How IVF Is Changing Our View of Human Beings

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 12/19/2018

As a follow-up to Alan’s post on in vitro fertilization (IVF) yesterday, here’s a news story that demonstrates how the common, accepted practices employed in IVF (e.g., creating many human children, choosing a few, freezing, destroying, or experimenting on the rest—and/or “selectively reducing,” i.e., killing, some of the developing babies if too many embryos implant) are shaping the way we view human beings:

An actress from Brooklyn has appealed to other women to trade embryos with her because she was wants a son....

She is desperate to have another son and wants [to] trade her one female embryo—the last embryo she has remaining after multiple rounds of IVF—for the male embryo of a stranger.

The woman’s post on social media read,

We want to complete our family with a son. We have a great quality female embryo, hatching! Would like to consider a trade? Donor egg: Italian; sperm: English Irish Yale educated.

This woman is willing to trade her very own daughter for a different child—like she’s an unwanted baseball card.

‘My husband grew up with sisters and wants a boy too. This is the way we want to complete our family.’

Lisa has swapped emails with the woman who, like her, is storing a frozen embryo at a fertility center, and they may proceed if the woman’s husband gives the go-ahead.

‘She already has a toddler, and she has two male embryos left over,’ said Lisa.

“She has two male embryos left over.” Listen to that language. It’s standard now, and it’s horrifying. Think of all the meaning contained in those words, “left over.” These words do not recognize individual human beings. The “male embryos” are merely possible products in a catalogue that will either sit on a shelf indefinitely or be destroyed to make room for more merchandise if no one decides to purchase them. Can we engage in this behavior and language as a society and not be affected by it?

This view of human beings as commodities we can pick and choose—commodities with an instrumental value that varies according to our preferences (rather than awe-inspiring gifts with unchanging intrinsic value)—won’t remain confined to embryonic human beings. Instrumental views of one kind of human being have a way of bleeding over into our views of others. Newborns? The elderly? If they’re not meeting our discerning taste as consumers, then surely we should not be saddled with them. After all, they may not fit into our plans for an ideal family.

There is no sense here that this woman is talking about her child.

In May this year, the couple went through another round of IVF at New Hope and froze a female embryo.

‘I was surprised and sad [it was a girl]’, Lisa recalled.

They switched to a clinic upstate and tried again in September at a cost of $12,000, but the egg retrieval yielded no viable candidates.

By then, they had shelled out more than $45,000 on fertility services.

Lisa and Ray subsequently decided to offer their frozen female embryo, currently in a storage facility for which they pay $1,000 a year, to someone with a male embryo.

‘I made up my mind as a reaction to losing the $12,000. Now I have a commodity, something I can leverage,’ said Lisa.

And there it is. Her child—her daughter—is merely a “commodity” she can “leverage” to get the boy child she wishes to purchase. After all, she paid a lot of money to get what she wanted. She didn’t receive the product she desired, so now she wants to exchange it to get the right one.

I used to recommend ethical guidelines for using IVF—don’t create more embryos than you’re willing to give birth to, and don’t transfer more embryos than you’re willing to carry to term—but I no longer think this is adequate. First, doctors will push these guidelines. Their interest is in having a clinic that successfully creates pregnancies and births; their interest is not in the “leftover” embryos that were created merely to give them a better chance of achieving their goal. Once you put yourself in a position where so much money and so many hopes are on the line, the temptation to be swayed away from your guidelines could very well be too great.

Second, you can’t guarantee you really will birth the children you froze for later use. Life is unpredictable. Marriages end. People get cancer or die unexpectedly. New responsibilities can suddenly crowd out your previous plans to have more children. You might mean to get back to it someday, but time passes, and then it’s too late. Now what? What happens to your children? Do you adopt them out? Keep them frozen forever? Let them die? Once you start down this path, you can easily get to a point where whatever option you choose will be at least painful, if not immoral.

But the third reason is possibly the most dangerous. This industry is shaping our entire culture’s view of what is acceptable treatment of human beings. It’s training us to think of children as commodities. It’s freezing and destroying children on a massive scale. Even if, against the odds, you manage to use IVF responsibly, do you want to be part of this industry—contributing to it with your money and making IVF even more commonplace so that more and more people use it irresponsibly? These questions need to be carefully considered before you use IVF.

I can’t imagine experiencing the pain of infertility. It’s difficult enough being single and childless. To be married and unable to create a family must be horribly painful. I’m sure many of you have children today because of IVF, and that is certainly a blessing. I know that some of you also have regrets resulting from IVF—your doctor created more embryonic children than you could ever carry, or he convinced you to “reduce” the multiple children you were carrying down to two. I know this because I hear from you. Please know that I am weeping with you and praying you will be comforted and healed by God’s grace in Jesus.

For those of you who are considering IVF, please remember that childlessness is not the only kind of pain. I implore you to not merely exchange the immediate pain of childlessness for a different kind of pain that IVF may bring you. Sometimes our lives don’t end up the way we pictured them, and that’s hard, I know. But I also know that God is faithful. As Paul said in Philippians 4:10–13, whatever situation life brings us—expected or unexpected, wanted or unwanted—we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. Begin by trusting in that truth, and then you’ll be able to think clearly and carefully through the moral implications of your options without being driven by desperation or emotional pain.