Does “In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)” Undermine Sanctity Of Life?
(This Article was also picked up by The Christian Post)
The sanctity of life is a biblical teaching that we rally around as Christians, usually believing that we have all the transgressions to this stance clearly pegged. Often, the strongest word that comes to the surface when discussing pro-life issues is abortion. And what is the word-picture that comes to mind with the topic of abortion? Whether fairly or unfairly, we most likely think of a young pregnant woman walking into a clinic taking care of what she sees as an inconvenient problem. Sadly, abortion is a lot bigger issue than our generalizations have allotted for us and may be actually hitting closer to home for the Christian family than we even realize.
One of the greatest frustrations and heartbreaks experienced by married couples is infertility. This narrative is all too real for many people. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that in the United States there are an estimated 6.7 million women of childbearing age who are unable to have children and approximately 3.8 million men experience male-related infertility problems. Anywhere between 10 to 16 percent of all couples cannot conceive.
When people are unable to procreate, there can be feelings of failure, rejection, or even abandonment by God. Hannah from the Bible was extremely emotional over being barren for a long period of time. “Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat (1 Samuel 1:6-7).”
To overcome this pain and despair of infertility, science and medicine teamed together in 1978 to develop in vitro fertilization (IVF). The process of IVF consists of taking a woman’s eggs and a man’s sperm, fertilizing them outside the body, and then implanting them back into the woman’s womb with the goal of pregnancy. It’s actually a long and tedious process. The woman starts with hormone therapy, which consists of taking fertility drugs through injections, to stimulate multiple eggs to be produced. During this time she’ll have regular checkups to see how her fertility levels are progressing. Once the doctor is satisfied, the egg/eggs are removed through a minor surgery requiring anesthesia. Then, semen is obtained from the husband, where the doctor combines the sperm with the newly harvested eggs in hopes of fertilization. Once the fertilized egg divides, it becomes an embryo, and is placed in the womb of the woman with hopes of pregnancy. The remaining embryos are frozen for further use or eventually discarded. And, therein lies the moral dilemma for the Christian.
What most of us as followers of Jesus don’t stop to consider is that whenever an IVF procedure occurs, a doctor will generate more than just the desired number of embryos. Unless otherwise directed by the couple, a doctor will generate anywhere between 10 to 12 embryos as a minimum but usually only implants an average of two to four at a time for a higher success rate.
But one question I’ve never personally considered till recently, and a question that most pro-life Christians don’t even know to ask is “What happens to the extra embryos?” There are three practical answers to this question:
- The embryos are frozen and saved for future use to have more children.
- The embryos are frozen and completely forgotten about. In fact, a recent estimate states that there are at least 600, 000 leftover frozen embryos stored in fertility clinics across the country.
- The embryos are destroyed after pregnancy is accomplished. One variable in this options that is growing in popularity is called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), which involves testing all created embryos for any problematic genes and only implanting embryos that are “healthy,” while automatically disposing of all embryos that may be in “question.”
With these scenarios in mind, is it possible that well-meaning Christian couples are participating in abortion because they’re not fully thinking through these issues as they’re trying to build a family? Are couples possibly killing their children without even realizing it? Heartbreakingly, the answer may be a resounding “yes!”
As pro-life Christians, we believe that life begins at “the moment of conception;” when the union of the sperm and egg generate a new human embryo. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13 ESV).” And if we believe that life begins at conception, we should consider all the implications of anything that may place that life in danger. There are thousands of embryos, created in the image and likeness of God, being frozen and stored in clinics every year only to be forgotten about or destroyed. These embryos are humans. This topic is a matter of life! Sadly however, a lot of Christian couples are undermining their own sanctity of life stances because they’re not taking the time to consider all the consequences and/or they’re so distracted with the allure of having children that they’re willing to neglect their convictions as believers.
However, as followers of Christ we must value all life no matter how small that life may be. Ignorance can no longer be an excuse. The light of truth has been shed on this issue, and we must advocate for the least among us. If we believe that life begins at conception, then there has to be consideration for these little lives that bear the image of our holy God. Lives are still lives, even if they’re microscopic.
So, what is the answer to the reality that IVF could be undermining our pro-life views? Here are three possible solutions to this very real issue:
- Account for every embryo: One of the most practical ways for couples participating in IVF to be good stewards of life is to only allow for the number of embryos to be made that they’re willing to implant. If four embryos are created, then four little lives must be implanted.
- Embryo adoption: This is actually a two-fold solution. Couples who have become pregnant through IVF and have remaining embryos can actually put them up for adoption. This is a great alternative to disposing of life. On the other side of this solution, embryo adoption is a great option for couples desiring to have children. Rather than adopting a child who has already emerged from their mother’s womb, embryo adoption allows the adopting family to begin the adoption journey nine months earlier with pregnancy and childbirth.
- Educate others: Honestly, until recently, I was completely ignorant to the reality of the surplus of embryos conceived through the IVF process. However, now that I know the truth, I am under obligation to be a steward of that truth. If you know couples that are thinking about IVF as an option for their families, take the time to educate them on the realities of the process. Also, we must lovingly and kindly remind others that life begins at conception. Every embryo is a life that is deeply valued by God. A genuine pro-life stance is a position that cannot be neglected for convenience.
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” – James 4:17