Moral theology includes concerns of a particular or special nature as well as those of a general or fundamental nature. There is thus a two-fold division in moral theology – fundamental moral theology (which we have been doing up to now) and special moral theology. They are intricately related. Special moral theology deals with concrete moral issues that relate to sexuality, medical practice, business relations, social ethics. Fundamental moral theology shows the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of special issues. Disagreement at the level of concrete issues often can be traced to different understandings of the foundational concerns of morality.
One of the most high profile special issues at the present time is Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR). This lecture concerns what is perhaps the most well known technique in the treatment of infertility: In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
The First ‘Test-tube’ Baby
On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown was born in Oldham, England, using IVF. She was the first so-called ‘test-tube’ baby, the culmination of years of pioneering research by Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards. IVF is a gruelling, though relatively straightforward process. The ovaries are chemically stimulated to produce multiple eggs since pregnancy rates increase with transfer of more than one embryo. The eggs are recovered by laparoscopy, then coincubated with sperm for around 12-18 hours to allow fertilisation to occur. After an additional 48-72 hours, the embryo (or pre-embryo) is transferred to the uterine cavity by a catheter. If successful, implantation will occur in 2-3 days. Success rate is 20-25 per cent – approaches that of the natural process…..much more expensive of course!
Standard IVF: This is the simple procedure – sperm and ovum come from husband and wife, and the pre-embryo is implanted in the uterus of the wife.