Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

And Two Shall Become One

August 16th, 2011, Promulgated by Nerina

No, I’m not talking about marriage, here, but about the practice of “selective reduction” especially in regards to twin pregnancies.  I found an incredibly disturbing article at the New York Times discussing this morally problematic practice which has seen an increase in use.  It is a lengthy article, but it raises many of the moral and ethical points that the Church, in Her wisdom, cautions the faithful about regarding reproductive technologies.

The article begins by sharing the story of “Jenny,” (all of the subjects requested anonymity in the article) a 45 year old woman 14 weeks pregnant with twins who chose pregnancy reduction.  She spent 6 years pursuing various fertility options and says:

Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure, (keep in mind that Jenny pursued fertility treatment for years which I’m sure stressed the family finances mightily, she already has two children and she is 45 years old.  What motivated her to pursue this pregnancy given these conditions?)

She goes on to add:

If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with(emphasis mine), and this became yet another thing we could control. (At least with this comment she is being honest about how children are now viewed as a commodity – to be obtained on a person’s schedule, at his or her convenience and according to his or her plan.  Also note that she is, in essence, killing another person’s baby, not her own, since an egg donor was used).

In 2004, the Pontifical Academy for Life published a final communique summarizing the symposium  “The Dignity of Human Procreation and Reproductive Technologies.  Anthropological and Ethical Aspects.”  In it, the Academy noted the following points:

  • over 1 million children are believed to have been conceived through IVF technology since the birth of the first IVF baby in 1978;
  • despite the economic and medical resources committed to increasing the effectiveness rates of ART (assisted reproductive technology), little progress has been made.  The Academy further suggests that if the same rates of success were applied to other medical technologies, they would be deemed “technical failures.”
  • many couples, placing their hope in such technologies, despite the low success rates, often suffer greatly when ART fails (not to mention the moral dilemmas faced and the financial impact of pursuing ART)
  • many human lives are lost to ART because of the excessive numbers of embryos created and ultimately lost in pursuit of a successful implantation
  • ART does nothing to address the underlying issue of sterility among western couples but rather touts itself as a the answer to infertility
  • a new mentality has developed leading some to believe that  ” ART constitutes a preferential route – compared to the “natural” route – to bring a child into this world, because it is possible through these techniques to exercise a more effective “control” over the quality of the conceived child in line with the wishes of those who ask for such a child.”  The Academy further noted: ” All this works in favour of seeing the child obtained through the use of ART as being on the same level as a “product” whose value in reality depends in large measure on its “good quality”, which for its part is subjected to severe controls and careful selection.(which brings us back to the NYT article)

Returning to Jenny’s story:

Jenny’s decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. (Got that?  Terrified her.  Was she really so naive to have thought twins was not a possible outcome given the increased incidence of multiples with ART and IVF?  Or did she anticipate pursuing reduction as part of the pregnancy plan?  Did the fact that she was carrying another woman’s children make it an easier decision?  Now, as a 44 year old woman myself with 5 children, I can definitely appreciate how daunting raising twins at this time in my life would be but I also know that I am not in control of this situation.  God is.  Children are a gift.  We have to view them this way or we end up casting off the inconvenient or imperfect ones.)

Jenny basically goes on to justify killing one of the babies because she wants to make sure she has enough energy, attention and material things for her existing children and the remaining child in the pregnancy.   The author of the article writes:

Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love. Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. (Since Jenny is already a parent I don’t know how she deceived herself with this reasoning.  As any parent I’ve ever talked to will say, love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.  I know I was amazed each time a new child was welcomed into our home by how much love I had not only for the new baby, but for my other children as well.)

Shockingly, Jenny says “This is bad (referring to the reduction), but it’s not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have,”  (Again, the human brain can do amazing things to justify any behavior.  As my 14 year old daughter concluded: “so she’s saying that being dead is better than having to wear hand-me downs?)

