I have been told that the Catholic Church rejects test-tube babies. Is this true? M. W. Montreal

No, it is not true. In 1983, in their submission to the Warnock Committee, the Catholic Bishops of Britain were perfectly clear on the issue: The Church teaches that though in vitro fertilization (IVF) is wrong; the Catholic Church has always welcomed into the human community all children, whatever the circumstances of their conception.

In 1987, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican stressed this teaching. “The Church remains opposed from the moral point of view to homologous ‘in vitro’ fertilization. Such fertilization is in itself illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union, even when everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo.

“Although the manner in which human conception is achieved with IVF and ET [embryo transfer] cannot be approved, every child which comes into the world must in any case be accepted as a living gift of the divine goodness and must be brought up with love.” (Respect for human life in its origin and the dignity of procreation, Rome, February 1987.)

What is the history of fetology? When did it begin and where? C.S. Mississauga

Intensive research into the development and growth of the human embryo and fetus began in the 1950s, but it was not until around 1973 that fetology was first recognized as a special branch of medicine. The “Father of Fetology” was a New Zealand doctor, Sir William Liley. Sir William’s research was to establish accurate diagnostic tests by which the condition of his second patient—the child in the womb—could be assessed; and, once it was demonstrated that the baby was sick, procedures for treatment were developed. In 1963, Sir William developed a technique for treating the unborn Rh baby by the transfusion of blood to the baby in the mother’s womb.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Dr. Ian Donald developed ultra sound in 1958, and by 1971 had advanced the techniques to real-time ultra sound. Now, doctors could see the baby in the womb, and soon the parents could also see their child. Doctors were able to see a baby of only six weeks moving inside the mother, long before she was aware of her child’s movements. More recently, a baby of three-and-a-half weeks was seen on real-time ultrasound, which is before a mother would know she was pregnant.

In this same period, i.e., in 1963, Doctor Hahn of California began electronic fetal-heart monitoring. As technology improved the fetal-heart beat was heard at earlier and earlier stages, first at 17 weeks, later at seven weeks.

Our present knowledge of the pre-born human baby comes from men and women in many lands, not only doctors but technologists who have devised the instruments and equipment needed.