Nova Scotia

Cape Breton mother angry after church newsletter calls IVF immoral

Kristin MacDonald's young daughter was conceived through fertility treatment.

Kristin MacDonald of Sydney is the mother of a 20-month-old daughter conceived through fertility treatment

Kristin MacDonald of Sydney holds her daughter, Poppy, who was conceived through in vitro fertilization. (Submitted by Kristin MacDonald)

A Cape Breton woman who struggled with infertility wants the world to know her daughter is anything but immoral.

Kristin MacDonald said she turned red with anger after seeing a recent newsletter from a Catholic church in North Sydney that condemned artificial insemination and artificial fertilization.

Under a section titled "Religious Education," the weekly bulletin from St. Joseph Parish explained those procedures are considered sinful or immoral because they separate procreation from the act with which spouses give themselves to each other.

It also said they infringe on a child's right to be born to a father and mother bound by marriage.

"Quite honestly, it feels like hate speech because there's nothing that we have done to be infertile," said MacDonald, who is not religious.

"A child that's conceived from a long struggle and/or with assistance is actually a child that's so wanted."

Emotional toll 

MacDonald and her husband, David, spent roughly $40,000 on two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) after getting married in 2018.

The family welcomed a daughter, Poppy, about a year and a half ago.

"It was a trying time. Financially devastating, you know, emotionally taxing and very complicated," said MacDonald. "However, our struggle was short compared to many."

Gathering planned for Sunday

Amber Tapley is a Sydney business owner and a single parent who was equally outraged by the bulletin. 

"You know, it's 2021," she said. "I was shocked and appalled and almost impressed by how many groups of people could be offended by the literature that was distributed."

Tapley has organized for families who were impacted by the newsletter to show up at the church at this weekend's Sunday mass, taking place around 1:30 p.m. local time.

"The plan is essentially just to kind of show up and have a physical presence," Tapley said. "Just really [to] demonstrate that obviously these children are not immoral and neither are these families."

Reverend serves as CBU chaplain

According to its website, St. Joseph's runs under the direction of Rev. Douglas MacDonald.

CBC News left multiple messages for MacDonald, but they were unreturned. MacDonald is also the chaplain at Cape Breton University.

On Wednesday, university spokesperson Lenore Parsley said CBU has not had an opportunity to speak with MacDonald, but noted the institution does not agree with the comments made in the newsletter though it respects individual and religious views.

Comments 'not at all compassionate'

Carolynn Cote-Dubé grew up attending St. Joseph's Parish and was once a eucharist minister, an altar server and a singer in the choir. She was also married in the church and had her eldest son baptized there.

Carolynn Cote-Dubé is the executive director of Fertility Matters Canada. A former eucharist minister, she says she was shocked by the reverend's comments. (Submitted by Carolynn Cote-Dubé)

Cote-Dubé also relied on fertility treatment to conceive her children and is executive director of Fertility Matters Canada, a Moncton, N.B.-based organization that promotes equal access to fertility treatments.

"It was very shocking to read that and to kind of wrap your head around why someone would choose that piece without context or without really being considerate or compassionate," said Cote-Dubé.

"To add this insult to the years of pain and suffering that patients have endured is not at all compassionate." 

Diocese response 

In an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Mainstreet Cape Breton, Rev. Wayne Kirkpatrick said that children born through IVF treatments are not immoral. 

But the bishop of the Diocese of Antigonish said that IVF is problematic as the Catholic Church believes it can lead to embryos being discarded or frozen.

"Basically, the church is opposed to that," Kirkpatrick said. "How we treat human life is across the board … all life is sacred."

Kirkpatrick said the priest who put the information in the newsletter did so without thinking.

"It's unfortunate that it was put in the bulletin in this way because, of course, people are hurt, and I understand they're hurt," he said. 

"It's such a disappointment for parents who are unable to conceive."


Erin Pottie


Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at