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Theological Reaction Paper: "Oncofertility and the Boundaries of Moral Reflection," by Paul Lauritzen and Andrea Vicini



EssayChat / Jun 14, 2018

Theological StudiesThe 2011 article, "Oncofertility and the Boundaries of Moral Reflection," by Paul Lauritzen and Andrea Vicini raises many salient questions pertaining to the moral rectitude of the practice of oncofertility, in which the reproductive organs and tissue of a cancer patient are preserved so that chemotherapy and radiotherapy do not interfere with the future reproductive capacity. At first glance, the practice of oncofertility appears to be an extremely humane and compassionate act; the cancer patient can look forward to a productive future and a robust family life should they survive the treatments and their cancer goes into remission. However, when examining this issue more closely, it seems that there are multiple ethical and theological dilemmas that arise from this practice. First, the creation of children outside of the bounds of marriage and of natural sexual intercourse conflicts with many of the reproductive teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Secondly, the practice of oncofertility effectively reduces the patient to their genome and their reproductive capacity; at a moment that they should be concentrating on battling their cancer and getting well, they are asked to consider an invasive procedure that serves no other purpose but to preserve their gonadal tissue in order to ensure reproduction.

As Lauritzen and Vicini argue, assisted reproductive technologies violate several aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine, namely the Donum vitae (1987) and the Dignitus personae (2008), which forbid the use of reproductive technologies as they disregard the moral personhood of embryos, and also violate the will of God with regards to reproduction. For instance, if chemotherapy destroys the fertility of an individual who must undergo this procedure, can it not be considered to be the will of God that this individual should not procreate? From a more scientific point of view, there are also other valid reasons for refusing to preserve the reproductive tissue of an individual who must undergo chemotherapy, especially if it is during their adolescence. Many of the cancers that occur in childhood and adolescence are genetic in origin; to artificially preserve the reproductive tissue of such an individual would result in a child who has a higher than average chance of being diagnosed with the same cancer in their own adolescence. Moreover, cancers that are diagnosed in adolescence have a high rate of relapse; to allow such a person to become a parent regardless of their illness may well also result in a child who will be orphaned at a young age. As such, it is a fairly easy speculative leap to imagine that chemotherapy destroys the reproductive tissues of young cancer patients for a very good reason, and to try to "step around" this law of nature via technology may only be inviting disaster and profound human suffering.

Additionally, Lauritzen and Vicini also mention that the practice of oncofertility also reduces the patient to their "personal genome," and effectively sends a message that a person is only worthy of existence if they can successfully reproduce themselves. While Roman Catholic doctrine certainly encourages individuals to reproduce if they are able to, it is also quite clear that such self-propagation should be performed in the right circumstances, such as natural sexual intercourse within the bounds of marriage. If reproduction does not occur within these sanctified boundaries, it is correct to presume that it may not be the will of God for the couple to have children. Moreover, such a couple also has plentiful opportunities to adopt children who are in need of a good, kind, loving home. Overall, it does not make sense to force the issue of reproduction if it cannot take place naturally.


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