Reproductive Technologies

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Part 6, by Stephanie Gray


The beginning of this series can be viewed here.

If you’ve made it this far, there is a glaring topic yet to be addressed: What about those who have already chosen IVF and what about those conceived by IVF?

As for the latter group, people conceived by IVF are image bearers just as those conceived naturally are too. Although the circumstances of an IVF-conceived person’s beginnings go against how God designed new life to be brought forth (as do the circumstances of a hook-up-conceived person’s beginnings do the same), that an unrepeatable, irreplaceable willed-by-God individual now exists is proof of God making “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  God redeems all things and can take even our sins and draw good out of them.  Children conceived by IVF are the great good that come from it.  That doesn’t mean the original action was good; rather, it means that God is all powerful and can show His glory in any situation, writing straight with our crooked lines.

For those who have chosen IVF, the past cannot be undone.  And so, one’s IVF-related sins (e.g., creating children outside of sexual intimacy, endangering the lives of one’s children, eugenic selection of one’s children, freezing of one’s children, experimentation on one’s children, killing one’s children) need to be repented of/confessed.  These sins, like all sins, need to be laid at the foot of the cross.  One must call on Jesus for mercy.  Find out exactly how many embryos were created and pray over what names you should give them.  Besides memorializing the children through names, think about ways to remember them, acknowledging that they did exist.  If others are aware of your past choice to do IVF, reach out to them and tell them of your new conviction that that was wrong, so as not to lead anyone down the wrong path by example.  Let repentance, Christ’s mercy, and healing be your new story.  Pray over Psalm 51 which begins, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”

Take also these words to prayer: “For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.  You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28).

The next question people have is this: Going forward, what should be done?  Most obviously there should be an immediate stop to all IVF and reproductive technologies that manufacture human persons, carelessly treating the resulting individuals as though they are objects to be used and disposed of.  No more human embryos should be created outside of marital sexual intimacy.

As for what to do with those already here, with the embryos who have been created and who are suspended in a frozen state, ethicists and theologians are examining and debating the most ethical solution.  That alone is a topic for a whole other series, which goes beyond the scope of this one which was to make the case that IVF shouldn’t happen to begin with.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Rembrandt

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Part 5, by Stephanie Gray


The beginning of this series can be viewed here.

With IVF being an unethical response to infertility, how can a couple, struggling to conceive, achieve parenthood?

First, they could investigate whether there are conditions of either the man or woman that can be corrected at their root.  After all, if there is an ailment or pathology, it is good to treat it so as to restore the body to the healthy state God designed it to have.  In the Scriptures we see Jesus healing peoples' ailments: the man blind from birth who Jesus gave sight to (John 9:1-11), the Centurian's servant lying paralyzed who Jesus healed (Matthew 8:5-13), and Peter's mother-in-law who Jesus removed a fever from (Matthew 8:14-15), to name a few.  In Matthew 9:35 we are told that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages...healing every disease and every infirmity.”

So if, for example, a woman who should be ovulating is not releasing eggs, then she could take a pharmaceutical that would prompt her body to ovulate.  Doing so would restore her body to the normal, healthy function it is supposed to have.  Doing so would aid the sexual act in achieving a pregnancy but not replace the sexual act like IVF does.  Note: It is important that where medicine is administered to help a woman ovulate, that it only be given in a dose that would cause her body to release one or two eggs.  To hyper stimulate her ovaries so that an unnatural amount of eggs be released could result in all the eggs being fertilized from an act of sex.  If she conceives, for example, four children then that becomes a high risk pregnancy with great cause for concern for both her and those children.

It is worth pointing out that because IVF has become so commonplace, because it is a money-making business, and because some people think it’s easier to ignore an underlying problem rather than address it, remedies that address health problems at their root are often overlooked.  There are stories, however, where couples who failed at IVF, or avoided IVF, had later success with achieving a pregnancy through an act of sexual intercourse.  This can occur unexpectedly or when they pursued medical interventions that corrected the ultimate cause of a couple’s infertility.  Consider stories here, and here, and here, and here.

Consider these organizations that get to the root of a couple’s infertility issues and can help patients successfully conceive naturally: National Gianna Center for Women’s Health & Fertility, FEMM, Bella Natural Women’s Care and Family Wellness, Neo Fertility.

