Polish bishops slam plans for liberal in vitro law

Warsaw, Poland - Poland's influential Roman Catholic church appealed Monday to the country's politicians to oppose in vitro fertilization, calling the procedure akin to eugenics.

The procedure is a controversial topic in the predominantly Catholic country, where conservatives believe it should be declared illegal because it leads to the destruction of human embryos. Poland also has one of the lowest birthrates in the European Union and the state has been struggling to find ways to encourage families to have more children.

It's an issue that takes on added urgency with a population expected to age in coming decades and a ballooning deficit that will make it harder to support the aged.

In vitro fertilization is legal in Poland, but the procedure is expensive and a real option only for families with money. After Prime Minister Donald Tusk took office in 2007 he promised state financing for it but the legislation was bogged down in heated debate and controversy. There are several proposals floating in parliament, including plans put up by conservative opposition lawmakers that would make it illegal.

Several Polish bishops made their case in a letter to the country's prime minister, president and leaders in parliament as Tusk's ruling Civic Platform party nears completion of draft legislation that foresees state funding for the procedure. But in a sign of how divisive the issue is, the party has two competing draft bills - one making in vitro funding available only to married couples and the other to unmarried couples as well.

Poland's conference of Catholic bishops said on its website that the letter was sent Monday and that signatories include the head of the conference, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, and Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who heads a church council on bioethics.

It comes several days after Hoser threatened excommunication to lawmakers who support in vitro fertilization. The letter backs away from that stance but still argues strongly against allowing the procedure, calling it the "younger sister of eugenics."

"The birth of one child leads in each case to the death - at different stages of the medical procedure - of many other lives," the letter said.