IVF

All of the children

I wasn’t even there when it happened.

Board elections of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) had finally wrapped up for the day, so I was walking back from the convention floor to the press room, tallies in hand, intent on finishing my story for the Reporter within the hour.

It was then that my husband texted me:

They’re trying to move [Resolution] 3-04 to the floor.

I stopped in the empty convention center hallway and stared at my phone. What? Floor Committee 3 wasn’t even on the agenda for that day. And honestly, after two straight hours of recording election results, my brain couldn’t even recall what Resolution 3-04 was.

IVF. Voting now on the motion. No discussion. Gonna pass.

It suddenly hit me what was happening.

This was the resolution, the one that had been five years in the making; the one Rebecca Mayes and I had talked about with pastors at roundtable after roundtable; the one the sainted +Maggie Karner+ and I had discussed as being so necessary that LCMS Life Ministry ended up hosting two Infertility Ethics Symposiums at our Synod’s seminaries; the one Stephanie Neugebauer and the Sanctity of Human Life Committee had made a priority for the good of the church.

This was the resolution that asked our Synod president to assign a task force to study issues relating to procreation, fertility, and care for the unborn. This was the resolution that asked our church to study these matters and, God willing, to speak on them.

My husband had warned me earlier that, with the amount of business in need of being covered at this year’s convention, it most likely wouldn’t make it to the convention floor, but some blessed soul – Chris from Texas, I later learned – took it upon himself to make a motion from the floor outside of the orders of the day.

I quickened my pace to get to the press room. The convention was being live-streamed there. If I hurried, I just might make it in time.

“What’s happening?” I asked, turning around the corner and dropping my bag at my table.

Several reporters looked up at me with blank faces, fully engrossed in the stories they were currently writing on other convention business. No one had been watching the live stream.

IVF task force 95.75% adopted. Thanks be to God!

It was such a quiet, unassuming moment in time. I stared at my phone in disbelief, and then I looked up at the large television screen standing against the far wall. The convention chair was calmly moving the assembly on to the next order of business as if mountains had not just been moved. No cheers were thrown into the air by delegates, no applause rippled across the convention floor. The moment passed just as quickly and discreetly as it had come, and my senses simply weren’t fast enough in the chase.

I looked around at the other reporters, all diligently working, and I did what any other barren woman would do. I stepped out into the hall and cried as quietly as I could. I cried for all of the children frozen in liquid nitrogen; I cried for all of the children abandoned in fertility clinics; I cried for all of the children aborted; I cried for all of the children waiting to be loved, respected, and parented.

And I cried in thanksgiving that my church body is going to pay attention to them.

The LORD of all life be praised!

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So Much Death

My heart can barely hold the grief.

It leaks out of my eyes as I bow my head in church. I’ve learned to pray with my eyes open, so that the tears drop straight to the floor and not onto my cheeks and clothes in tell-tale streaks.

It shudders from my lungs in seismic waves as Pastor reads the Gospel lesson. I’ve learned to hold my breath until my chest burns, camel-clutching my wayward diaphragm into submission.

It squeezes out of my larynx in pathetic whimpers as I sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I’ve learned not to program “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the Sunday school children lest they witness more sorrow in Advent than their parents want to explain on the drive home.

But my eyes, my lungs, my larynx – all rebels, every one. They get the better of me every Advent, because I know of more children dead than born.

So much death! How can I bear it?

And, as happens every year, I look to the image of my Lord as a tiny baby in the manger, and I remember, “So much life!”

I cannot bear it, so Jesus bears it for me. He is born to conquer death for my sake and for yours. He gives us life everlasting, and He gives it abundantly.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

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Infertility Ethics Symposium

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On November 7th, Christians gathered from across the country at Concordia Theological Seminary to discuss the cross of barrenness, adoption, pastoral care for the barren, and issues of ethical contention surrounding assisted reproductive technologies.

Presentations given at the symposium included:

  • “The Cross of Barrenness” by Katie Schuermann
  • “In Vitro Fertilization” by Dr. Donna Harrison
  • “Adoption: What Are Children to Us?” by Rev. Philip Zielinski
  • “The Ethics of Snowflake Adoption” by Rev. Scott Stiegemeyer*
  • “Pastoral Care for Those Experiencing Infertility” by Rev. Michael Salemink

Thank you to LCMS Life Ministry for sponsoring this free event and for supporting the church in its ongoing conversation about infertility ethics.

If you would like to hear any of the presentations listed above, you can access the audio files here.