Interestingly, Jenny and her husband told no one about their decision and plan to keep it that way and this approach is quite common in those couples that pursue pregnancy reduction.  One couple in this article were very divided about the procedure but ended up compromising when the husband said he didn’t want to see ultrasounds of the twins and he didn’t want to be in the room during the reduction procedure.  As long as he didn’t have to “see it” he felt he could handle the intentional death of one of his children.  His wife was happy with his absence because she didn’t “want to have to deal with this feelings.”  (Yikes.  How is that marriage going to weather?)

Several doctors who perform the procedure note that there is a certain stigma attached to it.  Though society seems to be more willing to accept a straightforward abortion, it views couples who pursue reduction as more “selfish.”  Further, women often suffer greatly after reduction with “what if” questions and wondering if they chose the right baby (often times doctors are the ones to choose which baby to kill since couples don’t want the responsibility.  It will be interesting to see if recovery groups like “Silent No More” develop in a few years to help couples deal with the guilt and regret that is likely to come.)

There is a detailed discussion of why some physicians recommend reduction with twin pregnancies and several other anecdotes involving the procedure.    The author also explores some of the ethical quandaries (e.g. sex selection, birth defects, Downs Syndrome) faced by a society that now views pregnancy and parenthood as just another consumer choice.  I’ll finish this  post with this final example of A. and her partner, a lesbian couple, looking to have children.  The author shares their story:

Because both women were 45, they tried to double their already slim chances by both being inseminated. They each tried it three times; nothing took. At their doctor’s suggestion, they chose an egg donor in her mid-20s. Both women went through I.V.F., each with two embryos transferred. Both women got pregnant, but A. quickly miscarried. Her partner (who did not want to be identified, even by an initial) gave birth to a healthy boy, whom they adore. A. did another round of I.V.F. with frozen embryos, hoping to provide their son with a sibling. It didn’t work. So when their boy was nearly a year old, both women underwent I.V.F. again. Given A.’s fertility history, the doctor predicted she had just a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant.

Eventually, both women ended up pregnant with twins.  They debated about pregnancy reduction and concluded that A. would reduce so as to increase the likeliness she would carry the remaining baby to term.  After her reduction procedure, A’s partner miscarried.  Now A. is expecting her baby in December.  When asked about fearing a miscarriage, she reflects on the whole situation in this ironic way:

I’ve come to realize there’s only so much we can control. There’s a point where you just have to let nature take its course.

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15 Responses to “And Two Shall Become One”

  1. Raymond F. Rice says:

    When I was in a Catholic grammar schools in the late forties and early fifties, I noted that we only had about three sets of twins and one set of triplets in the whole school which comprised about 530 +/- children. One set of twins was identical, one set fraternal and the triplets were two girls and one boy.

    A few weeks ago I received a newsletter from one of the Catholic school I attended and noted that there was an article stating that the school (population maybe 200) had a large number of sets of twins and one of triplets and only one set of twins was identical. It doesn’t take rocket science to see how common these birth practices are in the Church.

    The God of Nature knows what He is doing when a person cannot conceive; He will also inspire and create healing in the area of reproduction when it is done morally.

    This is a good article!!!

  2. Raymond F. Rice says:

    This article also reminds me of when I was a child and I learned that if a pig or dog or cat had “too many” piglets, puppies and or kittens, they would “cull ” them so the weaker offspring would be killed. This was so the remaining animals would be stronger, the mother not burdened, in many cases made the offspring more marketable (economics??!!)

    How far we have fallen in dealing with human beings!!

  3. anne says:

    God knows what He is doing when a person cannot conceive? That is the meanest thing I ever heard. My husband and I love each other dearly; we were married 21 yrs. ago. We were so looking forward to having a family but we can’t. If it wasn’t a sin, I would’ve killed myself. I have 4 younger sisters who have all the kids they want and their chldren have never been to Mass & will never receive their sacraments. I would like to know what God’s doing when he lets my sisters have as many babies as they want and raise them as pagans.

  4. Nerina says:

    Anne, the cross of infertility is one that I don’t bear so I can’t say I know how you feel. But it is indeed a cross and I am deeply moved by your pain. No one can explain God’s ways fully and sometimes we are left wondering “why me?” I will pray for you and for your sisters and their children.

