The Vatican's March 10 condemnation of artificial methods of reproduction, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), is certain to be the cause of considerable controversy both within and without the scientific community, and among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The pronouncement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that "uncontrollable application of such techniques could lead to unforeseeable and damaging consequences for civil society." In addition to outlawing artificial insemination for church members, the Vatican calls for new legislation regulating research with embryos, saying that "the law cannot tolerate … that human beings, even at the embryonic stage, should be treated as objects of experimentation."

It would be easy to dismiss the statement as another example of the church retreating from the advance of science, in this case a medical advance that has made it possible for thousands of infertile couples to have children. But the document embodies the...

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