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Alive! March 15, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bioethics, Social Policy.

Alive! was dropped through my letterbox recently.

And as ever it’s a fascinating read. I’ve got to be honest, it doesn’t irritate me as much as some. In part because what some people believe doesn’t exercise me as long as it doesn’t impact negatively on me. Of course, that only takes one so far living in this state, but it does make for a somewhat more pleasurable reading experience.

Still no end of material to engage with. For example, Fr. Owen Gorman has a nice article about ‘helping childless couples’ and IVF. I’m always interested in this area, indeed I mentioned the impression a book I read last year about ART and related issues in comments here.

Fr. Owen has bad news though. Having run through the history of IVF from the first ‘test tube’ baby Louise Brown onwards he notes that ‘although the Church rejoices at the birth of every new child and welcomes him or her to the human family, it does not consider IVF morally good’. And worse… ‘many Catholics are not aware of the ways in which IVF seriously transgresses the moral law’.

He continues:

IVF presents us with a mixture of moral violations. First of all, the male semen used to fertilisethe female eggs is usually acquired through masturbation, a violation of sexual ethics.

Okay, way to go making new friends and influencing real living breathing human people…

But he goes on and notes that mixing sperm and eggs ‘in a glass petri dish to produce several embryonic human beings…violates the basic right of every human being to be conceived through the personal, one-flesh communion of their parents’.

And he concludes…

But by far the most serious violation of the moral law concerns what happens to the human embryos that are not implanted in the womb. They are discarded, frozen or handed over for scientific research. Thus a culture of death involving the killing and manipulation of human life is intrinsically part of IVF.

Again, none of this particularly irritates me. I’m a bit dubious about his line about the issue of embryos not implanted in the womb. As IVF technologies have improved the numbers produced have decreased. Moreover he should be aware that realistically – and dependent upon age and other criteria, the numbers of eggs produced from such procedures tend to be on the low side and if there’s an excess that’s unusual enough. Then there’s the issue about how fertilised eggs ‘naturally’ conceived don’t implant either. They too are ‘discarded’.

All this is, in fairness, his belief, and who am I to argue with that?

But the following does irritate me, at least a little bit.

He presents the following alternative.

…morally licit treatments that married couples can use in order to help them conceive a child. One such procedure is NAPRO.

NAPRO Is essentially the Catholic Church’s line on IVF made manifest. It isn’t IVF, but instead supposedly ‘natural’ investigations and processes to encourage fertility. Or as its proponents say themselves:

Natural procreative (NaPro) technology. NaPro technology was developed by obstetrician and gynecologist Thomas W. Hilgers in Omaha, Neb. Central to the technique is educating women and couples how to precisely monitor and chart female bodily “markers” that indicate fertility and fertility problems. This allows the NaPro technology practitioner to zero in on abnormal menstrual bleeding patterns, poor cervical mucus flow and subtle hormonal deficiencies that are often not detected by routine gynecological evaluation. Once the biological problem is identified, a precisely targeted solution can be undertaken.

This solution doesn’t involve the techniques that IVF does such as developing embryos and so on. Anyhow, Fr. Gorman argues that ‘it has an overall success rate of about 40%’.

This is very problematic. As a piece in the Washington Post noted in 2006…

Experts also question how “natural” … techniques are if they employ hormonal supplementation, and they criticize him for not publishing studies in medical journals so … methods can be evaluated independently.

Indeed the deficit of clear information about NAPRO is deeply troubling. One clear issue in the studies actually released by proponents of NAPRO is that they do not break down age, and other cohort information. This means that a clear means of assessing success rates or otherwise and contextualising them with IVF clinics is impossible.

And in both the UK, the US and elsewhere best practice is for IVF clinics to break down outcomes according to age of the woman. Indeed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention carries that data for all and any to see.

This isn’t a mere detail. For those facing infertility time is often, though not always, of the essence. But so is information. If NAPRO is treating cases of younger individuals with issues more amenable to less complex processes then it is possible that that skews their statistics. But without the hard data on those statistics other than broad general percentages one simply will not know. There are broader issues. Infertility is a symptom of many issues, many more than listed in the quote above. And NAPRO, per definition due to its aversion to various IVF techniques is simply unable to address that fact.

None of which is to say that NAPRO won’t work for some. It will for those in certain cohorts and there’s a clinic in Galway that offers it and as long as the information on what it can and cannot do is fully transparent that’s fine. But to suggest that it is a replacement for IVF is a stretch.


1. Mark P - March 15, 2012

Who finds Alive! irritating?

As far as I’m concerned, it greatly ads to the merriment of the nation, along with such other nutcase publications as the Sovereign Independent and the late, lamented, Hibernian.


WorldbyStorm - March 15, 2012

There is that. Most definitely.


2. Shay Guevara - March 16, 2012

It irritates the hell out of me. One came in the door the other week with a story of some successful business woman who had addressed a conference in Mullingar on Women and Business 5 years ago. But Alive was gloating at the fact that her marriage has broken down . It went something like this (and it helps if you adopt a stereotypical conservative priest accent here) –

“Maybe if she had paid less attention to her business, and more attention to her husband and family, she wouldn’t be alone today. Perhaps that would have been a better message to give the women of Mullingar.”

