Clarification on GIFT and IUI: Assisting or Substituting the Conjugal Act?

William E. May
Oct. 6, 2010
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life Foundation

After my article on Homologous Intrauterine Insemination appeared in ZENIT, José C. Florez, M.D., Ph.D kindly corrected me for a misunderstanding of what Homologous Intrauterine Insemination, or what he refers to as IUI (Intrauterine Insemination), entails.

He wrote as follows: "Dr. May confuses IUI with gamete intrafallopian tube transfer (GIFT). Although the procedures are similar, they retain fundamental differences. GIFT is seldom practiced while IUI is much more common, at least in the U.S.. IUI simply involves the placement of sperm (after a rapid washing procedure) inside the womanfs cervix with the help of a plastic catheter. It is done in cases when there are concerns that the mechanics of intercourse, the anatomy of the vagina or the conditions of the cervix impede adequate fertilization. The sperm can be collected licitly during marital intercourse with the use of a perforated condom, shortly before IUI is performed. In this way the sexual act remains open to the transmission of life, and there is a close temporal relationship between the conjugal act and the medical intervention designed to assist fertilization."

Continuing, Dr. Florez wrote: "Typically the procedure is timed with the help of ultrasound, so that IUI occurs just around the time of ovulation. Fertilization, if it takes place, occurs naturally in the womanfs reproductive tract by the sperm meeting the ovulated egg along their path (either those that spontaneously traversed the perforated condom, or those washed and inserted with the help of the catheter). ... Because sperm are obtained in a licit manner, the sexual act is open to the transmission of life, only a fraction of the sperm are washed and inserted, the woman is not exposed to unreasonable risks, the intentions are good, and the entire process is temporally connected into a single attempt to conceive, I see no serious moral objections from a Catholic perspective."

I thank Dr. Florez (and others, including my good friend Hanna Klaus, M.D., a noted authority on matters of this kind) for correcting my errors in describing what Homologous Intrauterine Insemination (or IUI) involves.

Nonetheless, I disagree with Dr. Florez and those who agree with him that IUI is morally licit because it assists the conjugal act to achieve its procreative purpose and does not substitute for it.

With others I think that a proper moral analysis of the procedure involved in IUI (Homologous Intrauterine Insemination) and GIFT leads one to conclude that these procedures do not assist the conjugal act but in reality substitute for it. Why? Because the sperm used to fertilize the womanfs ovum or ova have been obtained by using a perforated condom during the marital act. But if this is the case, then these sperm have been deliberately withheld from the marital act by reason of their procurement by retaining them in the condom instead of allowing them to enter into the womanfs body; they are not part of the "one-flesh" that husband and wife become when they give themselves as bodily persons to each other in the marital act. Hence it seems to me and those with whom I agree that it is unreasonable and implausible to claim that the procedures of GIFT and IUI assist the conjugal act.

Dr. Florez and those who agree with him do not accept this counter argument, as I and my colleagues do not accept theirs. But at the present time the Church, i.e., the magisterium, has in no way rejected either of these positions -- they are contradictory so that one must be true, the other false (a woman is either pregnant or not, there is no midway; a procedure either assists the conjugal act or substitutes for it, there is no midway).

I urge readers not to believe either Dr. Florez or me; they should examine the arguments and evidence we offer to support our claims to see which is better. But we are all to believe the Church. When and if she, through her magisterium, rejects one or the other of these two contradictory opinions, we must all accept that teaching and if our view was rejected, readily abandon it.