I've been talking with friends about different methods of contraception and the relationship of the Catholic church towards them. If I understand correctly, most widespread means of contraception (birth control pills, condoms etc.) are not acceptable as they contradict God's will (e.g. see Genesis 9:7). However does this mean that one should try to have children by all means? If not, why not? Would Catholics be obligated to use Viagra, if it aided them to conceive a child? Wouldn't it be a moral obligation to use more invasive methods as in vitro fertilisation or intracytoplasmic sperm injection?

I think it boils down to the question, if God wants man to reproduce (as much as they can?) or if that should only happen with the available means without medical help. However then any medical help that prevents one from dying during childhood is artifically helping you to reproduce.

We merely had an amusing conversation about the topic and thought this was a funny provocative question to ask a Catholic. However I am seriously interested in an answer as I had not come across this question before and I'd be interested how it would be approached by someone with more insight.

This question was split in two and the striked-out part has been moved to: What is the Catholic Church's attitude to the use of Viagra in marriage?

  • The age-old alternative for non-fertile couples would be adoption.
    – Double U
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 1:29
  • @Anonymous, yes, but if they could "be fruitful and multiply" with medical help, wouldn't that be according to God's will? Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 2:56
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    @David, I assume that something in my question is not according to the site's standards (style or content)? Could you hint me on what it is, please? The two links you provided me with, allow for a lot of interpretation. Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 3:26
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    Thanks, @David. I misread your comment in a rather negative way, which might say more about me than about the style of your comment. Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 9:48
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    This question presupposes that the Catholic Church teaches that you are to have as many children as possible. That is simply not true. I think that deserves to be answered in more detail as a separate question.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 8:27

3 Answers 3


tl;dr> The Church opposes in vitro fertilisation, but not because it is humanity playing at being God.

The first port of call in determining what the Catholic Church teaches is always the Catechism. If question can be answered by fundamental principles, the answer is likely to be found there. So: first it's necessary to examine the fundamental principles.

The Catechism states

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. the end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39

1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.

1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting "in order to be seen by men"). The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts - such as fornication - that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

Even though the creation of life is good, it cannot justify a sinful method.

Is in vitro fertilisation a sin?

1852 There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. the Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God."127

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."121

Is in vitro fertilisation contrary to the eternal law?

Eternal law is “the source — in God — of all law”. It finds its expression in what is called moral law.

1952 There are different expressions of the moral law, all of them interrelated: eternal law - the source, in God, of all law; natural law; revealed law, comprising the Old Law and the New Law, or Law of the Gospel; finally, civil and ecclesiastical laws.

In vitro fertilisation is obviously an intervention designed to overcome what is seen to be a defect — the inability to conceive naturally. But this condition is part of God's plan.

1936 On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth.41 The "talents" are not distributed equally.42

1937 These differences belong to God's plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular "talents" share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures:

I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others.... I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one.... and so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another.... I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me.43

The ability to create life in vitro may also be seen as a talent not given to everyone, to be shared with those who need it.

So: both infertility and the ability to counter it appear to be God-given. The one is the result of Original Sin whereby imperfection entered the world, and which it is part of the human condition to bear. The other may be given for temporal alleviation prior to eternal bliss where there shall be neither tears nor cryingA; or it too is sinful because it counters God's plan.

Well done for reading this far; unfortunately in vitro fertilisation appears to fall between two fundamental principles.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has recognised this dichotomy in an Instruction:

These interventions are not to be rejected on the grounds that they are artificial. As such, they bear witness to the possibilities of the art of medicine. But they must be given a moral evaluation in reference to the dignity of the human person, who is called to realize his vocation from God to the gift of love and the gift of life.

