Infertile Question, Fertile Answer

Within my church community one of the members asked one of our pastors the following question:

We have experienced infertility problems.  Our last option is in-vitro fertilization…There will be left over embryos that would be destroyed.  Is that killing a life?  Any wisdom you could shed would greatly be appreciated.

I personally like the pastor’s answer for this sensitive situation, in light of where the couple is coming from:

Dear ________, thanks for the note.  Your desire to be parents and your heavy hearts in not being able to do so are very touching and obvious.  May the Lord give you comfort as you wrestle through these issues.

I am sure glad that you are not just rushing headlong into this ethically complex and emotionally charged issue.  I sure appreciate the care in which you are approaching this.  And I can even sense that you are examining your own motives about this.  Your seeking of biblical wisdom and your own self-examination will keep your desire for children from becoming an obsession or “idolatrous” in your hearts.  I have seen such similar obsessions damage marriages and a couples’ walk with Christ.

Having said that, I would cautiously say that in-vitro fertilization is biblically/ethically permissible for a husband and wife who intend to implant all the fertilized eggs.  Bearing that in mind, I would suggest that no more than two or three eggs be fertilized.  The womb seems to have a hard time sustaining more than that, and often serious defects or even death results in the additional fertilized eggs.  If it is deemed necessary to freeze the fertilized eggs, it should be done so with the intention of eventually implanting them in the biological mother.  Discarding or destroying them would be ethically impermissible, I believe.

I greatly respect the CMDS (Christian Medical and Dental Society).  Below I have copied a portion of a document about IVF that you may find helpful.

May the Lord give you wisdom and courage as you work through this difficult and life-changing decision.  If you would like to talk face to face, please don’t hesitate to set up a time whereby we can talk and pray together.

Here are the CMDS’ words:

GUIDELINES FOR CRYOPRESERVATION OF EMBRYOS:

  1. Cryopreservation of embryos should be done with the sole intent of future transfer to the genetic mother.
  2. Embryos should be produced from the husband’s sperm and the wife’s eggs.
  3. A limited number of embryos should be produced to eliminate cryopreservation of excessive numbers of embryos.
  4. There should be pre-agreement on the part of the couple that if the wife becomes pregnant, all remaining frozen embryos will be transferred back into her at future times of her choice.
  5. There should also be pre-agreement that in a situation in which the embryos cannot be transferred to the wife (e.g., where the wife dies or has a hysterectomy) they will be adopted by another couple who desire to have a child for themselves by having the embryos transferred to the adoptive mother.

As there are a variety of ways I think you could biblically and medically answer the root issue within the question, I believe this was the best answer for this couple, and done so with sensitivity and wisdom.

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~ by Dave Smith on May 5, 2009.

3 Responses to “Infertile Question, Fertile Answer”

  1. I wish I knew the science of this better.

    Last time I did any reading on the topic, the issue at stake was the ‘personhood’ of the embryo.

    It’s a well-measured response, that’s for sure, and it’s an incredibly complex issue… I wonder, is there a right answer here?

    I also wonder if it would have been appropriate to suggest adoption as a way around the moral dilemma completely? There are far too many orphans in our own country ( and others) who need loving parents…

  2. I think the key question that needs answered is “when does human life (personhood, an eternal soul) begin?” This will then inform our choices regarding in vitro fertilization in general, the freezing of such created embryos, the morning after pill, and traditional “abortion.” I think the default answer for most Christians is that human life/personhood/eternal soul begins at conception. As a Christian physician, I find this problematic medically and philosphically.

    Medical evidence suggests that a substantial percentage of normal conceptions spontaneously miscarry in the first week or so (perhaps 20-40%) The mother would never even know she was pregnant and will have what seems like a normal monthly period. Throughout history, this would be millions (billions?) of eternal souls that never survive outside the womb, if you believe that human life (soul) begins at conception. Where are all these souls now? This troubles me philosophically.

    Consider identical twins: Start out a single sperm and single egg coming together (conception). Many Christians would say this conception is an eternal human soul. Well, in the case of identical twins, several days later this single embryo splits and becomes 2. Does then 1 eternal soul become 2? Again, to me more evidence that conception is not the time ‘ensoulment’ takes place.

    Christians who believe conception = human life/eternal soul must be very uncomfortable with freezing embryos. Is this the freezing of a soul, keeping it perhaps indefinitely in a state of limbo, not growing/living but not dead either?

    Again, to me the key question is when does human life begin? We kill living things (weeds, chickens, etc.) all the time for justifiable reasons. We also kill living parts of our own bodies when needed (If my gallbladder is infected, I will have the surgeon kill it to save my life).

    No doubt an extremely complex issue and of course these are just some brief thoughts. Also, I am sensitive to the pain of infertility and the honest struggle of a Christian couple trying to figure out what are appropriate options for them. Biblically and medically I find this to be a gray issue at best and we may never know the precise answers to these important questions, so I think we must pray, search the Scriptures and follow our conscience as the Holy Spirit leads us.

  3. Yea, that goes to the deep root of the issue.

    I think the pastor took the right approach in realizing that this couple’s position saw life right at conception, and therefore answered based on their foundation…which was wise in light of this being a very gray issue, (not to open up pandoras box and moving the conversation away from their direct need).

    In relation to your other question, it brings up another e-mail shared with me about the latest stem cell research policies, where a very prominent Christian ethics professor in our area answered with the following:

    1. One of the standard axioms used against this is the unsupported and unproven assertion that “Life begins at conception.” Jesus and the Bible never teach this; and it is biologically false — because for it to be true, it would require that dead sperm + a dead egg produce life. They do not. QED.

    2. Biological life comes from biological life — from living sperm and egg, and God creates souls that have natural immortality. One dualist theory is from Aristotle and Aquinas, that “the soul animates the body”. No soul = dead matter. This is used by JP Moreland for example on this topic, hence, biological activity = soul animation, i.e., ensoulment is inferred to have occurred. This view is false, it seems to me, to most academics and virtually all biologists because of innumerable facts about biological life, e.g., a burn victim has viable skin cells removed that are used to grow a sheet of skin to cover the burn; a heart is removed from a dead patient and transplanted into another and it beats. If the animation theory of the soul is true, then excised skin that is alive has the person’s soul in it and a dead person’s heart that beats again (the heart was not dead) would entail that the heart recipient now has two souls, or 1.2 souls, or some other absurdity — and that viable skin has soul in it in the petrie dish.

    3. My view — which seems to be taught in scripture, is that dualism is true, but each of the two substances have life of their own kind — biological life of the body and its parts, and a living soul (a self-conscious moral agent) that is a non-physical, thus non-splitable living substance. No absurdities like in point 2 above occur; also, twinning = splitting of a fertilized egg can occur up to 13 days gestation, thus this is too early to infer a soul is present. Put another way, if the twinning occurred at day 8, than when did the second person come into existence? Obviously, not at the point of conception. Etc.

    4. The hESCs used are 4-5 day old fertilized eggs and virtually all bioethicists, most all Western countries that have formal policies on this, and most biologists hold that 14 days gestation is the early, conservative time to put a limit on destruction of early human embryos — the problem of twinning being a major fact of nature and natural refutation of the point of conception assertion — which can happen up to 13 days after fertilization. I agree.

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