Adults in our society are “discovering” new “rights” for themselves at an astonishing rate, but to the detriment of authentic rights—including the rights of children. When I read the following paragraph from the Catechism a few years ago, it stopped me in my tracks. I have never forgotten it, perhaps because of how thoroughly the culture has.
A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception” (CCC 2378).
The Church says to adults: you have no right to a child. You have a natural and God-given right to many things, but a child is not one of them.
Why? Because a child is a gift.
We may hear that phrase bandied about, but do we really understand it? Think about the nature of any gift—it is never owed. A gift is given freely and willingly by the giver, never required and never demanded. You cannot force someone to give you a gift, or else it ceases to be a gift.
The minute an adult believes that having a child is his “right,” it follows that a child must be supplied, in whatever way necessary to attain that right. It would be a matter of justice, after all as our rights are owed to us!
But when our thinking goes there (and it has in our culture), we begin to justify the ways in which we will “get” the children we are owed; a human child is now a commodity to be made and possessed. Furthermore, once a child is “considered a piece of property,” as the Church describes it, all manner of injustice against the child is now permissible. After all, what do we do with property? Well, whatever we’d like, including buying it, selling it, manipulating it, disposing of it. Property has no rights at all.
And yet, the Church says to the child: You have the right to be created from the marital act of your own two parents. You, the child, are the only one who “possesses genuine rights” in this area of human existence.
Despite what the voices around us say, every child has a natural, primal right to be conceived from an act of lovemaking between his married mom and dad. Strip away all the clamor of noise around us, the false promises that “you can have whatever you want,” and remember what God’s design for marriage and family, “in the beginning,” looked like—a child as the fruit of his parents’ one-flesh union. This design and order has not changed.
So, because a child has a right to be “the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” reproductive interventions such as IVF, donor eggs/sperm, and surrogacy are always morally wrong. Pro-life attorney Dorinda Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund calls these procedures “human reproductive trafficking.” Legal contracts are negotiated and vast sums of money are exchanged for human gametes. The child’s conception is literally put in the hands of a third party, and biological mothers and fathers are reduced to body parts to be rented, bought, or sold.
The truth of this is not easy for many to hear today. After all, what could be wrong with the desire to have a child, especially infertile couples of good will who desperately want a baby and have no intention of discarding “excess” embryos during an IVF cycle or “selectively reducing” (i.e., aborting) one or more children once multiples are implanted? The answer is that there is nothing wrong with the desire. The desire of a husband and wife to have a child is holy and good. But their good intention does not justify the use of evil means. (See the Catechism 1750-1761.)
Infertility is a heavy cross, and infertile couples certainly may avail themselves of any and all moral reproductive technologies available to treat or cure their infertility so that they might conceive and bear a child naturally. This could include hormonal therapies or drugs to stimulate ovulation or aid embryo implantation, or holistic approaches (such as NaPro Technology) that address and attempt to heal the underlying problem or pathology, something artificial reproduction cannot do.
For a couple who cannot conceive a child even after treatments (or who would prefer to forego treatment), adoption is a beautiful option. Some might wonder: Doesn’t adoption treat a child as a “right” not a gift? And what of the fact that an adopted child does not stay with the couple who conceived him? First, we remember that adoption is about the needs of the child, not about fulfilling the desires of the adults (although that would be a happy consequence). Adoption is, therefore, a restoration of what has been lost to a child. Again, it is the child who possesses the rights here, not the adults.
The other fundamental human right the child possesses, according to the Catechism, is the right “to be respected as a person from the first moment of conception.” That “supreme gift of marriage,” a new human person, is a life sacred and inviolable, just like the rest of us. Every child conceived is made to love and be loved, never to be used, certainly never to be killed. This reality affirms and protects not only the dignity of the child, but the dignity of each person, and of marriage, too.
God’s creation and his laws are beautiful because they form a tapestry of truth. We may get confused living in a relativistic and consequentialistic culture, but when we back up, when we clear our minds and open our hearts to first principles, things fall into place and we can see the beauty of God’s perfect design.