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Why does Catholicism matter to reproductive technologies in Argentina?

Date:10 January 2022
Author:Ana Lucía Olmos Álvarez, María Cecilia Johnson & Victoria Sotelo
Picture by Gayatri Malhotra
Picture by Gayatri Malhotra

The Catholic Church is a global actor that still matters when sexuality and reproduction are at stake, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) are not an exception.

Catholic Church stands as a critical position around ARTs, understanding that separating sexuality and reproduction from the sanctity of marriage is opposed to natural and legitimate forms of procreation. Moreover, donation and manipulation of embryos, preimplantation genetic diagnosis are considered eugenicists practices. For all these reasons, the Catholic Church believes that ARTs and the associated treatments violate human dignity. Various encyclicals (papal letters) support this public position; moreover, the Vatican has an expert community advising on these subjects.

Particularly in Argentina, Catholicism is the country's main religious denomination (according to a national survey, 62.9 % of the Argentinian population identifies as Catholic). Also, the Catholic Church has long-term relations with civil authorities. Even though the National Constitution of Argentina assures freedom of worship, the centrality of Catholicism is still evident. The second article of the Argentinian charter of government establishes that the Federal Government legally and economically supports the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion. Catholic Church influences the public debate concerning health politics and civil rights in this legal and political frame. Sexuality policies are a sensitive matter to the Catholic Church that has mobilized reactive activism regarding same-sex marriage, abortion, and sex education in Argentina. Despite this institutional position, there are Catholic believers and religious movements that do support sexual and reproductive rights.

Our frame project demonstrates that there are religious experts dedicated to ART among Vatican Pontifical academies; moreover, we also found other ART actors trained in Catholic educational spaces. These actors have been dedicated to training other experts, advising public policy, and participating in public debates in the media. In this way, they have an impact on the daily life and health decisions of believers and non-believers. Most of these experts take positions against abortion and euthanasia, occupying the front line of public debate. Even though these experts reaffirm their position against contraception and defend "natural" contraception and "family planning”, they also find ways to advise Catholic believers with fertility demands. 

That is not surprising as Assisted Reproductive Techniques are widely used in Argentina, even among Catholic believers. Our research demonstrated that the biomedical itineraries of ART's users have plenty of resources and religious meanings. The Catholic framework offers community spaces and paths to ritualize the reproductive experience. ART's users attend sanctuaries, participate in healing spaces, and meet with different pastoral agents like religious healers who support them in the quest for a successful pregnancy. Furthermore, the fact that the religious institution offers these resources provides legitimacy to ART's users' journeys. As a result, people resort to religious actors to ask favors and establish pacts with holy figures, hoping for a successful pregnancy in exchange. Our research shows a therapeutic articulation and complementarity of religion with diagnoses and biomedical in the users' experiences. 

Therefore, religious experts, participation in Catholic rituals, and visits to sanctuaries emerge are part of ART treatments in Argentina. Our findings show how spiritual and emotional dimensions are connected to health decisions.

This post is connected to the project “Science and Catholicism: Perspectives and Circuits of Dialogue between Contemporary Europe and Argentina in Six Scientific Areas (Epistemology, Bioethics, Genetics, Reproductive Medicine, Embryology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience)” financed by the International Scientific Network for the Study of Science and Belief in Society - University of Birmingham and Templeton Foundation. Lead Investigator: Dra. Gabriela Irrazábal

About the author

Ana Lucía Olmos Álvarez, María Cecilia Johnson & Victoria Sotelo

Ana Lucía Olmos Álvarez (Universidad Nacional de Avellaneda) 

María Cecilia Johnson (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios sobre Cultura y Sociedad; Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Argentina)

Victoria Sotelo (Universidad de la República, Uruguay