March 20, 2009

Physician ethicist highlights ethical problems with in vitro fertilization

By Sean Gallagher

Dr. Gary Wright, an ethicist, anesthesiologist and consultant in palliative care at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, said in an interview with The Criterion that there are many ethical pitfalls to in vitro fertilization beyond the fundamental fact that it takes the creation of new life away from where the Church teaches that God intended it to happen—in the marital embrace between a husband and wife.

He said that it is a “market-driven industry” where there is great potential for compromising the doctor-patient relationship.

“It’s a wholly unregulated industry,” Wright said. “It is one that does not, by and large in the United States, involve medical insurance. The majority of people that are seeking this treatment are doing so by paying for it out of pocket.”

He also commented on how society responds to mothers who, through in vitro fertilization, bear five, six, seven or more children in one pregnancy, a practice that he said puts both the children and the mothers at grave risk.

“We create celebrities around these multiple births,” Wright said. “We have these women on ‘Oprah.’ Companies come and donate diapers and formula. Diane Sawyer goes out and interviews the Dilly septuplets.

“While we want to embrace the successes in neonatology [and] in maternal and fetal medicine, I think we want to be very careful with the way we celebrate these types of deliveries.”

According to Wright, a set of presuppositions very different from those taught by the Church underlies the arguments of those who promote in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem-cell research.

“They’re assuming that man is an arbiter of his own procreation,” he said. “That’s the fundamental thing that drives most secular ethics in this [field].

“This [approach] says that science and technology should be used for the service of man and even in the service of creating life. [But] just because you have the ability to do something doesn’t mean that you should do it.”

On the other hand, Wright said that the Church goes beyond simply opposing the practice of in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem-cell research and actually strongly encourages medical research, in related fields, something that he said is not widely acknowledged in public discussions on the matter.

“We need to define ourselves ethically and morally for what we stand for and not what we stand in opposition to,” Wright said. “ … We are not opposed to medical research.

“We are not opposed to the development of unique therapeutic endeavors that will save and prolong lives. What we are opposed to is the destruction of innocent life, and we’re in opposition to the use of embryonic stem cells for the sole purpose of medical therapy.” †

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