From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a new life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. To this perpetual evidence ... modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. It has demonstrated that, from the first instant, the programme is fixed as to what this living being will be: a man, this individual-man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization is begun the adventure of a human life, and each of its great capacities requires time ... to find its place and to be in a position to act.25

The artificial creation of life is not inherently wrong. But

Conception in vitro is the result of the technical action which presides over fertilization. Such fertilization is neither in fact achieved nor positively willed as the expression and fruit of a specific act of the conjugal union. In homologous IVF and ETB, therefore, even if it is considered in the context of 'de facto' existing sexual relations, the generation of the human person is objectively deprived of its proper perfection: namely, that of being the result and fruit of a conjugal act in which the spouses can become "cooperators with God for giving life to a new person".50

The way in which artificial fertilisation and the methods associated with in vitro creation of life can be and are inherently wrong. The expression of sperm is generally outside the conjugal act and “is another sign of this dissociation [between the unitive act of love and the act of procreation]: even when it is done for the purpose of procreation, the act remains deprived of its unitive meaning: ‘It lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely the relationship which realizes “the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love”’.54

A procedure included in most implementations of IVF is the disposal of surplus embryos. That is, once life is created in the zygote with the fertilisation, any which are “not required” are destroyed.

... every child which comes into the world must in any case be accepted as a living gift of the divine Goodness and must be brought up with love.

To destroy life is repugnant to the Church.

All the while it is impossible to unite the methods of IVF with conjugal union,

... in conformity with the traditional doctrine relating to the goods of marriage and the dignity of the person, the Church remain opposed from the moral point of view to homologous in vitro fertilization. Such fertilization is in itself illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union, even when everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo.

25 CDF Declaration on Procured Abortion, 12-13: AAS 66 (1974) 738. 39 Cf Matt 6:24
41 Cf Gaudium et Spes 29 # 2.
42 Cf Matt 25:14–30; Luke 19:27
43 S Catherine of Siena, Dial. I, 7.
50 Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. 14: AAS 74 (1982) 96.
54 CDF Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual ethics, 9: AAS 68 (1976) 86: Gaudium et Spes, 51. Cf. Decree of the Holy Office, 2 August 1929: AAS 21 (1929) 490; Pope Pius XII, Discourse to those taking part in the 26th Congress of the Italian Society of Urology, 8 October 1953: AAS 45 (1953) 678.
121 S Augustine, Contra Faustum 22: PL 42, 418; S Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II, 71, 6
127 Gal 5:19-21 CE; Rom 1:28-32; 1 Cor 9-10; Eph 5:3-5; Col 3:5-8; 1 Tim 9-10; 2 Tim 2-5.
A Cf Rev 21:4
B Homologous (between husband and wife) in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer

  • +1, though this would be a better answer here, as this question seems to use IVF as an example, not as the question itself. "I think it boils down to the question, if God wants man to reproduce (as much as they can?) or if that should only happen with the available means without medical help." IVF is a big part of the question, but there's more to it.
    – Ryan Frame
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 13:24
  • @RyanFrame You may be right. The fundamental decider (apart from killing embryos) is the separation of consummation from conception. If Viagra helps sex, then that's OK. Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 13:43
  • Thanks for this detailed answer,@AndrewLeach. I realize that my question is actually two questions. You answered the part about conception very detailed and I learned a lot. As for the part about Viagra, I am now probably able to formulate better: Is there an obligation from the Catholic church to enable consummation with Viagra (or similar means) in marriage, as having children is the purpose of marriage? Should this be a new SE question? Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 9:54
  • @Seb I would suggest that it should be a new question (and probably edited out of this one); you might ask "What is the Catholic Church's attitude to the use of Viagra in marriage?" or something general like that, because that allows an answer of "Obligation" or "Anathema". Don't forget to accept whichever answer you feel answers the question [which may not be this answer: it's your choice]. Do check for a similar question before adding another, too. Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 10:14
  • @AndrewLeach, I've done, as you suggested. Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 14:12

Q. Is in vitro fertilization morally admissible for Catholics?

A. Not only is in vitro fertilization not morally permissible for Catholics, but also any and all other procreation apart from morally and permissible sexual relations.