The next thing a couple who wants to become parents can do is look into adoption or fostering.   There are children around the world who are in need of temporary or forever homes, and the Scriptures clearly command us to “care for orphans” (James 1:27).

The third thing a couple can do is focus on spiritual parenthood.   Love, by nature, is fruitful, and a couple can look for ways that their love can bear fruit in the lives of people around them.  They can draw out their spiritual maternity and paternity by being actively involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews, volunteering in the formation of children at their church, signing up to be a big brother or big sister to a child from a broken home, etc. 

This latter approach, while bringing fulfillment, doesn’t take away the pain of infertility; it doesn’t take away the good desire to bear a child with one’s spouse.  We can’t always understand why certain desires go unmet.  It is a real suffering.

Click here for part 6 of the series.

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:


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

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization, Part 2, by Stephanie Gray


The beginning of this series can be viewed here.

Another reason IVF ought to be rejected is that it treats human beings as commodities/objects. 

Consider this language from Genesis Fertility Centre, which does IVF: “We are now proud to be perfecting the use of elective single embryo transfer (eSET)…Using eSET we’re able [to] select a single perfect embryo” [emphasis added]. 

What happens if a child is less than “perfect”?  If they aren’t weeded out for destruction right there in the lab, then they may be killed in the womb: The Daily Mail in England reported that some IVF-conceived children who had Down Syndrome were aborted.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise, really.  When items we buy are imperfect, we return them to the store, expecting our money back, or an undamaged replacement.  If we view humans as objects that we can manufacture to our specifications, then when they don’t “perform” or appear as we wish, it follows from such thinking that one would dispose of the “object.”

Or consider this language from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART):  “you can donate your embryos to another woman with fertility problems.”  Since when is it ethical for one human to “donate” another human?  Objects, like an original painting, can be donated (to a museum, for example)—but not subjects.  Consider this: If a slave owner decided to “donate” his slave to another plantation, wouldn’t we be just as outraged as if he sold that slave?  Wouldn’t we acknowledge that either approach treats the slave—a human being—as though she is a possession owned by someone else? 

Some might raise a question here about the adoption of born children—isn’t adoption like what is being suggested by SART above?  There’s an important difference: When placing a child for adoption, society does not use the language of “donation.”  Adoption agencies do not say “You can donate your infant to other adults” because a donation is an object and infants are not objects.  Moreover, adoption is done for the good of the child, finding willing adults to open their hearts and their home to a child in need, whereas the IVF industry is ordered to create, or pass along, children to adults in want

If a couple opts against implanting some of their embryos in the mother’s womb, or in another woman’s womb, then SART explains the other options: “you can donate your embryos for laboratory research to help improve pregnancy rates for infertile couples in the future…you can ask that your embryos be thawed and discarded.”  Consider the experimentation on Jews and others during the Holocaust—some humans were researched on (and then killed) with the justification that the information obtained would be helpful for others.  Don’t we raise a collective outcry against this?  Why then would we embrace that same philosophy with human beings that happen to be younger than Holocaust victims?  Even if embryos were protected from death-inducing experimentation, and instead quickly “thawed and discarded,” such an act is still death-inducing, and treats humans as though they are disposable.  Would we ever do this to toddlers?  For example, consider the following paragraph and imagine that each time it references embryos [bolded for effect] it were instead speaking of toddlers:

“Freezing of excess good quality embryos after IVF…provides patients with a ‘back-up’ should the initial fresh embryo transfer not result in a pregnancy, at a much lower cost than starting IVF all over again and often with minimal medications. Frozen embryo transfers have allowed many of our patients to achieve more than one pregnancy from a single cycle of ovarian stimulation. Embryos can be frozen at any stage of development during the IVF process. Eggs that are fertilized can be frozen as early as 1 day after an egg retrieval procedure, but it is more common to allow embryos to develop for a number of days before freezing them.  This allows us to observe how well the embryos are developing so that we only end up with embryos in the freezer that we think have a good probability of establishing a pregnancy” [emphasis added].

Viewing humans as backup? 

Creating extra humans to save money? 

Watching the humans grow a little bit longer so we can select the fittest and kill the weakest? 

That is the language of commodity, not humanity.  If it were technically possible to treat toddlers this way we would respond that it isn’t morally possible to do so.  The same should be our reaction when it comes to how we treat embryos.

Click here for part 3 of the series.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Galina Fomina

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.