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By: Danielle Mast
Note: This essay was submitted as part of the homework for the Biblical Ethics class at Elnora Bible Institute. Used by permission.

Infertility is one of the most painful things a couple can go through. The gut-wrenching pain of not being able to get pregnant, the desperate helplessness to “fix it,” the pain of watching other parents with their children, and the emptiness. It is wrong to dismiss these feelings as selfish, unreal, or illegitimate. These feelings are real, and they hurt terribly. Some couples turn to in vitro fertilization to provide an answer to that need. For the Christian, however, is in vitro really an option?

How it works
It may seem like a good solution to the pain of infertility, but in vitro fertilization is wrong for the Christian because it includes an enormous loss of life, involves masturbation, and takes control from God.

In vitro fertilization is the process of joining sperm and eggs outside of the womb in a petri dish. In vitro itself means “in glass.” The American Pregnancy Association describes the process of in vitro fertilization this way:

In Vitro Fertilization is an assisted reproductive technology (ART) commonly referred to as IVF. IVF is the process of fertilization by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus (americanpregnancy.org).

In vitro is often a long and wearing process of cycles: the woman is given medication to overstimulate her ovaries to produce more ovum, or eggs, than normal. When her body has produced enough eggs, physicians harvest her eggs and combine them with sperm provided by the man through masturbation. The fertilized embryos that are produced are watched for several days before some of them are selected to be placed in the woman’s uterus. If none of the embryos implant into the wall of the uterus, the cycle is repeated. Enough eggs are produced from the first cycle that enough fertilized embryos should result for five to six cycles.

Loss of life

This may sound like a simple surgical procedure, but there are some significant problems with in vitro fertilization that are not mentioned in the American Pregnancy Association’s summary. The fertilized embryos created when the sperm and eggs are joined are not all used, and many of them die in the fertilization process. In vitro fertilization includes an enormous loss of life. Randy Alcorn writes the following in his book, Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?

“Three to six of [embryos conceived outside the womb] may be implanted in a uterus in the hopes one may live, but the majority die, and some are frozen or discarded. In the best-case scenario, two to five die in the attempt to implant one, and often all of them die” (Alcorn, p. 118).

He says that three to six embryos per cycle are implanted, and even in the best-case scenario almost all of them die. He writes further that there is a low success rate for implantation, even under the best conditions. He quotes Dr. Leon Speroff, who says that the success rate of implantation is 13.5 percent, and the actual survival rate for any embryo is just over three percent. According to Dr. Speroff, in the attempt to implant a child, twenty-nine out of thirty embryos die (Alcorn, p. 118). 

Twenty-nine out of thirty! If Christian believe that life begins at conception, that means in vitro fertilization allows twenty-nine children to die for the sake of the thirtieth. Some of those children are lost through miscarriages when they cannot implant to the uterus wall, but some of them are lost because they were not selected as the best embryos and were frozen. These frozen embryos are the primary concern of those against in vitro. What happens with the frozen embryos? Does the couple save them until they want them again? Do they dispose of them? Do they keep them in the freezer until their lives drain away? They have created children, and they cannot neglect them, kill them, freeze them, or discard them.

The question of whether or not in vitro fertilization destroys life rests on the Christian’s belief of when life begins. Life begins at conception: the moment that the sperm and the egg join and create a new person with new DNA and totally unlike anyone ever created before. The uniqueness of every single child starts at that moment of conception. In their article “When Human Life Begins,” the American College of Pediatricians wrote the following:

Scientific and medical discoveries over the past three decades have only verified and solidified this age-old truth. At the completion of the process of fertilization, the human creature emerges as a whole, genetically distinct, induviated zygotic living human organism, a member of the species homo sapiens, needing only the proper environment in order to grow and develop. The difference between the individual in its adult stage and in its zygotic stage is not one of personhood but of development. The Mission of the American College of Pediatricians is to enable all children to reach their optimal physical and emotional health and well-being from the moment of conception (“When Life Begins”).

That means that from the very moment the sperm unite with the eggs in the petri dish, the actual lives of human beings are involved, not the potential for human lives. Twenty-nine out of thirty human beings are being discarded, neglected, frozen, miscarried, or even aborted if too many of the embryos implant in the wall of the uterus. Christians cannot play God with these lives! Randy Alcorn addresses this when he says,

“There is a big difference, a cosmic difference, between God and us! What God is free to do and what we are free to do are not the same. God is the giver and taker of life . . . His prerogatives are unique to Him. He is the Creator; we are the creatures. He has the right to take human life, but we do not” (Alcorn, p. 112).