* The authors of this blog are not in full agreement with conclusions made in this presentation regarding embryo adoption’s relationship to the sanctity of marriage and the IVF industry. We are prayerfully considering writing more on this topic in the future.

“Having Escaped from the Corruption”

MP900321169His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:3-11

Whenever I read such words of wisdom from Holy Writ, I feel a deep sense of gratitude that the LORD has made our life’s calling so clear: trust in His promises (not the world’s) and love and serve others (not ourselves).

In this light, it becomes easy to say no to IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies which serve ourselves instead of others and which potentially hurt and harm the very children we are trying to create.

For those of us who desire children, it is good to wait on the LORD, supplementing our faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and so on, that we might never fall.

The One Flesh Union

He puts the wedding ring on herWhenever discussing points of ethical contention surrounding the complex subject of assisted reproductive technology, there is usually one fundamental question in need of answering in the church: What exactly is the one flesh union of marriage?

Thank you to Dr. Gifford A. Grobien, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the D. Min. Program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, for graciously thinking through this question and composing an answer for the benefit of our ongoing discussion of infertility medicine:

The instituting text for marriage is Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The English “flesh” translates well the Hebrew bāśār, meaning the material tissue of a creature. It is the organic, biological elements of a person. The Hebrew něp̄ěš refers to a complete creature, not just its flesh, but its flesh and life. For animals (e.g. Genesis 1:20) this includes its breath; for human persons this includes the soul or self. Něp̄ěš is not used in Genesis 2:23-25.

Thus marriage is characterized fundamentally not as a personal union, but as a fleshly union. This union is an organic, biological union of bodies. Marriage is, firstly, the becoming “one flesh,” not becoming one creature or person. Marriage is a union of flesh or bodies. Marriage is not identical to coitus, but coitus is constitutive of marriage.* When Jesus is questioned about divorce, he reminds his questioners about the nature of marriage as union of flesh, quoting Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:3-6; Mark 10:2-12). What, then, is this becoming one flesh? How is it different from becoming united in other ways?

Girgis, George, and Anderson (2010) explain that the union of flesh is not just bodily intimacy, in which body parts of one person surround or intermingle with the body parts of another person. Rather, a body serves natural life. The parts of a body coordinate to achieve biological purpose. For two people to have fleshly, or biological, union, “their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole” (p. 254). Nearly all biological, or fleshly, acts can be accomplished by one independent body—for example respiration, circulation, and digestion. Indeed, fleshly union with respect to any of these bodily acts is impossible. Only in coitus do two bodies act for one biological function.

Coitus enacts a unique fleshly existence and accompanying purpose of procreation. Alone, the reproductive system of one person cannot reproduce. Coitus brings together two bodies in a fleshly union to make possible the singular biological act of procreation.

Any bodily touching that is not coitus—even other touching of a sexual nature—is not true bodily union but only juxtaposition or contiguousness, even if this juxtaposition happens to occur inside a person’s body. One might argue that non-coital sexual relations nourish and expresses intimacy and emotional union. Yet such a union would be just that: one of emotion, the will, or the mind. It is still not a union of the flesh, by which two bodies act together as one body or one flesh, seeking a fleshly—that is, organic or biological—purpose.

The union of flesh in marriage, then, consists of coitus. To emphasize this does not, on the other hand, deny that marriage is also a union of minds, wills, and passions. Marriage by design includes all of these. Coitus is not the only element of marriage. Rather, coitus is one of the fundamental, unique elements of marriage.

Nor is emphasizing coitus to reduce marriage to mating, as though human persons were mere animals. Although, on the above criteria, many animals also engage in a union of flesh when they mate, this does not exclude other characteristics from the fleshly union of man and woman: characteristics which qualify human marriage differently from the mating of animals.

The fleshly union of man and woman is fundamentally a bodily union, but it also includes the union of other human qualities such as the will, the emotions, and the mind. Taking the above understanding of union in general to mean the coordination of two or more elements for a common purpose, in sexual relations a man and woman would also properly coordinate their wills, emotions, and minds. Indeed, their souls are coordinated and caught up with one another in the purposes of deepening and nourishing their relationship, of enjoying one another, and of conceiving, bearing, and raising a child. The relational bond is as much a part of the fleshly union as the biological union. To insist upon the biological or organic union as fundamental to marriage does not in any way marginalize the other ways that a husband and wife are united in marriage.

