.P., rightly notes, "substitutes for that act of personal relationship and communication one which is like a chemist making a compound or gardener planting a seed. The technician has thus become the principal cause of generation, acting through the instrumental forms of sperm and ovum." 
Moreover, the claim that in vitro fertilization is an "extension" of the marital act and not a substitution for it is simply contrary to fact. "What is extended," as Ashley also notes, "is not the act of intercourse, but the intention: from an intention to beget a child naturally to getting it by IVF, by artificial insemination, or by help of a surrogate mother."  Since the child's initial status is thus, in these procedures, that of a product, its status is subpersonal. Thus, the choice to produce a baby is inevitably the choice to enter into a relationship with the baby, not as an equal, but as a product inferior to its producers. But this initial relationship of those who choose to produce babies with the babies they produce is inconsistent with and so impedes the communion of persons endowed with equal dignity that is appropriate for any interpersonal relationship. It is the choice of a bad means to a good end. Moreover, in producing babies, if the product is defective, a new person comes to be as unwanted. Thus, those who choose to produce babies not only choose life for some, but--and can this be realistically doubted?--at times quietly dispose at least some of those who are not developing normally. 
In my opinion, the reasons advanced here to show that it is not morally right to generate new human life outside the marital act can be summarized in the form of a syllogism, which I offer for consideration. It is the following:
Any act of generating human life that is nonmarital is irresponsible and violates the respect due to human life in its generation.
But artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and other forms of the laboratory generation of human life, including cloning, are nonmarital.
Therefore, these modes of generating human life are irresponsible and violate the respect due to human life in its generation.
I believe that the minor premise of this syllogism does not require extensive discussion. However, McCormick, commenting on an earlier essay of mine in which I advanced this syllogism, claims that my use of the term "nonmarital" in the minor premise is "impenetrable," because the meaning of a "nonmarital" action is not at all clear. This objection, however, fails to take into account all that I had said in that essay regarding the marital act, which is not simply a genital act between persons who happen to be married, but is the "one-flesh," bodily, sexual union of husband and wife (an act of coition) participating in or open to the goods of marriage. 
It is obvious, I believe, that heterologous insemination or fertilization and cloning are "nonmarital." But "nonmarital" too, are homologous artificial insemination/fertilization. Even though married persons have collaborated in them, these procedures nonetheless remain nonmarital because the marital status of the man and woman participating in them is accidental and not essential. Not only are the procedures ones that can in principle be carried out by nonmarried individuals, they are also procedures in which the marital character of those participating in them is, as such, completely irrelevant. What makes husband and wife capable of participating in homologous insemination/fertilization is definitely not their marital union and the act (the marital act) which participates in their marital union and is made possible only by virtue of it. To the contrary, they are able to take part in these procedures simply because, like nonmarried men and women, they are producers of gametic cells that other individuals can then use to fabricate new human life. Just as spouses do not generate human life maritally when this life (which is always good and precious, no matter how engendered) is initiated through an act of spousal abuse, so they do not generate new human life maritally when they simply provide other persons with gametic cells that can be united by those persons' transitive acts.
The foregoing reflections should suffice to clarify the meaning of the minor premise of the syllogism and to establish its truth.
The truth of the major premise is supported by everything that I have said about the intimate bonds uniting marriage, the marital act, and the generation of human life. Those bonds are the indispensable and necessary means for properly respecting human life. They safeguard respect for the irreplaceable goodness of the marital union and for new human life, which needs a home where it can take root and grow--a "home" prepared for it by the unique love of the spouses.
4. The Basic Theological Reason Why Human Life Ought to Be Given Only in the Marital Act
There is, in my opinion, a very profound theological reason that offers ultimate support for the truth, set forth in the Church's teaching, that new human life ought to be given only in and through the marital act--the act proper to and unique to spouses--and not generated by acts of fornication, adultery, spousal abuse, or new "reproductive" technologies.
The reason is this: human life ought "to be begotten, not made." Human life is the life of a human person, a being, inescapably male or female, made in the image and likeness of the all-holy God. A human person, who comes to be when new human life comes into existence, is, as it were, an icon or "word" of God. Human beings are, as it were, the "created words" that the Father's Uncreated Word became and is, precisely to show us how deeply God loves us and to enable us to be, like him, children of the Father and members of the divine family.
But the Uncreated Word, whose brothers and sisters human persons are called to be, was "begotten, not made." These words were chosen by the Fathers of the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 to express unequivocally their belief that the eternal and uncreated Word of God the Father is indeed, like the Father, true God. This Word, who personally became true man in Jesus Christ while remaining true God, was not inferior to his Father; he was not a product of the Father's will, a being made by the Father and subordinate in dignity to him. Rather, the Word was one in being with the Father and was hence, like the Father, true God. The Word, the Father's Son, was begotten by an immanent act of personal love.
Similarly, human persons, the "created words" of God, ought, like the Uncreated Word, be "begotten, not made." Like the Uncreated Word, they are one in nature with their parents and are not products inferior to their producers. Their personal dignity is equal to that of their parents, just as the Uncreated Word's personal dignity is equal to the personal dignity of his Father. That dignity is respected when their life is "begotten" in an act of spousal love. It is not respected when that life is "made," that is, is the end product of a series of transitive actions on the part of different people.
Some may think that the position taken here is cruel and heartless, unconcerned with the anguish experienced by married couples who ardently and legitimately long for a child of their own and must suffer disappointment because of some pathological condition.
I do not believe that this position is cruel, heartless, and unconcerned with the suffering of many married couples. We must bear two things in mind before looking at some possible alternatives made possible by modern medicine. The first is that husbands and wives have no right to have a child. They have no right to have a child because a child is not a thing, not a pet, not a toy, but a person of inviolable dignity. Husband and wives have the right to engage in the sort of action inwardly fit to receive new human life--the marital act. But they do not have a right to a child. Their desire to bear and raise children is noble and legitimate, but this desire does not justify any and every means to see to its fulfillment.
The second point to keep in mind is that we must be realistic and recognize that for some reasons it will not be possible for some married couples to beget a child in and through their marital act. If this is the case, then it is necessary to recognize that we must all carry our cross. But we must remember that Jesus in our Simon of Cyrene, and that he will help us bear any cross he may give us.
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