You may call it the Obama effect or the recent success in stem cell research. For the first time in 21 years, the Vatican has finally gave its authoritative statement on reproductive science. Needless to say it triggers intense debate.

The 32 page document from the Catholic Church’s highest rule-making authority, condemns as immoral destruction of human embryos to obtain stem cells or treat infertility. It also denounces any attempts at more futuristic possibilities such as cloning people or using gene therapy to enhance the human race.

But the church also decries procedures already commonly used to help couples have children, such as the freezing of unfertilized eggs and embryos, the injection of sperm into eggs, and genetic testing of embryos to identify those with defects. In addition, the document condemns the morning-after pill and the RU-486 abortion pill.

The church objects to such technologies for many reasons. Perhaps most important, it argues that life begins at conception, and so anything that results in the destruction of an embryo is immoral. The church also objects to any technology that separates procreation from sex between a married heterosexual couple, which makes many modern infertility therapies, such as in vitro fertilization, “illicit.” Other types of infertility treatments are permitted, such as surgery to open blocked fallopian tubes.