Hannah, why do you weep?

rachleahAnn Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a prolific religion writer. Using the hook of a seminar scheduled at a Roman Catholic seminary, Rodgers looks at the pain endured by religious adherents suffering from infertility.

This is precisely the type of story I wish more media outlets would cover. Even from a secular perspective, the lack of understanding about in vitro fertilization is problematic. How many people understand that couples create a number of embryos and discard the ones they don’t, uh, need? For many years it was impossible to find that fact in mainstream media reports. I wonder why churches don’t talk about the ethics of infertility treatments more, too, but I suspect many religious leaders find it too difficult, considering their prevalence. Rodgers begins her story by mentioning that various religious traditions object to some infertility treatments:

For Catholics, whose church raises the widest array of concerns, it can be especially daunting, said Eileen Kummant, a family practice physician in White Oak who helps Catholics treat infertility without violating church teaching.

Even the most faithful, who often seek her practice because of her values, are tempted to ignore moral concerns when their own efforts to conceive have failed, she said.

“A lot of people are really hurting when they have infertility problems. Sometimes they just don’t want to think about anything that might say they can’t do whatever is necessary to have a baby — especially when it seems that other people have no problem with it,” she said.

“It seems like a hope that they are told they can’t have.”

Rodgers looks at the aforementioned objections to embryo destruction, which is frequently the case with IVF. Others, such as Orthodox Jews, object to masturbation to collect semen, she writes. The most widespread qualms concern the use of surrogate mothers, she adds. Here she looks at the local conference:

At Saturday’s workshop, church teaching will be explained, but so will medical solutions that the church accepts, said Susan Rauscher, head of the diocesan Social Awareness Office.

One example is lower tubal ovum transfer, where a blocked egg is moved from the upper to the lower part of the fallopian tube and fertilized there.

The article is very thorough, looking at the stress infertility — and infertility treatments — can cause in a marriage. I particularly liked the ending:

The Bible has many stories about infertility. The story of Rachel and Leah illustrates the great jealousy that can arise when an infertile woman’s sister has children, he said. But one problem for those who turn to the Bible for comfort is that its infertility stories often end with a miracle baby. This can make couples feel that their infertility is due to a lack of faith or that God doesn’t love them.

It’s important to remember that the stories aren’t trying to explain infertility, but to show God’s power, [Karl] Schultz[, a Catholic writer from the North Side with a background in pastoral psychology] said.

“The biblical authors knew that things did not always turn out well [for infertile couples]. They are pointing in the long term to God’s plan of salvation,” he said.

There are so many religion stories like this one that affect countless readers and viewers. I hope for fewer stories about who various religious groups are thinking about voting for and more stories about the real drama in the lives of religious adherents.

Art: Michelangelo’s Rachel and Leah

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Terrific story. Thanks for pointing us to it.

  • Eli

    Brilliant post. Well said.