Since my diagnosis this summer, there have been quite a few times that people have recommended in-vitro fertilization to us as an option. There are several important reasons why Steve & I don’t believe it’s biblically and ethically right to do IVF (except in some specific cases), so I thought I’d outline them quickly here.
First, what is in-vitro fertilization (IVF)? ‘In-vitro’ is Latin for ‘in glass,’ so IVF is the fertilization of an egg in a laboratory environment, outside of the womb. Once the egg is fertilized, it’s an embryo. As Evangelical Christians, we believe that life begins at conception, which means that an embryo is a living human being. Once created, the embryos are transferred to the womb, where they will hopefully implant and lead to a normal pregnancy.
One of the main reasons that would lead a couple to pursue IVF is the infertility of one spouse, which is our case. In that situation, the couple would need to use a donor egg or sperm to create the embryos. By pairing one spouse’s genes with someone outside of the marriage relationship, you introduce a third party into the spouse arrangement, which violates the sacred one flesh union of marriage.
In this case, you also have an additional problem. One parent shares genes with the child, and the other doesn’t. This can lead to a strain on the relationships both between husband and wife and between parents and children.
So, those are two big family relationship problems that can come from IVF. But there are also two big sanctity of life problems that stem from the common practice of creating more embryos than a couple intends to use.
Often, doctors will transfer more embryos to the womb than the couple plans on having, and will then go through a process called ‘selective reduction’, removing the embryos that appear less healthy until the number of embryos remaining is the number of children desired by the couple. Remember, based on a biblical perspective of human life, an embryo is a human life, so in simple terms this is murder.
If there are more embryos created than the number that the couple has transferred, they can be frozen and then thawed and transferred at a later point for another attempted pregnancy. Once the couple has had all the children they plan on having, there are frequently still frozen embryos remaining. This leads to the question: What to do with these so-called ‘leftovers’?
Couples have four options for dealing with their unwanted embryos. They can defer the decision and keep the frozen embryos stored at a facility indefinitely. They can have them destroyed two different ways, by having them thawed and disposed of by the facility that’s storing them, or by donating them to science (both options resulting in the death of the embryos).
The fourth option is to put them up for adoption.
Now, after outlining these points about why IVF isn’t right for us and our convictions about how most couples go about doing IVF, I think there is a right way to do it. If a couple uses both of their own genes to create only as many embryos as they intend to implant and parent, and then goes on to transfer and attempt to have all of those children, leaving none to be destroyed or remain indefinitely frozen, I can see nothing ethically wrong with that. I have heard that it can be hard to find a doctor who is willing to follow those kind of restrictions, though.
I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to condemn anyone who has gone through the IVF process. I know what it’s like to struggle with infertility, and IVF is widespread and widely accepted in our culture. But it is important to know that we will be held accountable for how we steward our families – even in the embryonic state – and it’s important for people looking into IVF to understand the risks involved.
I’ll be posting more soon about the differences between embryo adoption and IVF, and what the process looks like. If you want to stay updated on our adoption or look back at my infertility posts, click the yellow diamond in the sidebar that says ‘Kieklak Family Adoption Story.’
For some additional reading on the dangers of IVF, here are some good articles by Dr. Albert Mohler: