Should Christians Consider In-Vitro Fertilization?

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Some time ago while on-call I received a patient with a life threatening intra-abdominal hemorrhage. Turns out this was an ectopic pregnancy after a large number of in-vitro embryos were implanted into this woman. One of these embryos unfortunately made its way into a place other than the uterine cavity and the resulting hemorrhage was now endangering the mom’s life.  The patient was fortunate enough to survive the ordeal.

This event made me consider the ethical aspects of in-vitro fertilization for couples who cannot conceive naturally.  Delight in Truth is firmly against therapeutic abortion at any gestational age, and in-vitro techniques present moral challenges connected to abortion.

It is not uncommon for the fertility doctor to harvest several eggs, and once these are fertilized, they become live embryos. Along the way, some may die or may not develop properly. This is the first level of loss of life in the process.

Then the doctor implants 3-4 embryos (sometimes more) into the mom’s uterus.  Sometimes the embryos implant successfully, sometimes not.  This is the second level of embryo loss, and it also happens in up to 30% of naturally conceived pregnancies.

Suppose three out of three embryos implant successfully and a triple gestation develops. In order to reduce the pregnancy risk and assure an easier lifestyle for the parents, at this point a pregnancy reduction may be performed. Nothing short of the abomination of Molech, an ultrasound guided technique will abort one or two developing babies to decrease the triple pregnancy to a twin or a single gestation.  This is the third level of collateral loss of life in the in-vitro fertilization process.

This discussion does not even address what to do with frozen embryos resulting from multiple attempts at in-vitro.  Some estimates say that for every successful in-vitro fertilization 30 embryos may be initially created (England, 2011).  Should these be kept frozen indefinitely? Should they be discarded? These are painful questions for those of us who feel that life begins at conception.

Should a gospel-believing couple attempt in-vitro fertilization? 

There are adjustments to the technique to eliminate volitional loss of embryonic life, but these will increase the cost of the process because it increases the chance of need to repeat.  Fertilization should be limited to one or two embryos which always are to be used.

Pregnancy reduction, which is in fact abortion, should never be performed.

If these safeguards are taken, intentional loss of embryonic life will be eliminated.  Embryos may still die from natural causes after implantation or from unintentional causes (human error in the lab). These issues ought to be prayerfully considered by any Christian couple thinking about conservative in-vitro fertilization.

One thing is clear. Life is precious and it should be respected.

9 comments on “Should Christians Consider In-Vitro Fertilization?

  1. I agree with you, Delight.

    “If these safeguards are taken, intentional loss of embryonic life will be eliminated.”

    In my mind, unless intentional loss of life is eliminated, Christians shouldn’t have in-Vitro.

    This is a serious issue and, as you have stated, should be prayerfully considered.

    God’s blessings…

  2. Chris, thought I would add these thoughts from the document, “Dignitas Personae” to your discussion. note that another big objection is the “substitution,” if you will, of the marital union for a technical means of reproduction. blessings.

    Chapter: “In vitro fertilization and the deliberate destruction of embryos”

    ” ‘The experience of recent years has shown that in all techniques of in vitro fertilization “the number of embryos sacrificed is extremely high’ (n. 14). Even in the most technically advanced centers of artificial fertilization, the number is above 80% (cf. footnote 27). ‘Embryos produced in vitro which have defects are directly discarded”; a increasing number of couples ‘are using artificial means of procreation in order to engage in genetic selection of their offspring’; of the embryos which are produced in vitro ‘some are transferred into the woman’s uterus, while the others are frozen’; the technique of multiple transfer in which ‘the number of embryos transferred is greater than the single child desired, in the expectation that some embryos will be lost… implies a purely utilitarian treatment of embryos’ (n. 15).

    ‘The blithe acceptance of the enormous number of abortions involved in the process of in vitro fertilization vividly illustrates how the replacement of the conjugal act by a technical procedure…leads to a weakening of the respect owed to every human being. Recognition of such respect is, on the other hand, promoted by the intimacy of husband and wife nourished by married love… In the face of this manipulation of the human being in his or her embryonic state, it needs to be repeated that God’s love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother’s womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness.. Therefore, the Magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end’ (n. 16).”

    • Thank you for the quotes. Indeed it is amazing that such a high number of human embryos are destroyed. I did not realize that some providers treat these tiny humans with such disrespect. Heartbreaking.

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