The Morality of Artificial Insemination and Sperm Banks

Fr. Giles O.F.M.

To those accustomed to the modern techniques of animal reproduction, there is little need of an explanation of artificial insemination. It is quite common to freeze and store the sperm from outstanding cattle and sell the sperm for insemination at a later date, perhaps even long after the donating animal has died. It also provides for the impregnation of more females than would be possible through ordinary means. Intelligently used this preserves beneficial genes for the future and greatly assists in the improvement of a species as a whole.

By selective breeding we have been able to produce animals that are better suited for the purpose of which they are raised. Thus we have cows that produce more or better milk, better quality meat; hogs that produce leaner/healthier meat, or chickens that produce better eggs and or meat, etc. Sperm Banks and the use of artificial insemination greatly assist us in this process. We are now able to breed animals that are separated by great distances simply by shipping fresh or frozen sperm. This is much more economical than shipping a bull which may be in no condition to breed immediately after being shipped. We can always have the sperm on hand and be ready to inseminate no matter when an animal goes into estrus.

This technology is not evil when used with animals as animals do not have an immortal soul. They are here for our use and development. The intelligent and moral use of this technology is a great blessing, and has provided many benefits to us. It is knowledge that God himself has given us so that we may make use of it for His greater honor and glory. The problem arises _ as with all the things that God has given us _ when we make an evil use of His gifts.

Now in the human realm, artificial insemination is often seen as an excellent tool to use in cases of couples wishing to have children but cannot due to the infertility of the husband. The solution that this provides is very obvious: obtain an anonymous donor's sperm and artificially inseminate the potential mother. This works in humans just as well as it works in animals. We have apparently removed the unacceptability of adultery as the wife has no physical contact with the father of the child. And she can enjoy all the "pleasure" of having her own child.

But the question is: Is this morally acceptable?

Simply stated the answer is NO!

Some may argue that it is not really adultery, because the individuals never even see each other. And therefore there is no moral problem. The primary purpose of Marriage and therefore of the sexual act is the begetting of children. As long as there is the union of male and female (sperm and egg) the primary purpose for Marriage and the sexual act has occurred. It really does not matter whether the fertilization occurred through natural or artificial insemination, either way the union occurs, and this union is only morally permissible between husband and wife. "Both the law of nature and the positive divine law decree that the procreation of new life may only be the fruit of marriage." "The procreative rights of married partners are exclusive, non-transferable and inalienable."("Moral Theology" Jone 749)

Adultery is defined as "sexual intercourse with the husband or wife of a third person." "Besides the grave sin against chastity, adultery contains also another grave sin against justice. If both parties to the sin are married there is a twofold injustice. This specifically additional sin is present even if the innocent husband or wife consents to the sin.(emphasis added) Should a child be born from adulterous relations there may be still another grave sin of injustice to the husband and legitimate children in as far as an innocent man will be obliged to rear another man's child and legitimate children be forced to share their inheritance with a stranger." ("Moral Theology" Jone 225)

One of the natural reasons against adultery is the legitimacy of children. The complete idea of legitimacy and paternity has been thrown out of the window. It seems that it is no longer important to know who the father of the child is. How absurd! In the use of artificial insemination with cattle it is very important to know the sire. It is this information that sparked the development and makes financially possible the continuation of the entire process. No one would pay a cent for sperm from an unknown animal.

Even on a natural level it is very important to know one's own father with certainty. Thus natural societies mandate monogamous relationships among the people. (It is true that God permitted polygyny the practice of having two or more wives, but He never permitted polyandry the practice of having two or more husbands. In polygyny the paternity and maternity are always certain, not so with polyandry.) This knowledge is important for hereditary, and medical reasons. And also for future marriage to prevent incestuous unions. Any student of biology can easily see the disastrous outcome of not preventing incest and thus not keeping a diversified gene pool.

We are humans, not just animals. We are subject to many of the same physical laws as animals, but we are also subject to supernatural laws which animals are not. God has given us laws regarding how He wants us to act. He is a jealous God and promises to "inflict punishment for their father's wickedness on the children of those who hate Him, down to the third and fourth generation." (Exodus 20, 5) I cannot imagine anyone wishing to bring into this world children that would possibly inherit the punishment of a father they do not even know. How could a mother even want children that may inherit such a punishment?

Thus it is sufficiently shone that the practice of anonymous sperm donations are not a good thing from the natural (scientific) perspective, nor from a moral perspective.

Next some may argue: what if we do know the father and he is not just an anonymous donor? I have heard of cases where a close relative has been the "donor" especially when the situation is reversed and it is the eggs that are being donated and not the sperm. In such a case it would be certain who are the biological parents. Or what if a spouse were to have "consentual" relations with a brother or sister-in-law for the purpose of having a child? After all did not the Israelites in the Old Testament do just this at times?

First of all it is important to understand that what God permits and what He approves of are two different things. For example: just because God allowed Moses to give to the Israelites the right to divorce, does not mean that He approved of it. Our Lord says very clearly that this was permitted only because of the hardness of their hearts. God tolerated this in order to avoid a greater evil (husbands killing their wives in order to be free to remarry). Thus just because we see in-laws having relations in order to bring children into this world does not necessarily mean that God was blessing this union. It only means that He permitted it.

The primary purpose of Marriage is the procreation of children. This is morally accomplished only through the physical union of a husband and wife. Relationships that procreate but are outside of marriage are immoral. As stated above it does not really matter whether the union is natural or artificial it is forbidden outside of marriage.

The Catholic Church teaches that a valid marriage cannot be contracted between blood relatives (consanguinity). Thus it is immoral for persons related by blood (to the third degree of consanguinity) to unite to have children.

The Catholic Church teaches that affinity invalidates marriage. Affinity is the relationship arising from a valid marriage of Christians and exists between the husband and the blood relatives of the wife and between the wife and the blood relatives of the husband. (c.97) Therefore unions between in-laws are clearly forbidden. Even if you were to argue that there is no physical union because it is done artificially, you cannot deny that there is a union of the sperm and egg from individuals related by marriage. This union is forbidden.

Therefore artificial insemination is not permitted with anonymous sperm, nor with sperm from near relatives _ consanguinity, nor from those related by marriage _ affinity. The next obvious choice would be from a known non-relative. This again is a union outside of Marriage and as stated above whether natural or artificial is forbidden by God.

Last there may be an argument of artificial insemination between a husband and wife. This would not be an adulterous union and appears acceptable as long as no other moral laws are broken in the process. It is permissible for a couple to use the developments of human science and technology to assist them in the fulfilling of God's laws. For example the use of the "Rhythm method" is permissible when used for the intention of having children (not for preventing them _ unless there is a serious reason and one has the permission of his/her confessor.). "Therefore artificial insemination (in a wide sense) is not forbidden if by it we mean the use of artificial means either to facilitate the natural act, or enable the natural act, performed in a normal manner, to effect conception." ("Moral Theology" Jone 749).

But, there is a problem with artificial insemination (in the strict sense) that applies to this situation and all the others above. The problem is in how the sperm is to be collected. As far as is known pollution is the only feasible way of collecting sperm for artificial insemination. This is treated in Moral Theology under the category of "Pollution." Pollution is self-abuse or masturbation, and "direct voluntary pollution is always gravely sinful." "To promote a pollution intentionally is always gravely sinful even though it is done for other ends than sexual pleasure." ("Moral Theology" Jone 228) And if the only feasible way of obtaining sperm is immoral all that follows in the process becomes immoral. Remember that the end does not justify the means. Even though the end (the desire for children) is something good, it does not justify the means (the immoral procuring of sperm).

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