Ask Elizabeth, June 2021. What does the Catholic Church teach about IUI?
I know a couple who are pursuing IUI and I’m curious about whether this is an option my husband and I might consider. What are the Catholic Church’s teachings on IUI?
Thank you for asking this! It is a question that a lot of Catholic couples have wondered about but aren’t always sure where to look for answers. I hope I can shine some light on the issue for you and direct you towards some sources that will help you in your discernment.
An intrauterine insemination (IUI) of “licitly obtained” (normal intercourse with a silastic sheath i.e. a perforated condom) but technologically prepared semen sample (washed, etc.) is a reproductive technology currently under discussion - that is to say it is neither “approved” nor “disapproved” by the church (source: USCCB). The Vatican documents known as Donum Vitae (On the Gift of Life, 1987) and Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of a Person, 2008) assert that morally acceptable interventions used in procreation cannot replace the marital act, but should assist that act to attain its natural purpose.
According to Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. (Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center), "IUIs have never been directly mentioned in official Church documents, so the question of whether they might be morally allowable continues to be discussed among Catholic moral theologians." Fr. Tad argues that an IUI involves a substitution/replacement of the conjugal act by injecting the sex cells into the woman's body via a cannula and is therefore morally unacceptable. In other words, the marital act does not itself cause a future pregnancy but only enables the collection of sperm, which is then used for another procedure that brings about the pregnancy.
The late Rev. Donald McCarthy, Ph.D. (Former Director of Education at the Pope John XXIII Medical Moral Research Center) argued that the quantity of sperm is purely incidental to the moral integrity of the marital act and therefore, the retention of some sperm in a silastic sheath does not reduce the integrity of the marital act. When sperm is collected by this means for analysis, the marital act is still considered an integral act. An IUI assists fertilization in re-positioning some sperm, however the conjugal act remains as the essential step in getting the ovum and sperm to meet. Rev. Richard McCormick, S.J., also objects to some of the arguments prohibiting the use of reproductive technologies to treat infertility: "If experience is our guide, medical interventions to overcome sterility are precisely manifestations of the love between husband and wife."
Catholic couples are free to judge whether an IUI is morally permissible or not, with the guidance of their consciences. Take these difficult decisions to prayer and let the Holy Spirit guide you. If you'd like to dive into this topic further, consider inviting Sister Renée Mirkes, Ethics Director of the St. Paul VI Institute, to speak about marriage as well as procreative and birth ethics ("Marriage Matters: Love and Life Unlimited") at your parish.
Our team is praying for God's guidance for all those discerning this procedure.