A nasty vicious little rag. Once I’ve looked through it and raised my blood pressure, it goes at the bottom of the litter tray, where the dog gives it the kind of review it deserves.


que - March 18, 2012

Thats quite a quote. Hard to belive there is such insanity out there but maybe all too easy to believe as well


3. Jim Monaghan - March 16, 2012

I sometimes read it in Ballybrack shopping centre. Mostly nonsense..
They are heavily against birth control. The theseis most often is that we could all live in say Texas, so therefore the world is underpopulated. Of course, they miss the obvous point of the carbon footprint.I suppose they feel that there woujld be manna form heaven. The funny thing is (shows that Ireland has moved on) is that these wierd ideas would be mainstream in the USA. In fcat Santorum would regard some of the ideas ion Alive as subversive.


Mark P - March 16, 2012

That’s exactly it. I wouldn’t find Alive! particularly amusing if the rabid wing of Catholic conservatism still enjoyed large scale power and influence in Ireland. Much as Hibernian wouldn’t have been half as much fun if the clowns who produced it were less marginal.


CL - March 18, 2012

” these wierd ideas would be mainstream in the USA.”-Not really


Jim Monaghan - March 18, 2012

I am afraid that they are held by a significabt part of te Republican Party.


CL - March 18, 2012

Yes but that does not make it ‘mainstream in the U.S’. Sanctorum is not mainstream.


Jim Monaghan - March 18, 2012

He just might become President. I think the centre of gravity in politics in the USA is somewhat to the right of here.Even Obama (the bomber, invader of Iraq, Afghanisat and possibly Syria) is to the right of the mainstream here, even given the hyprocrisy of our elites.
I suppose we will have to differ


CL - March 18, 2012

Somewhere around 40 per cent of U.S voters identify as being Republican (and that’s being generous). Let’s assume that Sanctorum has support from half the Republican Party. Again, very generous. That gives him the support of one in five American voters. Not mainstream. Sanctorum is a fringe candidate. I hope he gets nominated.
As for Obama, being an imperialist is part of the presidential job description. On economic policy he is to the left of F.G, Labour, and Fianna Fail.


que - March 18, 2012

Aint a hope in hell Rick Santorum will become US president. He is a factionalist in a party which has cultivated a large section of the US population into a faction. He wont carry all the republicans and he wont in any way shape or form impact with indos and demos.

The threat is low i’d say

On Obama – I think simple fact is that pretty much any president in the US would exercise such hard power. I’m not a great fan of the man anymore, despite finding his gramhar style appealing, I still think he is too conciliatory but then look at what he is facing. Romney/Santorum as his challengers. Maybe he knows whats doable and is playing the long game, Still its results that count.


4. D_D - March 16, 2012

When first looking into Alive! I was amazed at this nasty right wing drivel getting such a wide circulation. My irritation was tempered by the consideration that this stuff just helps the Church to dig itself into a bigger hole.

Then I was astonished to see that it was an unofficial publication of the Dominican Order. (The front page carries a disclaimer: “The content of the newspaper Alive! and the views expressed in it are those of the editor and contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Irish Dominican Province”.

I was also saddened, for residual personal reasons, as I was once a member of the Dominican Order. Though the Order contained its fair share of reactionaries in the Sixties and Seventies, and has always had the ‘liberal’ capacity to swing from the Inquisition to liberation theology, it was, or could be seen as, a home for radical, Christan socialism in those heady days. Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino O.P., a Peruvian Dominican is regarded as the founder of Liberation Theology. The English Dominican journal ‘Slant’ led the way in ‘Catholic marxism’ and was , I think, edited for a while by Terry Eagleton. In Ireland the Dominican Fergal O’Connor’s appearances on The Late Late Show had a big effect, and ‘Doctrine and Life’ ploughed a liberal theological furrow.

But the capacity of the Church in general, and the special capacity of the Dominicans in particular, to shelter leftists and rightists in the same organisation has dramatically diminished and nowadays attract mostly the conviction conservative.

There is a blog entry on Alive! here, which seems interesting:


The encyclpaedic encyclopaedia Wikipedia also has an entry on Alive!:



LeftAtTheCross - March 16, 2012

The man who distributes Alive! in north Meath took 4,000 leaflets for the Campaign Against Household & Septic Tank Charges and delivered them across the county for us. He was very enthusiastic about the campaign in conversation with him after the public meeting we held in Kells. Fair play to him. It’s an ill wind…


Jim Monaghan - March 16, 2012

Hi Des,
Was there any connection with John Feeney’s left Catholic “Grille” journal.


5. D_D - March 18, 2012

“Grille” was obviously intended as an Irish response to “Slant”. It came and went before I noticed it. I have no idea if there were any connections between the two journals. There must have been some contact. It was an eclectic era there’s no doubt and these serious publications were lightened by the irreverent American magazine, out of the same left Catholic stable, “The Catonsville Roadrunner”:


Incidentally, Splintered Sunrise, when he/she occasionally turns their machine on, takes a close interest in Church matters:



WorldbyStorm - March 18, 2012

I’d love a copy anyone who has one. Nice for the archive, or any similar docs.

Can I echo your original point about the Dominican order? I think it’s also produced in Tallaght. Many years ago I met a few priests from that neck of the woods, all of whom were – and this was before they knew my political stance at the time – WP voters. Putting aside the nuances etc that often aired here, that was a progressive vote.


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