The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Part 4, by Stephanie Gray


The beginning of this series can be viewed here.

Perhaps most foundationally, IVF ought to be rejected because it violates natural law when it comes to creating life and the nature of sex.

Someone might read what has been written so far and acknowledge the following:

  *Embryos should never be frozen because it endangers their lives

*Embryos should not be valued based on a eugenics mentality

*Embryos should never be killed

*Embryos should be treated with the reverence and respect we would treat a born child

  Then, such an individual might suggest that while IVF is generally problematic, that under very narrow parameters it could be acceptable:

*If only one or two embryos are created

*If the embryos are not tested for genetic “fitness” but embraced regardless of their health

*If the embryos are immediately implanted in the womb of their mothers

While such a perspective is certainly an improvement from how our culture practices IVF, this perspective is still flawed and ought to be rejected.  By way of analogy, 1+1=2 and while 5 is closer to the correct answer than 10 is, the number 5 is still a wrong answer.

To understand why even the narrow parameters are wrong, we need to take a step back and consider foundational principles, starting with the nature of sex.

A sex drive is inherent to being an adult human.  It is a sign our bodies have reached maturity and a sign our bodies are working correctly (which is why people may go to their doctors when they experience low libido).  Identifying the nature of something is necessary but not sufficient.  Just because we have a sex drive it doesn’t mean we should act on it anytime, anywhere.  So we then need to look at the nature of our sexuality through the lens of a moral code, in this case I’ll be looking at it through a Christian worldview.

By way of analogy, when considering the nature of the eye it is reasonable to conclude it is designed to see (and if someone is blind we can conclude, by examining the nature of the eye in contrast to the nature of, for example, the nose, that the eye is not functioning properly by not seeing, but that the nose is functioning properly by not seeing).  But should we always use our sight to see every single thing?  No, and an example would be to use our sight to peak through someone's curtains to see their private activity: Our eye is doing the “right” thing (according to its nature) by seeing but our will is doing the wrong thing by applying sight in that setting (moral code).

Likewise, when it comes to our bodies and sex we need to look at nature and a moral code.  From a Christian perspective, the only relationship in which sex is permitted is the permanent relationship of marriage.  Looking at the nature of sex can help us understand why this is the case: When a couple has sex their bodies release bonding hormones that “attach” them to their partner in a way they aren’t bonded to others.  Moreover, sex has the inherent power to create offspring.  These two realities make sex inappropriate for non-exclusive, non-lifelong relationships because it is not healthy for individuals to bond so intimately only to have those bonds broken or weakened by changing/multiple sexual partners.  The stronger a bond (and sex creates a strong bond) the stronger the pain when that bond is lessened.  Furthermore, in an ideal world, children should be raised in a loving home by both their mothers and fathers, and that is increasingly unlikely when the parents have not pledged a permanent union.

For the good of children, and the good of a couple, sex should only happen in marriage.  This means that if sex should only happen in marriage, and sex is how God designed humans to reproduce, then any children produced should only come about from the union of the husband’s and wife’s seeds.  That being the case, this thinking rules out a couple ever using a third party’s sperm or egg to create offspring because it would result in children that could never come about through that specific marriage/sexual relationship.

Ethicist and Rev. Tad Pacholczyk has remarked,

“Our sex cells, or gametes, are special cells. They uniquely identify us. They are an intimate expression of our own bodily identity, and mark our human fruitfulness. Hence our own gametes exist in a discernible relationship to marriage. Each of us, in fact, has been given a capacity, a radical capacity, for total self-donation to a unique member of the opposite sex in marriage. Our gametes, and their exclusive availability to our spouse through marital acts, are an important sign of this radical capacity for self-donation. They uniquely denote who we are, and manifest the beautiful and life-engendering possibility of giving ourselves away to the one person whom we singularly love as our husband or wife. Hence, donating to sperm or egg banks violates something fundamental at the core of our own humanity. It dissociates us from the deeper meaning of our own bodies and gravely damages the inner order of marriage.”

Does this mean if a married couple uses their own sperm and egg that IVF could be justified?  As we dig deeper, we will see the answer is still no:

A human person may not claim a right to another human person, for to do so would be to classify the other as an object.  So as much as parenthood is good, and the desire for children is good, parents do not have a right to children.  The human person is not to be possessed (or treated as a possession).  Hiring a third party to harvest the life-creating human parts and to force those cells together to make another individual come into existence is reflective of behavior that treats the other as a possession, of “making” another rather than “receiving” the other. 

It’s worth pointing out that a couple may not intend this, but the morality of actions does not hinge on intentions alone.  For example, someone may have a good intention when having an abortion (do not bring a child into an abusive relationship) but if the means to achieve that end is immoral (i.e., the means brings an end to the child’s life) then no matter how good the intentions are, the action itself is still wrong.  The very nature of the action of IVF is that it treats the other as an object or a possession, whether the parties involved intend this or not. 

Next, consider what makes marriage set apart from all other relationships: It is leaving and cleaving; it is two becoming one flesh; it is the inclusion of sexual intimacy that both bonds and (sometimes) bears babies.  Certainly, besides having a sexual relationship, married couples also live under the same roof, share meals and finances, and talk about their hopes and fears, but non-marital relationships can include those elements too.  After all, siblings, cousins, and friends sometimes live under the same roof, share meals and finances, and talk about hopes and fears.  But these other relationships may not include the sexual intimacy reserved for marriage.  Moreover, while a married couple may invite others into their home to share in meals and friendship, it wouldn’t be proper for a married couple to invite others into their home to share in their sexual activity because that is supposed to be a private and intimate expression between the committed couple.  If it weren’t for technology, then sexual intimacy would be the only way to generate offspring; one could say that generating children is inherent to a couple’s sexual activity.  By pursuing IVF a couple is taking the life-creating element of their private, exclusive, one-flesh union and making it come about through a third party. 

Note: A couple may find there are times when they need to seek outside support to help their sexual activity achieve its ends, whether that is getting counselling if they are having trouble with their intimacy/emotional bonding or seeking medical help if their bodies aren’t working properly (e.g., the husband needs pharmaceuticals to achieve an erection or the wife needs pharmaceuticals to ovulate).  There is a vitally important distinction to be made here: In these situations the couple is enlisting a third party outside of the moments of bonding or life creation  to correct something that is wrong so that when the couple is privately and exclusively in those moments, they can achieve the ends of bonding and babies.  This approach works with God’s designs and ensures the body and mind are in optimal condition to express and achieve what God has beautifully created for the husband and wife.  Contrast that with IVF where the couple is enlisting a third party in the very moment of life creation that is designed by God to occur in the sexual act, an act which is reserved only for the spouses.

Further, when God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) He entrusted male and female, creatures below God, with an incredible power to facilitate the creation of new human life made in the image of the Divine.  That isn’t to be taken lightly.  As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker in the movie Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  A couple ought to treat their life-creating powers with the greatest reverence and responsibility, and with a sense of the sacred; IVF, even with a married couple, fails at doing so, as the chart below explains: