Our society generally uses the term “reproductive rights” to refer to the options that should be made available to a woman insofar as she is a potential (or sometimes actual) mother. The Catholic Church teaches that mothers and fathers and children all have rights regarding the manner of their reproduction. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a husband and wife have the “right to become a father and a mother only through each other” (CCC 2376). In the same paragraph, the Catechism refers to “the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.” Both the rights of the parents and the rights of the child, according to CCC 2376, can be violated by the use of reproductive technologies. Here is the full paragraph, which quotes from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, Donum Vitae:
Technologies that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques infringe upon the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ “right to become a father and a mother only through each other.
In what follows, I will expound upon this teaching by commenting upon the rights of the child and the spouses that are referred to in the Catechism.
The Rights of the Child
“The child’s right to be born of a father and a mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage” touches the heart of the Church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality. The stable and exclusive union between husband and wife is the proper place for sexual activity largely because it is the proper setting for the rearing of children. The kind or reproductive technologies referred to in CCC 2376 intrude upon the exclusivity of the marital union. A child conceived by an anonymous biological father or born to a surrogate mother is deprived of the unambiguous identity of being the child of one father and one mother in the security of one family. A child has a right to a family in which he or she is the fruit of the love of a husband and wife who become a mother and a father in the expression of their exclusive union. The right on the part of the child implies a corresponding obligation on the part of the parents. They are morally obliged to conceive children only through their shared acts of conjugal love and free from intrusive technologies or third parties.
The Rights of the Parents
The rights of spouses “to become a father and mother only through the other” are implicit in the vows they make at their wedding. Fidelity to those vows requires that their sexual relationship be exclusive. Even if they were to agree to do otherwise, their conduct would betray the vows they made to each other before God. Fidelity also requires that their child bearing be the fruit of that exclusive relationship. Even if they were to agree to bring in a third party to effect the fertilization or gestation of their child, it would be a violation of their vows and an intrusion into the exclusive relationship that is proper to husband and wife. A husband and wife have mutual rights and obligations that are definitive of their marriage. Among them are the right and obligation of both to become father and mother only through each other.
Husbands and wives have the right and obligation to give and receive the exclusive conjugal love by which a child might be conceived. They do not, however, have the right to conceive a child. Husbands and wives are right to want to have children. That is a natural and praiseworthy desire. But the desire that is praiseworthy is the desire to receive a child as a gift – a gift from God received through the mutual giving of husband and wife – not the desire to receive a child as an entitlement. Sadly, by asserting this false right to a child, potential parents can be inclined to make use of reproductive technologies in ways that violate the true rights of both parents and children to be gift and family only through each other.