The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Part 3, by Stephanie Gray

The beginning of this series can be viewed here.

Another reason why IVF ought to be rejected is that it is a failure of parents to protect and nurture some of their children and instead involves placing them in jeopardy.


When my friend’s 12-year-old son was so sick he required hospitalization, my friend was almost continually at his bedside.  When she wasn’t, she left confident that he was being cared for in good hands.  Childrens’ hospitals typically have charities that facilitate as much parent-sick-child closeness as possible by providing accommodation so parents do not have to travel far to be near their hospitalized child (something my friend and her husband took advantage of).  Moreover, while a nurse or doctor can provide medical expertise and consolation, nothing beats a mother or father’s love and presence.

Contrast that with frozen embryos: These youngest and most vulnerable humans among us are abandoned—temporarily or permanently—by their parents.  They are not visited or sung to.  They do not receive the gift of their parents’ presence, journeying by their side as they go through a difficult time.  Instead, they are intentionally denied the environment created for them at the age they are at; they are denied—temporarily or permanently—the safety and security of being nestled beneath their mothers’ hearts.

Some might respond that if it was okay for my friend to temporarily leave her son in the safety of the hospital, couldn’t parents temporarily leave their embryos in the safety of fertility clinics?  The answer is no, for these reasons:

1)      Children in a hospital are not typically there because of a health problem the parents intentionally created (in fact, if they are (e.g., parent beats a child unconscious), then social services would step in and override parental rights because they have shown themselves unfit).  With a fertility clinic, the frozen child is in a situation of jeopardy as a direct result of the parent’s choice.  The child may be killed in the thawing process (see part 1).  Or the child might eventually be implanted in the wrong womanOr a child’s life could be put in danger by power outages or storage tank malfunctions.  It is worth emphasizing that these are consequences that come from a situation the parents created to begin with.

2)      Would parents leave their children alone in a hospital that considered both caring for that child, or killing that child, to be equal options?  Would parents leave their children alone in a hospital that intentionally weeded out children it deemed unhealthy or less desirable?  Clearly not.  And yet, the very nature of fertility clinics is that they will kill some children, do research on other children, etc.  Fertility clinics can also be involved with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, described as follows by the Reproductive Partners Medical Group: “This technology allows doctors to select embryos free of a specific genetic problem in order to create healthy babies.”   When doctors “select embryos free of a specific genetic problem” that means they are also killing embryos that have a specific genetic problem.  The IVF industry is not primarily guided by children’s interests but instead by parents’ desires.  It is an industry that manufactures and uses young humans to meet the wishes of older humans.  And that mentality infects all that they do.

Consider the story of journalist Elissa Strauss and her husband: They, their dog, and two of their children live in California while two of their other children live in New York—as frozen embryos.  The Strauss’ already got what they wanted—an IVF-conceived child brought to term.  Given that they created multiple children to achieve that one child, the question became this: What to do with their remaining embryos?  When writing about their options Strauss commented, “embryos are useful.”  And right there is the problem.  The parent is looking at the child for usefulness.  That is not the language of love.  Parenthood ought to be about the good of the child but IVF turns things upside down so it’s about the perceived good of the parent—at the expense of using a child (or several children).  Moreover, because IVF allows for control and perfection in a way natural conception doesn’t, IVF can feed a parent’s tendency toward control and perfection so that these become obsessions.  These become gods; they are put on the highest pedestal, above the child herself so that IVF is not about that baby, or that baby, or that baby, but instead is about a baby, a perfect baby, at the perfect time, at any cost.  No longer is human relationship, particularly that of parent to child, about awe and reverence towards this or that very specific unrepeatable, irreplaceable, priceless and yet imperfect individual, but instead it is about making and grasping at any individual who works with the mold one has created of what one wants.

It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising, although is profoundly sad, that Strauss and her husband opt to take their “useful” embryos and “donate” them to research—thereby killing them.  While Strauss even acknowledges that at some future point they may want more children she opts against hanging on to the embryos they already have: “We concluded that should our tides shift and we decide we want to have another kid, we will try to have another kid. Even if that means going through IVF.”  Even if it means going through IVF.  Again.  If embryos are useful, no need to let old ones linger.  Just start fresh.  And use new ones.

What begins as an understandably profound and deep-seated ache for children that, if fulfilled, allows a couple to reach their fullness as mother and father, with IVF becomes twisted and distorted.  When the natural desire turns into an obsession it very quickly causes one to lose sight of true love, of reverence for persons, and of the self-sacrificing nature of parenthood.

As pointed out by, if the greatest love is to lay down your life for another, then the opposite of the greatest love is to lay down another’s life for your own.

Click here for part 4 of the series.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Dr. Jayesh Amin