I can only imagine the struggles you might be facing as you try to conceive a child. Infertility is a reality for many and can be unimaginably painful. We need God’s grace to help us walk through such pain. In addition, we need God’s truth to help us navigate the possible road ahead. It’s true that modern technology has increased the number of reproductive technologies available to us, but we shouldn’t use them indiscriminately. As Christians, we need to think very carefully about the moral implications of these technologies, and there are several significant moral factors to take into account if you are seriously considering in vitro fertilization (IVF).
In IVF, a woman is given fertility drugs that enable her to produce more eggs than normal in a given cycle. The eggs are extracted from her body and fertilized by the man’s sperm in a test tube or Petri dish, thereby producing embryos. Those embryos are then transferred into the woman’s uterus.
First, you need to realize that IVF may produce additional embryos that will not be transferred to the woman. When you put sperm and egg together in a Petri dish, no one knows just how many embryos will actually be produced. Standard IVF practices call for the fertilization of all the eggs produced. Typically, they are transferred more than one at a time, and then leftover embryos are either disposed of or stored indefinitely.
The first option, disposing of the embryos, is the moral equivalent of taking the life of an innocent human being. The embryo is a living, distinct, human organism in the embryonic stage. Those three characteristics of the embryo demonstrate that it is a member of the human family. Thus, the embryo is valuable because of the kind of thing it is, namely an innocent human being. Certainly the embryo undergoes developmental changes after conception, but it experiences no substantial change or change in nature. The human embryo grows into a human fetus, which grows into a human infant, and so forth. Through each stage of development, it remains a valuable member of the human family. Therefore, the embryo is not a potential human, but a human with great potential, and disposing of it is not an option open to us.
The second option, storing the embryos indefinitely, also raises some concerns. Oftentimes, couples don’t realize their ambivalence toward their leftover embryos. Couples are probably ambivalent because they intuitively know that disposing of an embryo is not equivalent to the disposing of property that is owned. Their intuitions surface as they observe the continuity of personal identity between an embryo and a child they hold in their arms. As a result, many couples end up paying to store their leftover embryos indefinitely. And this is a problem.
When an embryo is created through IVF, an intrinsically valuable human life comes into existence. Thus, every human embryo brought into existence acquires the right to life and is owed the chance to mature into a fully developed human person. Therefore, storing them indefinitely would prevent them from having the opportunity to develop and would constitute a sin of omission. The only viable option for leftover embryos once they’ve been created is to adopt them out to other infertile couples.
As if that did not provide you with enough factors to consider, there is one more problem that may arise in IVF. Sometimes, implantation is very successful, resulting in multiple children. If the woman’s health is at risk, the doctor will recommend selective reduction, which would selectively terminate the lives of one or more of the unborn children. In order to avoid this scenario, a couple can limit the number of embryos transferred to the amount of children a woman can safely carry or the amount of children the couple can handle at once.
If you consider IVF, please do so in light of the fact that the embryos created are part of your family from the beginning—they are your children from conception. Just because they are a small “clump of cells” at this level of human development, that does not disqualify them from the right to life and an opportunity to fully develop.