God’s plan for marriage and family
We’ve encountered a brave new world of sci-fi and moved into an absurd reality. . .
There really shouldn’t be a need for the Vatican to produce a document explaining what marriage is and how babies come to be. However, we live in a world which can no longer see reality for what it is. I once listened to a week of lectures on human sexuality by an Anglican theologian from Cambridge. Never once did he mention children in relation to sex.
When I asked him at the end of his fifth lecture why he had never mentioned children in relation to human sexuality, he declared, “My good man, you can’t expect me to cover everything in a week!” No. Not everything. But how about the reason why God created sex in the first place?!
Another time I was having lunch with a “Catholic” homosexual activist who wanted to legalize gay “marriage.” He expressed the desire to have children and a family. Finally I said, “Look, don’t you think God has a plan for the way children should be brought into the world and a family established?” “Well, I used to,” he replied. He may have called himself a Catholic, but he was in fact a nonbeliever. If God doesn’t have a plan for the way in which he wants the crown of his creation to be brought into the world, it’s hard to imagine his having a plan for anything.
Dignitas Personae (DP), the Vatican document issued last December, deals fundamentally with bioethical issues at the beginning of life. It reminds us that God does indeed have a plan for human procreation and families.
The Church was compelled to provide this teaching in our day when a woman will carry in her womb a child engendered by her husband’s sperm and her sister’s (or a stranger’s) egg; when parents will engender their children in a glass dish, perform genetic tests on those embryonic children, and then destroy the ones who are the wrong sex; when human beings will be brought into being in glass dishes for the sole purpose of being experimented upon and then destroyed; when over 500,000 embryonic human beings are frozen in liquid nitrogen.
We have encountered the brave new world of science fiction and moved beyond it into an absurd reality. In the face of these countless assaults on the dignity of husbands and wives, the institution of marriage, and helpless embryonic human beings, the Church tries to pull us back to reality.
When Dignitas Personae speaks of the dignity of human persons, it does so squarely in the context of marriage. “The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and the family, where it is generated in an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman” (DP I.6). There is a profound truth to the saying that when a husband and wife make love, they do not make babies. The marital act is not a manufacturing process and children are not the product.
A husband and wife express their love for one another physically, emotionally and spiritually in the marital act, and that act may or may not be blessed with the gift of life. In Latin, the gift of life is Donum Vitae, the name of the 1987 Vatican document which analyzed the ethics of various means of overcoming infertility. Donum Vitae (DV) taught that any attempt to overcome infertility which replaced the personal loving act of a husband and wife was immoral.
Such attempts at engendering children by eliminating the marital embrace have invariably led to children being treated as manufactured products, subject to quality control and liable to destruction if they do not meet sufficiently high standards.
In vitro fertilization takes place in a glass dish. The healthiest ones are chosen for implantation; the others discarded. If too many to be carried safely take hold in the uterus, the weakest are killed. If a surrogate mother who has been artificially inseminated by a “contracting” couple is carrying a defective baby, the “contracting” couple can order her to abort it. If she does not, the contract is voided, and she’s left with the financial responsibility of raising the child. The child’s father, who artificially inseminated the “surrogate” mother, would subsequently have no legal or financial obligations vis-à-vis the child or the mother. When one departs from God’s plan for marriage and family, there is suffering and injustice.
Dignitas Personae is careful about how it refers to the act of bringing a human being into the world. Human beings do not reproduce. Lower animals do that. Human beings procreate — they co-create with God. They do not act alone!
Such cooperation with God bestows a supernatural quality on the actions of our souls and bodies in the marital bed. This is not a mere human activity, but a divine one. “By taking the interrelationship of these two dimensions, the human and the divine, as the starting point, one understands better why it is that man has unassailable value: He possesses an eternal vocation and is called to share in the Trinitarian love of the living God” (DP I.8). God has a plan. Follow it.
John M. Haas is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.