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.