ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Homologous Intrauterine Insemination
Does It Replace the Marriage Act?
WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a question on
bioethics asked by a ZENIT reader and answered by the fellows of the
Culture of Life Foundation.
Q: Could you tell us the state of Church teachings on homologous
intrauterine insemination between spouses, using a seminal reservoir to
obtain the semen? -- J.A.A. of Santiago de Chile
William E. May offers the following response:
I presume that by "homologous intrauterine insemination," J.A.A. is
referring to the procedure known as GIFT, an acronym that stands for
"gamete intrafallopian tube transfer."
What is GIFT?
GIFT can be described as follows: It is like in vitro fertilization
(IVF) in that the woman's ovaries are hyperstimulated to produce many
eggs, which are retrieved either by laparoscopy or an ultrasound guided
procedure. It is unlike IVF in that the fertilization of the eggs
occurs not outside the woman's body but within it.
After the egg or eggs are retrieved, they are placed in a catheter with
sperm, with an air bubble separating the sperm and egg(s). Sperm is
provided either by masturbation or by using a perforated condom during
previous marital acts. The catheter is then inserted into the woman's
body (and she can be either a person other than the wife of the man
whose sperm are used -- heterologous form of GIFT -- or be his wife --
homologous GIFT); the ovum or ova and sperm are released from the
catheter and fertilization and conception can then take place within
the woman's body. This is caused by the concentrate of sperm placed in
the catheter and released after its insertion into her body, or perhaps
by sperm released into her body by the marital act in association with
which the catheter is inserted.
It is important to note that the procedure was originally developed by
Dr. Ricardo Asch and his associates at the University of Health Science
Center in Houston, Texas, as an offshoot of IVF, and the husband's
sperm was collected by masturbation. Informed that the Catholic Church
condemns masturbation, even as a way of obtaining a husband's sperm,
Asch and other doctors who used the method suggested that sperm be
obtained by using a perforated condom during the marital act.
There is no definitive teaching of the magisterium on GIFT as such.
"Donum Vitae" (Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origins and
on the Dignity of Procreation), Part II, B, No. 6, states: "If the
technical means facilitates the conjugal act or helps it to reach its
natural objectives, it can be morally acceptable. If, on the other
hand, the procedure were to replace the conjugal act, it is morally
The issue, then, is whether GIFT, if the eggs (ova) used are those of
the wife of the man whose sperm will be used for fertilization
(homologous intrauterine insemination), "assists" or "replaces" the
Different and opposing theological opinions
Some theologians regard it as legitimate, a way of "facilitating or
"assisting" the conjugal act to achieve its procreative purpose; others
reject it as immoral because it does not "facilitate" or "assist" the
conjugal act, but rather "replaces" or "substitutes" for it.
Arguments for GIFT
Two representative proponents of this position are the Rev. Donald G.
McCarthy; and Peter Cataldo.
McCarthy argues as follows: "The conjugal act in the described
procedure remains the essential step in getting the ovum and sperm to
meet. This step is followed by the repositioning of the ovum and sperm
in a manner which markedly increases the likelihood of fertilization.
Hence, GIFT ... can be seen as a medical procedure which assists,
rather than replaces, the conjugal act. ... In conclusion, while the
GIFT technique uses technology to assist fertilization, it simply re-
positions the sperm and ova to enhance the desired outcome of
fertilization. The link between the marital act and procreation is
realized by technical assistance."
Cataldo offers a more extensive defense of GIFT as morally acceptable
because it assists or facilitates the marital act in achieving its goal
of generating new human life. He writes as follows: "A procedure
replaces the conjugal act if it determines, of itself, those conditions
which immediately secure the success of fertilization; a procedure
assists the conjugal act if it does not determine, of itself, those
conditions which immediately secure the success of fertilization, but
rather allows fertilization to take place under immediate conditions
which are natural."
Using this criterion, Cataldo argues that GIFT is a morally legitimate
procedure: "I believe that GIFT with a conjugal act assists that act
because the immediate conditions of fertilization are not determined or
created by the procedure itself. Unlike IVF and the other procedures
which replace the conjugal act, fertilization itself takes place in
GIFT within natural conditions which are essentially the same as those
in which a pathology is not present."
Arguments against GIFT
This is the position defended by Germain Grisez, Donald DeMarco,
Benedict Ashley, OP, and Kevin O'Rourke, and me. Here I present
their basic argument: First of all, the procedure was originally
developed as a variant of IVF and the husband's sperm was collected by
masturbation. Informed that the Catholic Church condemns masturbation,
even as a way of obtaining a husband's sperm, the doctors [Asch and
others as noted already] who used the method suggested that sperm be
obtained by using a perforated condom during the marital act.
This shows, I think, that with GIFT the marital act is merely
incidental to the entire procedure, used only as a way of obtaining
sperm in a nonmasturbatory way. Since the sperm have been deliberately,
intentionally withheld from a marital act or series of marital acts,
they cannot be said truly to be integral to the marital act when the
catheter containing these sperm and the wife's ovum are inserted into
her body. Although subsequent fertilization of her ovum may be caused
by sperm introduced into her body during the accompanying marital act,
such fertilization would be per accidens and not per se.
Here I have done my best to present accurately the contradictory
positions of different theologians for and against GIFT. Either that
which is defended by people like McCarthy and Cataldo is true, or that
which is defended by Grisez, De Marco, Ashley/O'Rourke and me is true,
but both cannot be; one must be true, the other false. Readers should
study their arguments and evidence they advance to support them and
make up their own minds as to which views make more sense.
 See David S. McLaughlin, "A Scientific Introduction to Reproductive
Technologies," in Reproductive Technologies, Marriage, and the Church,
ed. Rev. Donald G. McCarthy (Braintree, MA: The Pope John XXIII Medical
Moral Center, 1988), pp. 55-56. See also John M. Haas, president of
National Catholic Bioethics Center, "Begotten, not Made: A Catholic
View of Reproductive Technology," http://www.usccb.org/prolife/programs/rlp/98rlphaa.shtml
 On this see Rev. Donald G. McCarthy, "Catholic Medical Teaching and
TOT/GIFT: Response: A Response to Donald DeMarco," in McCarthy (ed.),
Reproductive Technologies, Marriage and the Church (St. Louis: Pope
John XXIII Medical Moral Center, 1988) p. 144.
 The 2008 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dignitas
Personae, a sequel to Donum Vitae, does not consider the morality of
GIFT. The 2009 edition (5th edition) of Ethical Directives for Catholic
Health Care Services, directive No. 38, declares: "When the marital act
of sexual intercourse is not able to attain its procreative purpose,
assistance that does not separate the unitive and procreative ends of
the act, and does not substitute for the marital act itself, may be
used to help married couples conceive".
 GIFT? Yes! Ethics & Medics 18/9 (Sept. 1993): 3-4 at 4.
 "Reproductive Technologies," Ethics & Medics 21/1 (Jan. 1996):
1-3 at 2.
 See Grisez's Difficult Moral Questions, Vol. 3 of his The Way of
the Lord Jesus, Question 52, pp. 242-249 (originally published by
Franciscan Herald Press, 1997; reprinted 2007 Alba House).
 See DeMarco, "Catholic Moral Teaching and TOT/GIFT," in
Reproductive Technologies. (see footnote 2 above), pp. 47-49.
 See the 4th edition of their Health Care Ethics (Washington, D.C.
Georgetown University Press, 2002), pp. 47-49.
 See my Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life (Second Ed.
Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2008), p. 93.
* * *
William E. May, is a Senior Fellow at the Culture of Life Foundation
and retired Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John
Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic
University of America in Washington, D.C.