Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food . . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3: 17-18)
Struggling with infertility and miscarriage is a great burden for couples, especially when they so deeply desire to live out their vocation to welcome the gift of children from God. All may seem hopeless. In moments such as these, remember that despite infertility, couples "can have a married life that is filled with love and meaning" (see Married Love and the Gift of Life). It is important to remember that infertile couples are fruitful when their married love is "open to others, to the needs of the apostolate ... the needs of the poor...the needs of orphans" and to the world (St. John Paul II, Homily, 1982; quoted in Married Love and the Gift of Life).
As married couples who are faced with infertility seek medical solutions, they will find additional challenges. Although "some solutions offer real hope for restoring a couple's natural, healthy ability to have children," the general medical approach to and procedures for infertility "pose serious moral problems by failing to respect the dignity of the couple's marital relationship, of their sexuality, or of the child" (see Life Giving Love in an Age of Technology see also
The Church, with sincere compassion and empathy for couples struggling with infertility, offers guidance and hope through her teachings on how to understand and approach infertility in a way that reverences and protects the dignity of the human person and respects God's divine plan for married love.
The male and female bodies are made to be able to procreate together. When infertility is apparent, the challenge is to diagnose and address problems so these bodies can function as they should—and there is no moral problem in doing this, any more than there is in other medical treatments to restore health. (Life Giving Love in an Age of Technology)
Today, there are a variety of moral approaches to treat suspected infertility. For example, learning how to pinpoint the fertile window to maximize the chance of conception with NFP use is very effective for some problems (to contact an NFP provider, see Learn NFP). And, some medical procedures or treatments such as hormonal medications, surgery to repair damaged or blocked Fallopian tubes, and other restorative treatments that "do not substitute for the married couple's act of loving union" can help husband and wife to conceive a baby (see Life Giving Love in an Age of Technology).
Throughout this struggle, husband and wife can turn to the Lord God of all creation and ask that His will be done. This great act of faith, accompanied by striving to seek ways to live the fruitfulness of their conjugal union, including prayerful discernment about adoption or foster parenting, will fortify spouses and help them live their vocation in the love of the Holy Spirit.
Below are resources in which the Church provides theological and pastoral directives on how to approach the challenge of infertility in accordance with the dignity of the human person and reverence for God as the author and creator of life.
Catholic Church Teaching
The Holy See
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997
This comprehensive treatment of the Church's teaching touches upon every facet of the Christian faith. While references to marriage and family can be found throughout the Catechism, in order to understand Catholic teaching on infertility, it would be helpful to first read about the "fruitfulness" of marriage at 2366-2372 and the "gift of the child" at 2373-2379. The subject of infertility and medical techniques can be found at 2375-2377. A discussion on the immorality of artificial insemination can be found at 2376. The suffering of infertility is treated in 2374.
Dignitas personae (On Certain Bioethical Questions) 2008, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this document grapples with a number of bio-ethical questions raised in response to modern technological advancements in the field of human fertility and infertility. Using the principles of Catholic moral teaching, the document brings clarity and truth to the debates surrounding both procreation and genetic manipulation.
Donum vitae (Instruction on Respect for Human Life) 1987, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
This text is the predecessor to the above document, Dignitas personae. Written in the midst of significant medical innovation on assisted reproductive technology, Donum vitae defends the gift and dignity of human life (particularly in its earliest stages), against the onset of intrusive and immoral scientific innovation.
Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology, 2009, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
This pastoral teaching on marriage and infertility brings Catholic moral principles into the discussion on modern reproductive technologies. The bishops defend the dignity of procreation, reserving it to the conjugal union of spouses. The moral and immoral means of remedying infertility are discussed.
Ethical Directives for Catholic Hospitals (Sixth Edition) 2018, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This document provides instruction for Catholic hospitals and health care professionals regarding the mission and scope of their work. Addressing both pastoral and moral issues alike, the bishops provide guidance on the standards expected of those in Christian health care. The Directives include instruction on specific moral dilemmas encountered in the health care field including those that pertain to human fertility and life.
Resources for Catholic Couples
Please be advised that the content below represents the thought of the authors. Links to external websites are provided solely for the user's convenience. Reference to these sites do not imply USCCB official endorsement.
Please be patient with us as we continue to develop this page. Send your resource suggestions to email@example.com.
- Diamond, Eugene F. A Catholic Guide to Medical Ethics: Catholic Principles in Clinical Practice. Palos Park, Il: The Linacre Institute, 2001.
- Evans, Debra. Without Moral Limits: Women, Reproduction, and Medical Technology. Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2000.
- Flowers, Lois. Infertility: Finding God’s Peace in the Journey. Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2003.
- Guarendi, Ray. Adoption, Choosing It, Living It, Loving It. Cincinnati, Oh.: Servant Books/ St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
- Lund-Molfese, Nicholas C. and Michael L. Kelly (Eds.). Human Dignity and Reproductive Technology. New York, NY: University Press of America, 2003.
- May, William E. Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life (2nd Edition). Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Books, 2008.
- Ruhi-Lopez, Angelique and Carmen Santamaria. The Infertility Companion for Catholics. This book offers spiritual and practical support for Catholic couples facing infertility. Visit Catholic Infertility Journey.
- Saake, Jennifer. Hannah’s Hope: Seeking God’s Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Adoption Loss. Colorado Springs, Co: NavPress, 2005.
- Schalesky, Marlo. Empty Womb, Aching Heart. Bloomington, Mn: Bethany House Publishers, 2001.
"Begotten, Not Made:" Further Reflections on the Laboratory Generation of Human Life ,
William E. May, PhD
Dr. May writes about the morality of in vitro fertilization and the necessity of the marital act to be procreative rather than reproductive.
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