From the passage quoted below (Just because one can do something does not mean that they are [morally] allowed to do it):

Advances in technology have now made it possible to procreate apart from sexual relations through the meeting in vitro of the germ-cells previously taken from the man and the woman. But what is technically possible is not for that very reason morally admissible. Rational reflection on the fundamental values of life and of human procreation is therefore indispensable for formulating a moral evaluation of such technological interventions on a human being from the first stages of his development. - Source: Instruction on respect for human life in its origin and on the dignity of procreation, 4, issued February 22, 1987 | CDF.

What is the reason the Church gives for such techniques not being morally permissible for Catholics?

The answer is in the same same section preceding the quote above.

[...] with the transmission of other forms of life in the universe, the transmission of human life has a special character of its own, which derives from the special nature of the human person. "The transmission of human life is entrusted by nature to a personal and conscious act and as such is subject to the all-holy laws of God: immutable and inviolable laws which must be recognized and observed. For this reason one cannot use means and follow methods which could be licit in the transmission of the life of plants and animals."1

1. POPE JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra, III: AAS 53 (1961) 447.

On the special character of transmission of human life

From section 5. TEACHINGS OF THE MAGISTERIUM the article lists:

  1. From the moment of conception, the life of every human being is to be respected in an absolute way because man is the only creature on earth that God has "wished for himself" and the spiritual soul of each man is "immediately created" by God;
  2. his whole being bears the image of the Creator. 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.
  3. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being.
  4. Human procreation requires on the part of the spouses responsible collaboration with the fruitful love of God;
  5. the gift of human life must be actualized in marriage through the specific and exclusive acts of husband and wife, in accordance with the laws inscribed in their persons and in their union.


Should Catholic christians be obligated to use in vitro fertilisation because God wants man to reproduce (as much as they can?)? If not, why not?

Yes God wants man to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it. The Catholic position and teaching is that God wants man to do it in a particular manner following and subject to the manner of the transmission of human life which is in accordance to the all-holy laws of God: immutable and inviolable laws which must be recognized and observed.

The end does not justify the means.

The techniques we can use on the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth speaks to our dominion over them as given to as by God [cf. the preceding biblical link]. We in turn, do not have such a dominion over ourselves, we are subject to and belong to God.

Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2376 & 2377.


I'm not a Catholic and by no means an expert, but my understanding is that the Catholic argument against artificial means of conceiving is the same as the argument against euthenasia: that it's tantamount to "playing God." Matters of life and death are in God's hands; the Catholic position is that we aren't supposed to take them into our own hands.

Donum vitae II,4.

(55) The doctor is at the service of persons and of human procreation. He does not have the authority to dispose of them or to decide their fate.

A medical intervention respects the dignity of persons when it seeks to assist the conjugal act either in order to facilitate its performance or in order to enable it to achieve its objective once it has been normally performed",(56) On the other hand, it sometimes happens that a medical procedure technologically replaces the conjugal act in order to obtain a procreation which is neither its result nor its fruit. In this case the medical act is not, as it should be, at the service of conjugal union but rather appropriates to itself the procreative function and thus contradicts the dignity and the inalienable rights of the spouses and of the child to be born.

  • CCC 2376 refers to surrogacy, not IVF per se (which is homologous rather than heterologous). Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 7:58
  • @AndrewLeach Disagree as per my understanding of Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus). That appears to be the key wording that to me includes IVF.
    – user13992
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 21:11
  • if not 2376 then 2377. Reasoning is the same.
    – user13992
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 0:49
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    that it's tantamount to "playing God." - is not seen in the reference given.
    – user13992
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 22:31
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    I don't quite understand how the quote illustrates that "playing God" is what is offensive. Actually, what I see in the quote is that it circumvents the conjugal act, which is offensive. The "does not have the authority" part seems like a larger topic that introduces the main topic below. Can you show how the quote supports your statements?
    – user3961
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 5:06

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