Sebastian's Point is a weekly column written by one of our members regarding timely events or analysis of relevant ideas, which impact the Culture of Life. All regular members are invited to submit a column for publication at firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns should be between 800 to 1300 words and comply with the high standards expected in academic writing, including proper citations of authority or assertions referred to in your column. Please see, Submission Requirements for more details.
The Beatitudes and the Pro-Life Concerns with IVF
Katie Breckenridge, M.S. | 30 June 2022
As evidenced by the outrage from abortion advocates[i] over the overturning of Roe, we live in a society focused on the pursuit of happiness. While non-sequiturs such as “How many children have you adopted?” are out in full force, there’s something else that’s worrying those who play trial and error with human lives in order to achieve their desires, and this is the fear of possible restrictions upon the IVF process.[ii] Why is this threat a concern? The taking of innocent life is part and parcel of the IVF process, and if life is rightly defined by states as beginning at fertilization, then certain components of the process will be limited or eliminated altogether.
The steps of the IVF process include the creation of several unique embryonic human beings whose little lives begin in a petri dish. These lives are then subjected to preimplantation screenings,[iii] a trial-and-error transfer process, and the “leftovers” are discarded, destroyed through scientific research, indefinitely frozen, or placed within the injustice of embryo adoption.[iv]
The fertility industry profiting from the commodification of human lives is nothing new. As a children’s rights advocate, I am frequently reminded of that through news of “equal surrogacy laws,”[v] the creation of “savior siblings,”[vi] and other injustices,[vii] such as the use of donor gametes.[viii] How do we get these situations? We focus too heavily on what Roman Catholic bishop Robert Barron, referencing St. Thomas Aquinas, refers to as the “negative beatitudes,” the shallow blessings of merely earthly happiness. The fertility industry’s fears should be a call to us to refocus on the holy joy that can only be found in the “positive beatitudes,” those full and joyful blessings of God-aspiring happiness that create a culture which recognizes and celebrates the humanity of preborn children—beginning from the moment of fertilization.
The world tells us that we should chase happiness, but what is happiness? Thomas Aquinas tells us that there is no happiness outside of God, and perfect happiness cannot be achieved in this lifetime, for “...happiness concerns obtaining[ix] our absolute perfection, which by definition can only be found in the absolute Being, which is God.”
The first positive beatitude[x] on which to focus to strive to reach this absolute perfection is “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” God is mercy and love, and showing mercy and compassion allows us to be vessels of God’s merciful love and receive His divine mercy ourselves. We will become more joyful and filled with life when participating in the divine life of mercy and love. The second beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” tells us that we need to always strive to only desire one thing in our lives, and that is God’s will. When we focus on anything other than God’s will for our lives while searching for meaning, we often end up disappointed. Similarly, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” means that we should focus on God’s will and strive to do that which is right, or righteous, every day. When hungering and thirsting after our own desires and anything other than righteousness, we will not be truly satisfied nor experience peace and joy. The final positive beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” reminds us to live the truth with an attractive joy and peace, which is a consequence of becoming a carrier of divine mercy, as opposed to being an embittered person who holds onto resentments and envies.
The four “negative beatitudes” focus on what we often substitute[xi] for God: wealth, pleasure, power, and honor, and these are precisely what Jesus gave up on the cross while humbling himself and showing ultimate divine mercy for our sake. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” is a reminder to detach from material possessions in order to properly “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” The second negative beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” is not being addicted to pleasurable feelings, but rather, setting aside the seeking of pleasurable feelings to focus on the will of God, and, as Bishop Barron states,[xii] “This detachment allows us to await the voice of God, which we will then be able to freely say ‘yes’ to.” The third negative beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” tells us not to pursue worldly power as an ultimate end, as being[xiii] “Meek [and] unaddicted to worldly power, you can become a conduit of true divine power to the world.” If we obtain power, we will know what to do with it if we are seeking the will of God. The last negative beatitude, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” seeks the honor of God instead of the honor of the world. Not seeking the approval of others makes room for God’s divine mercy to flow through us, allowing us to become channels of grace and peacemaking.
How can we apply the beatitudes to the need to restrict the use of reproductive technologies? We must ponder the following questions: Is it truly merciful to intentionally create our children in laboratories, knowing that they will not all survive the process, and many will be left behind in freezers? These children, who are meant to be “begotten, not made” through the conjugal, one flesh act of holy matrimony, deserve more dignity than to have their lives treated as scientific experiments. Are we seeking the will of God when we put our desire to have children before all else in our lives, or does our desire to have children become a god, making it harder to decipher what God’s will truly is in our lives? When we use our wealth to manufacture families to our desire[xiv] and use women’s bodies as our own personal incubators[xv] no matter the cost to the children, are we seeking righteousness? Do we often seek the approval of others when feeling ashamed that we are unable to have biological children? Where are we seeking our happiness?
When we pursue the negative beatitudes too severely, making them idols and seeking self-fulfillment at the cost of the lives of others, we are not reflecting the self-sacrificial mercy and love of God to our children. We must struggle harder as followers of Christ towards the perfection God intends for each of us.
Katie Breckenridge, M.S.
External Affairs Liaison
Them Before Us