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GAZETA WYBORCZA

Why Poland's First IVF Child Has Kissed The Catholic Church Goodbye

After becoming the first person in Poland born from in vitro fertilization, Agnieszka Ziolkowska, 26, decided it was time to act after Catholic leaders compared IVF to "plant breeding."

Agnieszka Ziolkowska (center), proudly proclaims herself Poland's first "test-tube baby."
Agnieszka Ziolkowska (center), proudly proclaims herself Poland's first "test-tube baby."
Nat

WARSAW - By all accounts, Agnieszka Ziolkowska was the first Polish person to be born thanks to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in this very Catholic country. Now, 26 years later, she is back in the headlines.

Ziolkowska, a Roman Catholic, had made it be known that she had been considering apostasy -- the voluntary renunciation of one’s religion -- ever since the Polish Bishops Conference published a seminal "bioethical document" in April. In the report, meant to address key challenges facing contemporary culture, the Polish Catholic hierarchy strongly condemned IVF, calling it “a procedure derived from animal and plant breeding.” The document accused infertile couples using IVF of ”delegating the production of their child to others.”

Ziolkowska, who was brought up in a Catholic family, and went to Catholic schools, finally made her apostasy formal earlier this month. “Those people think that they can trample the dignity of others from the heights of their authority,” she said. Even though she is not a churchgoer anymore, she wanted to “symbolically cut her relation” with the Catholic Church.

"Next stage of hate"

Catholic leaders in Poland had stepped up their criticism against the in vitro procedures after the Polish government announced in March that it will reimburse couples with state funds for fertility treatment. The program started July 1.

In a recent interview, the 26-year-old explained her stance. “The Church’s claims are eligible for legal prosecution for violation of personal rights,” she said. “It is the next stage of a hate and stigmatization campaign against IVF children and their parents.”

Ziolkowska recalled that in 2009, a well-known Polish bishop called IVF “the realization of the Frankenstein idea.” One of the authors of the bioethics document, Father Franciszek Longchamps de Berier claimed in an interview that “there are doctors who can recognize an IVF child by characteristic lines on their foreheads, signs of genetic defects.”

Ziolkowska was born in May 1987 in Rome where her father was studying on a scholarship. The couple had been trying to conceive for a long time, to no avail, when they were given the possibility of in vitro treatment -- at that time not practiced in Poland, and totally reimbursed by the Italian social security system. “I was 15 or 16 when I learned that I was a test-tube baby”, recalls Ziolkowska. After the first shock, she came to the conclusion that she was “living proof that progress is good” and that she “should be grateful” for her life.

Bishops conference spokesman Father Jozef Kloch said the Church "does not stigmatize IVF children. Every child deserves to be fully accepted and loved, and they are all equally loved by the Church.”

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Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
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