St. Paul explains this in Ephesians 5: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (28-30). For human beings, fleshly union is more than mating; is it to treat one’s spouse with love, nourishment, and warmth or comfort. These are the human qualities that go along with fleshly union.

Nor does the fundamental character of fleshly union in marriage in any way diminish or annul the marriages of infertile couples. The union of flesh refers to the act of coitus. In coitus, man and woman come together as one organically. Should this act not later result in conception says nothing about the act of union itself. “[W]hether a couple achieves bodily union depends on facts about what is happening between their bodies,” not other factors regarding the effectiveness of the reproductive system (Girgis, George, and Anderson, 266).

Finally, it is, in fact, only through fleshly union that two people can be completely united. People of all sorts may be united emotionally, according to their wills, or according to their minds. Coworkers united to find the solution to a research question or to a mechanical problem in an automobile have a kind of union in intellect. Friends are united in common activities according to their wills and often according to their emotions. Bodily union, however, occurs only between two who engage in a union of the flesh. Thus, the only relationship that allows the full union of persons—bodily, emotionally, according to the will, and according to the mind—is the relationship which includes fleshly union, that is, marriage. Thus, again, St. Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 express the character of this union: a union of flesh, of love, of care, of growth and nourishment (28-30).

Marriage may be instituted as a union of flesh, a union of bāśār. As a union of human flesh, however, it rightly becomes a union of něp̄ěš, of life. The union of flesh, the ground of marriage, properly stimulates true love for one another, leading to a true union of lives, of both bodies and souls.

*In this essay, coitus means specifically male-female genital sexual relations, not any other kind of use of sexual organs, even that which may occur between a man and a woman.

Girgis, S., R.P. George, and R.T. Anderson. 2010. “What is Marriage?” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. 34 (1): 245-288.

Infertility Ethics Symposium in Review

Here are a few intriguing quotes from last Saturday’s Infertility Ethics Symposium.

(mea culpa: I took notes the old-fashioned way – by hand – during the symposium, so please forgive any unintended inaccuracy in my quotes.)

 

From Rev. William Cwirla’s “Be Fruitful and Multiply: Fertility Ethics Viewed in the Light of Creation and Redemption”:

“We have never said no when it comes to the gift of children, and God has never said yes.”

“Jesus heals a myriad of diseases in His ministry, but He never healed a barren couple.”

“Anything that shapes our identity apart from Christ is idolatry.”

“We are stewards and we are priests of God’s creation.”

“Vocation is not the location of our identity but the location of our service.”

 

From Rev. Dr. James I. Lamb’s “IVF: from Created to Creator”:

“I believe the place we start as theologians in a discussion of IVF is the incarnation of our Lord…We go to a fallopian tube in the virgin Mary.”

“We have a Savior who was an embryo once.”

“God wants every person, every embryo, to be splashed by the waters of Baptism.”

 

From Rev. Christopher S. Esget’s “Pastoral Care for Those Experiencing Infertility and Miscarriages”:

“Barrenness is not just a diagnosis. It is an ongoing reality.”

“We must be sensitive to the unintentionally excluded.”

“We must preach contentment in the vocations we have, not in the ones we wish we had.”

 

From Rev. Dr. Robert W. Weise’s “Embryo Adoption: Helping or Hurting My Neighbor?”:

“The one-flesh union is the blessing that God gives the union of husband and wife. We have it physically and spiritually.”

“Surrogacy is a substitute. This is a disconnect in the marital union.”

“Embryo adoption is troubling, because it involves surrogacy…and the death of embryos.”

 

Interested in knowing more about what was said by our six presenters at the symposium? Look for a downloadable document of the presentations on LCMS’s website sometime within the next few months.

The Truth which Comforts

Issueswidget-1This past June, Rev. Todd Wilken interviewed me on Issues, Etc. on the topics of barrenness, in vitro fertilization, and embryo testing. If you are interested, you can listen to the full interview here.

In this post, however, I want to specifically draw your attention to the fact that the most comforting words offered up in that conversation were not spoken by yours truly but, rather, by the interviewer.

“God does not promise to deliver you from suffering; He makes promises to you in the midst of suffering.”

and

“Every vocation, every gift, is given by God, but it’s always given under the cross. We never get out from under the cross. As Christians, there is an attendant suffering that comes along with these things, a burden that comes along with them, always to both remind and to connect us to the suffering of Christ and His cross.” 

Thank you, Rev. Wilken, for faithfully speaking the truth which teaches and comforts for the benefit of us all.