    I posted this particular article to highlight the inherent moral and ethical problems with assisted reproductive technologies. I certainly didn’t intend to cause you or any other infertile woman pain. I don’t think Raymond meant to be “mean” but to remind us all that God’s ways are His own and that sometimes we have to throw ourselves at His feet and trust in His mercy.

  5. Raymond F. Rice says:

    Thanks Nerina

  6. christian says:

    That is s wrong to tamper with human reproduction and then choose which person in the uterus needs to be killed. Joseph Mengele was noted for his twin experiments in which he performed sadistic, cruel, and excruciating conditions for the twins. They either died because of them or they were usually killed. In some instances, he would perform his diabolical experiments on one twin while the other twin had to watch in horror. The one twin had to watch his fellow twin undergo brutal and horrendous mutilations and mutations, causing overwhelming disfigurement, pain, shock, and devastation. Joseph Mengele certainly wasn’t Christian. Joseph Mengele certainly wasn’t what I would deem as a Physician. He was a madman, a mad scientist.
    Ask any twin about the effects of losing their fellow twin. There is a special connectiveness with twins not experienced by other people. I had to research Twin Studies for a college class I took and read the texts of earlier researchers including Galton to more current sources from major Universities, including the Minnesota Twin Study. There are instances when the egg splits early in the process, forming two placentas. Although they are thought to be Fraternal Twins by the presence of two placentas, they are in fact, Monozygotic twins (Identical Twins). It has been noted that even when twins have been raised apart, not aware of the other’s existance, they have experienced phenomenum of being conected with another person or feel another part of themself is out there. It has been noted that even when twins have been raised apart, they have eery similarites.

    I can tell you from personal experience of knowing an identical twin from high school who had lost his twin brother in their 40’s, life was never the same for him again. He has had a rough time dealing with it on an ongoing basis and struggles with depression. I can also tell you from personal experience of a teenage girl that I have dealt with of the pervasive effect it had on her life to know that her twin sister had died in infancy. She carries her photo in her wallet. She has a lot of what ifs and she deals with a certain amount of depression knowing someone like her, a part of her, was left behind in a way for her, and never got the chnce to share her life with her.
    Even Dizygotic twins (Fraternal twins) share a special bond which can be as strong as the one shared by Monozygotic twins (Identical Twins).
    It is one thing to have a natural death happen among twins, but it is completely unconscionable to kill one twin for a parent(s) to make it easier on themselves. I would not want to be the parent who had to face and deal with one twin their entire life knowing I had killed the other twin.
    People get into trouble when they start “Playing God.”

    Ann: I am so grieved for you and other parents like you who cannot conceive children, yet would make wonderful parents. I do know of one couple who had tried a long time to conceive children and were not able, so they adopted a boy. Within a year later, she was pregnant with twins. I know its different from having procreated your own children, but many parents turn to adoption. I have known some Catholic families where I was astounded to find out their children were adopted. You would never know their children were adopted as they treated them as their own flesh and blood, as it should be, and they looked similiar to the adoptive parents. (In no way am I advocating that parents should only adopt children that look like them). There are many babies and children who need a good home, a loving family, and the opportunity to be raised in the Faith. I would think adoption is a great option for a couple who would have so much to give as parents and feel a void in their lives. The Catholic Family Center or Catholic Charities can help couples with adoption. I am including one link:

    Also, church programs, schools, daycare centers, and various agencies love to have adult volunteers, especially the grandmother/grandfather type to assist with the children. Both the children and the adult volunteers benefit.
    God Bless You.

  7. christian says:

    Anne: Sorry I misspelled your name in my previous post.

  8. Ben Anderson says:

    Thank you for this article. This is all just nuts!

    over 1 million children are believed to have been conceived through IVF technology since the birth of the first IVF baby in 1978;

    So if the success rate is slim, we’re talking about a significant # of lives here. Seems like the proportionality of this issue might be on par with abortion and that we need to be talking about ART more. I’ve heard stories of Christian couples doing this and I just wonder how they can consider it if they are pro-life like they claim to be. I think it’s because it hasn’t been quite as taboo as abortion in the Christian community.

