Well, it’s time. You knew this would come up sooner or later. It’s just something that can’t be avoided when discussing infertility in the 21st century. Maybe you’re considering the procedure yourself with the encouragement of your physician, family and friends. Maybe you’re tired of hearing about other couples who have successfully conceived by means of IVF while you and your spouse have decided that it’s not an option. Either way, this post is for you.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to dive into this sticky subject without making sure that we define what we’re talking about (courtesy of the Word English Dictionary):
IVF=A technique enabling some women who are unable to conceive to bear children. Egg cells removed from a woman’s ovary are fertilized by sperm in vitro; some of the resulting fertilized egg cells are incubated until the blastocyst stage, which are then implanted into her uterus.
Merriam-Webster defines it similarly. These definitions are medical definitions using medical terminology. What would it look like if we used non-medical English and a biblical understanding of the life process?
IVF=A technique enabling some women who are unable to conceive to bear children. Egg cells surgically removed from a woman’s ovary are fertilized by sperm in a glass dish; some of the tiny human beings who are conceived are kept [in a laboratory] under the proper conditions for development until these children have grown a bit stronger, and they are then implanted into her uterus.
After reading this through again, there is one word that should be jumping out at you as the most important word of all. Did you catch it? Some. It’s so small you almost don’t realize it’s of any significance and yet it changes everything. Some of the tiny humans have a chance at life and therefore some do not. What is implied but not explained is the fact that some of the tiny humans are not needed. They are of no value to the new parents and are therefore destroyed or frozen. If we believe that human life begins at conception, then it’s clear that IVF, as defined here, makes some tiny human lives and then destroys or freezes many of those human beings. That is the main problem.
We know the Bible speaks to this point. The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” applies to life at all ages and stages. Martin Luther’s explanation to this commandment makes it clear that we have broken this law whenever we employ any procedure that hurts or harms our neighbor in his body and fails to help and support him in every physical need. Christians believe, and now science has acknowledged, that life begins at conception, whether in the womb or in a dish. And all life is precious and worthy of our compassion and protection.
Though difficult to admit, the couple who emerges from a “successful” IVF procedure does so as the parents of both living and dead (or frozen) children. There’s much rejoicing and congratulations exchanged, but no acknowledgement of what’s been lost. Is it ignorance? Or is it apathy? In both cases we have to admit that it is sin. There’s no getting around it.
At this point, let me remind you of the life-changing words from the apostle John: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrightousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Yes, that means you, too, who are sitting there perhaps without the burden of IVF in your past but plenty of self-rightousness, jealousy, and distrust in your heart to even out the scales. The call to repentance and the promise of forgiveness is yours as well. Christ’s payment for sin was necessary not just for some, but for all. Humility before God and the desire to live and walk under His law in all things prepares the heart to receive the cleansing blood of Christ and the joyous proclamation of forgiveness in the Gospel, both preached and applied individually. Repent, confess, receive, and then put the past behind you. Believe our Lord when He says, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
So then, how are we to view the children who survive the IVF procedure and come to full-term, knowing that they were conceived in sin? My friend Katie has the answer: “We can know with certainty that all children are exactly what God tells us they are in His Word: a heritage from Him. Whatever controversies surround in vitro fertilization, the children that are conceived and born to us through such procedures are still a heritage from the Lord. God’s love is what makes any and every child valuable in this life, not the means of parentage.”
Here’s a similar example: Many children adopted into Christian families were conceived outside of marriage. This behavior is not part of God’s plan for procreation. And yet the result of that act is a precious child of God, baptized into His name and living a life under His care and protection, graciously placed within a Christian family. God takes an evil situation and turns it into good, as He has done repeatedly throughout history.
Despite the fact that I desperately want more children, I still could never condone or encourage anyone to engage in immoral behavior that would result in conception, birth, and a potential adoption for me or any other woman. Likewise, we can treasure and be thankful for those children who came to us through IVF, even though the process was not at all how God intended to create families, and even though we hope and pray that others will avoid IVF.
Does Jesus love the children conceived through IVF? He most certainly does. In fact, He’s on their side. He says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40). But Jesus says this not only about the IVF children who survive, but also about those who are intentionally allowed to die or are frozen. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.” Since life begins at conception, let us never think that IVF, as defined above, is a permissible option for Christians.
For more information on this topic, please check out the following resources:
http://issuesetc.org/archives/nov08/nov19.html (Dr. Kevin Voss of the Concordia Bioethics Institute on Issues, Etc.)