The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Introduction to a Series, by Stephanie Gray


Several years ago a colleague and I were debating a student on a Florida college campus.  We were discussing the science of when life begins and the student simply refused to accept the fact that human development begins at fertilization.  An interesting detail about the student’s own beginnings came out in conversation: She was conceived by In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). 

  Upon my learning that, her unwillingness to accept the science of when life begins made more sense to me—because for her the topic was deeply personal.  What if she had always longed for siblings?  To admit life begins at fertilization is to admit she may have actually had siblings—but that her parents had kept them frozen, had them killed, or had them “used” for research.  What if she had a poor relationship with her parents?  What if she felt she was never “good enough” and could not meet their expectations?  To admit life begins at fertilization could lead to questioning why she was chosen from all the others that had existed alongside her.  To admit life begins at fertilization could make her wonder if her parents wished they had chosen a different embryo than her.  Sometimes painful realities can cause us to deny truth.

Sometimes—but not always.  Contrast that student with an audience member I met.  She was also conceived by IVF but she told me in no uncertain terms that while she loves her life, she does not agree with how she came to be: “My mom doesn’t understand,” she said to me.  “She doesn’t see how I can be against the very thing that made me exist.”  She carried on, “I’ve seen the paperwork.  We were all just numbers.”  This young woman was able to separate how she came to be with who came to be. 

The IVF debate is so controversial because it affects real people.  It has been reported that in the United States alone, almost 1 million children born were conceived by IVF or another assisted reproductive technology.  And so, whether we are aware of concrete cases or not, IVF-conceived persons are in our families, churches, workplaces, and interacting with us in the general public.  Moreover, even higher numbers of people—those who have tried IVF, whether they were successful or not—are in our families, churches, workplaces, and interacting with us in the general public.

This series, The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, will provide a moral commentary on this increasingly common reproductive technology.  Doing so on a topic that is not just theoretical but that affects people personally is challenging because there is a risk that some might feel offended by statements made.  There is a risk that condemning a way of thinking or behaving could be perceived (incorrectly) as condemning individuals involved. 

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he writes about some people seeking out messengers who tickle their ears with what they want to hear, but that Timothy, and we, have a responsibility to be faithful to do our duty in proclaiming truth, remembering that it is the truth which sets people free (John 8:32):

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.  As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

There is something more uncomfortable than being criticized for proclaiming the truth—it is avoiding being criticized by avoiding proclaiming truth.  There is something worse than being wrong—it is being wrong and not admitting it.  Look at the business world: The best businesses prioritize critiques and evaluation; they are constantly asking what they did wrong and how they can improve.  The ones that succeed are the ones that aren’t afraid to change course when facts and reason disprove what seemed to be good ideas. 

Our world that has made millions of human beings through IVF and thinks IVF is a good idea.  Is the world wrong?  This series will answer that.

Click here for part 1 of the series.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.