  9. Mary says:

    Wow-this article is sickening.

    Interesting how the procedure is referred to as “reduction” instead of “abortion.”

    If you know anyone struggling with infertility, and especially people considering IVF, point them to these two websites:

    Dr. Hilgers treats the causes of infertility and works to heal the woman so she can conceive. NaPro Technology is effective and does not violate God’s plan for conception.

  10. Mary says:

    Not to go on an infertility tangent, but there is a whole community of bloggers who write about their own personal struggles (and sometimes triumphs) over IF. Here’s a blog I’ve followed: -she is the sister of Rachel Balducci (testosterhome). I think these blogs do a great job sharing the frustrations, questions, anger, pain… that women and men experience with IF, and they also offer a lot of hope and support. The site I listed just had sign ups for prayer buddies-women who pray for one another in secret for a short time. From what I’ve read, it is comforting to have intercessory prayer from other’s going through IF, and praying for someone else often helps women align their own desires with God’s.

  11. Nerina says:

    So if the success rate is slim, we’re talking about a significant # of lives here.

    Yes, Ben, the same thought struck me. The number of nascent human beings lost to these practices is huge not to mention the ones “kept on ice” so the parents can implant later if they choose.

    Mary, thank you for the wonderful recommendation.

  12. Richard Thomas says:

    This is a very sensitive issue. Many women are in a lot of emotional pain over the fact they are sterile.

    One of the fruits of the contraceptive era is sterilization. With birth control has erputed a whole society of young people having premarital sex, often with multiple partners. Sexually transmitted disease accompanies this kind of sex. It has been estimated that 25% of women today harbor a sexually transmitted disease. With each episode of a STD there is a 10% chance of perminent sterility. The number of sterile women and men has skyrocketed since the sexual revolution began.

    I am not saying every women was promiscuous but a vast majority of women in this group engaed in this type of sex with these disasterous consequences.

    But I don’t blame them. I blame priests, bishops and teachers who were supposed to talk to them about this and never opened their mouths.

    Many women are carriers of STD’s and don’t even knoe it.

  13. Sassy says:

    I am one of those women that used ART to get pregnant. I regret the decision and have repented, but I can tell you the pain of infertility is immense. My husband was rendered infertile from a botched surgical procedure he had as an infant. The news threw me into a deep depression, and it is still painful to deal with to this day.

    As for why we opted for ART versus adoption? The reasons are many and various. Unless you’re Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, adoptions aren’t the straightforward procedure one is led to believe.

  14. christian says:

    There is no way around it, the cross of infertility is a difficult cross to bear. Another cross which is difficult to bear is not being married and being able to have children. It is especially true of women who have always wanted to be married and have children. It is especially moving when women wait so many years, never get married, and never have children as a result of following God’s plan, and then have surgery because of a serious GYN development, causing them never to be able to have children. My sister was such a woman. My sister had numerous co-workers through the years who had multiple children while unmarried as often happens in certain subgroups in society (and spreading into all of society). She was often questioned through the years by such co-workers to why she didn’t have any children. She would respond “Ï’m not married.” They would reply with a questioning statement to what that had to do with having children. When she would respond with her Christian beliefs about marriage, sexual relations, and children, they would pretty much laugh and regard it as absurd.
    My sister’s surgery definitely rendered her unable to have children after waiting so many years for marriage and the chance for children. As I proceeded to her hospital room directly after her surgery, a little teary-eyed, with a lump in my throat, words from the Book of Wisdom echoed in my mind:
    On Childlessness
    “Yes, blessed is she who, childless and undefiled, knew not the transgression of the marriage bed;she shall bear fruit at the visitation of souls…” “Better is childlessness with virtue;…”

  15. anne says:

    Thank you all for your kind words. Nerina, I know why you posted this; it’s horrible the things going on in the world today. And it’s true, we have to put our lives in God’s hands, because He does know what he’s doing! If I did have children, I don’t know how I would’ve explained gay marriage to them and there was no escaping it – all over the news and the front page of the paper.


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