God has rights that we do not. He has not given us the right to decide which lives are worth keeping or worth risking. Life is too precious to sacrifice twenty-nine for one! As Walter Kaiser wrote, “Life is too valuable to waste for any reason whatsoever” (Kaiser, p. 114).

Result of masterbation

The fact that the sperm is usually produced through masturbation is another issue worth considering. Malpani Infertility Clinic actually advises men who may be concerned about producing sperm on demand to practice ahead of time. They also recommend that men bring titillating magazines or DVDs to arouse themselves (“Producing Sperm on Demand in the IVF Lab”). Jesus taught total purity and that Christians are to flee sexual sin. Christians cannot engage in activities that so directly contradict Jesus’ teachings.

Takes control from God

Another issue with in vitro fertilization that is harder to define, but equally relevant, is that of control. In IVF man grasps to control the building of his family. Physicians choose when to start cycles, which eggs and sperm to use, which fertilized embryos to implant, and which implanted embryos to remove if there are too many. Walter Kaiser, when addressing in vitro fertilization, wrote, “Embryos with desirable traits are therefore implanted, while those with undesirable traits, as specified by the parents, are destroyed” (Kaiser, p. 154). Although it may be argued that God can direct the choosing, the weaker and less-developed embryos, including those with genetic issues, are the ones left behind. 

Walter Kaiser also wrote, “Mortals were free to imitate the hand of God in what He had already built within the gene code itself. But they must also ‘guard’ it and ‘keep’ it as trustees enabled by God, not as usurpers who would challenge the Creator and assume His place and authority” (Kaiser, p. 160).

Although he was addressing genetic engineering, Kaiser makes a good point—man is to guard and keep God’s creation, not to challenge His authority and power in an attempt to fix something God may intend to stay broken. In vitro is essentially handpicking which embryos to allow to live and which to allow to die. This issue of humans choosing which children to allow to grow until birth seems dangerously close to playing God and grasping the control from Him in an attempt to fix a problem that is not understandable, instead of relying on Him to provide either children or fulfillment outside of children.

Wrestling with infertility

Infertility is excruciatingly painful. Feeling that pain is not wrong. Cristina Richie, an ethics and world religions instructor at Newbury College in Massachusetts addressed this issue in an article she wrote on IVF.

All this comes down to a fundamental question: Do I believe that God’s plan and purpose for my life can include infertility? I think many times we try to force God’s hand into a different path for ourselves by altering circumstances beyond our control. Our feeling of entitlement— to better health, a different personality, a certain lifestyle—blocks the potential that God has for us to utilize whatever He has given us, even if this potential goes beyond our understanding (Richie, “A Christian Understanding of In Vitro Fertilization”).

Can God use infertility? Absolutely! Is it still painful? Yes, it is, and it will probably always continue to be. But instead of turning to in vitro fertilization, consider other options—working with children, discipling spiritual children, fostering, or adopting. It may be hard for women, especially, to give up the right or the need to carry their child through pregnancy, but there are other options. There are hurting children all over the world that desperately need homes. The Bible commands Christians to take care of the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the fatherless. 

Instead of turning to in vitro, Christians should seek God’s will about the pain of infertility, how He wants to use that pain for His good, and what His will is for them for their future.

Bibliography

Alcorn, Randy. Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?, Sandy, Orlando, 10th edition, 2011, pp. 112, 118; quoting Dr. Leon Speroff, Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility. William and Wilkens, 5th edition, 1994.

“In Vitro Fertilization: IVF.” American Pregnancy Association <https://www.americanpregnancy. org/infertility/in-vitro-fertilization/> (accessed 08 March 2017).

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. What Does the Lord Require? Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Academic, 2009, pp. 114, 154, 160.

“Producing Sperm on Demand in the IVF Lab.” Malpani Fertility Clinic. <https://www. drmalpani.com/knowledge-center/articles/ sperm-sample> (accessed 08 March 2017).

Richie, Christina S. “A Christian Understanding of In Vitro Fertilization.” July 2012. <https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/ 2012/07/a-christian-understanding-of-in-vitro-fertilization> (accessed 07 March 2017).

“When Human Life Begins.” American College of Pediatricians. March 2004. <https:// www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/life-issues/when-human-life-begins> (accessed 08 March 2017).

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