Co-Creators with God the Creator: The Miracle of Birth
In his encyclical letter on the care for creation, Pope Francis raises the spiritual dimension of the relationship between creativity and power. “Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads,” he writes. On the one hand, “technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings” (Laudato Si, 102), on the other, “our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience,” (Id., 105), and this has sometimes diminished humanity, rather than raise it up.
With the tremendous gift of human creativity comes great responsibility. Matching the power of the human mind with our role as stewards of what belongs to God the Creator is the exercise of discipleship. As disciples, we act in collaboration with the will of God for effecting his plan for the world and its people.
At present, this insight is of utmost importance to the way in which we think about the technology available for the creation of human life and also the manipulation of human life in its origins. Saint John Paul II, in his encyclical on the vocation and mission of the laity wrote that today “humanity is in the position not only of observing, but even exercising a control over human life at its very beginning and in its first stages of development” (Christifideles Laici, 39).
At the heart of the question of the right use of technology in supporting human life and birth is the fundamental truth that God is the author of all human life. It is God who first wills the creation of a new life and invites, through the sacrament of marriage, a man and a woman to be co-creators, but only as sharers in what God has already willed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (CCC 2258, citing Donum Vitae, Introduction, 5).
Pastorally speaking, questions related to pregnancy and the origin of life, particularly those faced by couples struggling with infertility, are some of the hardest and heart-wrenching. As a people of faith, we are pro-life and we rejoice in every baby as a gift from God, welcome even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Nevertheless, while couples may have good intentions, it is neither a moral good nor an authentically human act to separate the act of procreation from the marital act of love, or to otherwise treat life as a dehumanized object of technology created by strangers in a laboratory. It is a violation of human dignity to be made a “test-tube baby.” Every human being has the fundamental right to be conceived by purely human means and within marriage.
Previously, I have written about how in some sectors today children are viewed as burdens to be disposed of, commodities to be trafficked in, or as objects of experimentation for the benefit of others. Now, I want to specifically address surrogacy parenting inasmuch as legislation is being proposed in the District of Columbia, Maryland and elsewhere to regulate the “business” of surrogacy.
Catholic teaching is clear: surrogacy parenting “is contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person” (Donum Vitae, Part II, A3). Such commercialization of pregnancy not only compromises the dignity of the mother by treating her as merely a womb for hire, it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and raised by his / her own parents. Rather than respecting the inviolable dignity of the child that has been created, surrogacy opens up a playing field in which the human person is objectified, bought and traded as any other thing to be acquired.
In being open to life, we have to recognize that we are not the authors of life. Any technological or medical methods for making life possible – to be truly human and respectful of human dignity – must be exercised in a spirit of stewardship for God’s plan for life. As Pope Francis writes, “The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality (Laudato Si, 75).