For several years I have used a cartoon my course on the ethics of reproductive technology that depicts protestors in front of a stem-cell research lab condemning those who work there as antilife. The protestors hold signs that read, "Baby Killer!" "It's Murder!" and "Butcher." Down the street at the abortion clinic, the workers are noting how quiet things have gotten at their facility since the stem-ceil lab opened. After showing students the cartoon, I ask thera to imagine that an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic is substituted for the stem-cell facility. I ask students whether the cartoon still makes sense with the change. The point of the exercise is to get students to notice an important fact: vocal and strident critics of abortion and stem-cell research hardly ever make a fuss about IVF. They may criticize IVE but they rarely do so with the same rhetorical passion that characterizes condemnations of abortion or stem-cell research.
That may be about to change.
William Saletan of Slate magazine has argued, for example, that prolife advocates are "on a collision course with IVF" and predicts a nasty battle ahead. He notes that President George W. Bush's language about IVF has hardened over the past couple of years, and that the president's opposition to using embryos left over from IVF for stem-cell research, a po- sition dramatically highlighted recently by his meeting with the so-called Snowflake families who have "adopted" IVF embryos, is likely to result in efforts to restrict or ban IVE As Saletan puts the point, it's hard to see how critics of stem- cell research who refer to the destruction of embryos needed to derive embryonic stem cells as the "slaughter" of human beings "can go on tolerating the surplus creation, freezing, and disposal of millions of IVF embryos."
Although it is unlikely that the Bush administration will attempt to restrict or ban IVF, Saletan is right in thinking that some conservative prolife groups may. If a battle is brew- ing over 1VF in this country, where are Catholics likely to stand in the coming fight? If the situation in Italy is any in- dication, the hierarchy may well support efforts to control or ban IVE In Italy the church lent its support to passing a law that forbids genetic screening or freezing of embryos, and mandates that no more than three eggs can be fertilized and put into a uterus during an IVF attempt. When a referendum
What about the average person in the pew? Here the evidence is somewhat equivocal. Although it is hard to get good data on how Catholic laypeople regard IVF, there is much anecdotal and indirect evidence that Catholics embrace IVF as a means of overcoming infertility in roughly the same numbers as other Americans. Consider, for example, the study,Reproductive Genetic Testing: What America Thinks, released last December by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University. Based on national surveys, focus groups, and interviews conducted between 2002 and 2004, the study is arguably the most comprehensive assessment of Americans' opinions about genetic technologies, including those that involve IVE The results of the study suggest that Catholics strongly support IVF, at least in some circumstances.
For example, in the 2004 survey, approximately two-thirds of those questioned approved of the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to screen IVF embryos for fatal child- hood diseases. A similar proportion approved screening of embryos to identify those that would be an appropriate tis- sue match for donating blood or tissue to a sick sibling. Indeed, nearly 40 percent of the Catholics surveyed approved of using PGD to screen for the sex of a child. Perhaps even more interesting, the study investigated whether people's views about the status of the embryo correlated with their views about the acceptability of using PGD. Thus, those polled were asked to identify whether an embryo in a Petri dish had maximum, high, moderate, low, or no moral worth. Even for those who said that the in-vitro embryo had maximum moral status--a group that presumably includes most Catholics––52 percent approved using PGD to screen against a fatal childhood disease and 54 percent approved of screening for tissue matching.