By  Richard M. Doerflinger

July 31, 2015

The breaking news about Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in the body parts of aborted children has attracted many appalled reactions, and rightly so.  PP’s medical director was caught on video, discoursing callously over lunch about adapting the killing procedure to obtain the “intact” organs that researchers want.  More such videos are being released that will deserve a response – not least, perhaps, by Congress.

But even as that scandal garnered public attention, a smaller drama involving human life unfolded in Washington D.C. – smaller because few people “outside the Beltway” knew of it, and because it concerned the smallest of our fellow humans.

For a while this past month it seemed the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee would urge Congress, for the first time in history, to require American taxpayers to pay for creating, manipulating and destroying human embryos in the laboratory.

This of course was not how the proposal was described by its sponsor, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). She said her bill, S. 469, would give wounded veterans “the opportunity to have children.”  But the VA health system already covers all forms of fertility assistance – including some, like artificial insemination, not accepted by Catholic moral teaching. The one exception is that the VA system, like Medicaid and other federal health programs, does not cover in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The reasons for treating IVF differently are many.  Most private health plans don’t cover it (except in the minority of states that require such coverage), because it is a very costly “elective” procedure with a high failure rate.  There are also more important problems, having to do with the dignity of children, women and families.   
As practiced today, IVF involves an extremely high death rate for embryonic children. About 85% of those transferred to a woman’s womb are never born alive.  This does not count embryos that die in a Petri dish, are discarded as being of “lower quality,” or are frozen for later use but don’t survive the freezing or thawing process. This death rate has been alluded to by Pope Francis in some of his speeches against the “throw-away society” – and it is why Congress has barred federal funding for research using IVF at the National Institutes of Health since 1995.  There is also growing evidence that the children who are born alive have a higher risk of premature birth and some birth defects than other children.  And there are increased risks for women, especially those who receive high doses of drugs to make their bodies produce many eggs at once for the procedure.  These women, whether they are “donors” or are providing eggs for a child of their own, may develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a condition that can cause organ failure and even death.  Families have also suffered when embryos produced in the lab are mixed up and given to the wrong parents – an abuse that occurs more than most people realize (see “In Vitro Fertilization: The Human Cost,” at

When other Senators learned of these problems they turned against the bill, or prepared amendments to address their concerns -- prompting Senator Murray to denounce their objections as “a partisan effort to attack women’s health care,” and to declare on the Senate floor that her colleagues want to “turn their backs on these wounded veterans.”

The fact is that wounded veterans, and their children and spouses, deserve better than IVF.  Let us hope that more politicians will come to understand that.

Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The bishops’ resource “Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology,” and much more about their pro-life efforts, can be found at


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