The Black Box of IVF

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 12/18/2018

What would you do if you and your spouse were eager to have a child but were told you had a one in a million chance of getting pregnant? That’s the reality a couple I recently talked to faced. Due to a medical condition, it was virtually impossible for them to get pregnant unless they considered in vitro fertilization (IVF).

So, that’s what they did. The couple went to a clinic, learned about the process, and signed up to begin. After all, it was a well-known facility with an excellent reputation for “success,” so they felt like the IVF team knew what they were doing and trusted them with the results.

After going through the process of maturing the wife’s eggs, removing the mature ones, and fertilizing them with the husband’s sperm, the IVF clinic sent the couple home to await the results of the fertilization process.

They went back to the clinic, and that’s when things got messy. The staff told them they successfully fertilized 29 eggs. That’s right. The IVF clinic had created 29 human embryos, which meant this couple now had 29 offspring!

Things got worse. The couple discovered that only 22 of their offspring were given a high health rating and, consequently, the IVF clinic had “discarded” seven of them. The healthy 22 were resting comfortably in a freezer, awaiting transfer into the wife’s womb.

Before the couple knew anything about what had happened, the IVF clinic staff had “created” 29 of their children, killed seven of them, and frozen the remaining 22.

This pro-life Christian couple was distraught. Though they wanted to get pregnant, they would have never consented to such disregard for human life—to creating and mistreating their own flesh and blood. But having not investigated the details or asked clarifying questions, they now realized the disturbing truth of what they had participated in.

Though they eventually used two embryos and gave birth to two children, they were then left with 20 tiny embryos. Realizing that they were responsible for the health and safety of their offspring, they had no other option but to keep them in the freezer, which the IVF clinic happily charges them $600/year to keep plugged in.

The couple expressed their concern that they were not informed about the details of what many people in our culture believe is an ethical matter of whether human embryos are bona fide human beings and deserve protection.

“No problem,” the IVF clinic assured them. Apparently, there’s a plan for couples who believe the ridiculous idea that these tiny clusters of cells are valuable persons who deserve to be treated with dignity. It’s called “compassionate transfer.” The clinic will take your leftover embryos and transfer them into the wife’s womb where it’s possible to get pregnant, but at an inopportune time in her cycle so it’s unlikely the embryos will “take” or survive. That way—the couple was told—if you believe in God and He wants the embryo to live, it will live long enough to “become a baby.” If not, however, we’re “disposing” of it in your body so it’s more natural.

Ugh. I felt depressed after talking to this couple. I’ve written some of my ethical concerns about IVF, but having never used the services of a clinic like this one, I didn’t know how the process might unfold.

It made me wonder what the couple would do differently if they were to go through the IVF process again. “Don’t fertilize them all at once,“ the wife quickly answered. “Fertilize only one or two at a time.”

My advice has always been similar: Don’t create more embryos than the number of children you’re willing to have, and don’t implant more embryos in your womb than you’re willing to carry at one time. The first part of my advice is to prevent having leftover children sitting in a freezer. The second is to prevent the need for “selective reduction,” or the killing of one of the kids in your womb because you’re pregnant with too many.

The couple also gave me some interesting advice to offer other couples who are facing infertility and who may consider IVF.

  • Interview your future. Talk to another Christian couple who’s been through this process and is 10 years down the road from where you are.
  • Educate yourself, from start to finish, on the IVF process.
  • Consider the toll that hormone treatment takes on your body, and decide whether it is worth the cost.
  • Consider all the decisions you might make and all the possible outcomes.
  • Ask yourself what God might be doing with this situation.
  • Ask yourself, “What is your motivation for having children? Why do you insist on having your own biological children that you conceive?”

I learned a lot from this couple’s story. I know they want others to be informed about this process. They don’t want others to experience the turmoil and heartache they faced, which is why they were willing to share their story with me.

I suspect that, for many people, IVF is a black box. Sure, it can help couples with infertility. Sure, it can help you have a child of your own. But what’s happening in the process? A lot of people don’t know. Given the brave new world we live in, we can’t presume that medical technologies are consistent with Christian ethics. We must do our due diligence and investigate medical treatments, services, and medicines to ensure we’re not endangering precious lives that we’re called to protect.

NOTE: If you would like to speak to this couple, please contact Stand to Reason and they will connect you with them. They want to be available to help others.