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IVF Kills Children While Idolizing Them

How can it be ethical to create one human, or a few, at the expense of other humans?


When the Supreme Court of Alabama declared last month that frozen human embryos ought to be considered “children,” debate raged around the internet. Arguments about the case’s implications and what policy should be in that state and beyond are only increasing. I’ve been struck by how in vitro fertilization (IVF) is being framed as something pro-, or for, life because it creates babies, and as something God-inspired, a modern technology helping those with infertility — as legitimate as doing heart surgery to help someone who has heart disease. Is it?

If we look only to the end result of precious babies being born and smiling parents embracing them, then it would appear so. But we must probe deeper and ask this vital question: What is done in order to achieve that end result? Having said that, on an issue like this, it is important to tread sensitively, for it is a deeply personal matter that involves a very good and ordered desire for offspring. I know that well — I didn’t experience my first pregnancy until age 40 and have lived through the deaths of four of my preborn children who were lost to miscarriage. The ache of the absence of children is deep and devastating.

Yet, as I write in my book, Conceived by Science: Thinking Carefully and Compassionately about Infertility and IVF, reproductive technologies such as IVF involve harming and killing some children to create others. How can it be ethical to create one, or a few humans, at the expense of other humans?

IVF facilities typically advertise preimplantation genetic testing, particularly for people like me who have experienced recurrent miscarriages (three of my miscarriages were in a row). But that is code for using modern technology to identify which of your children are genetically disabled so they can be killed so as not to be inserted into one’s body like the “healthy” or “genetically fit” ones will be.

Just as there is a difference between someone having a heart attack versus someone being stabbed in the heart, there is a difference between a mother’s child dying naturally in her body from a genetic anomaly versus being killed outside her body because of that genetic defect. How many “less than perfect babies” have had their lives cut short at the authorization of their parents and the hands of IVF technicians for healthy siblings to be born?

Endangering and Ending Lives

In addition to preimplantation genetic testing, IVF endangers and ends the lives of many children in other ways. In my book, I discuss one couple who had 15 eggs fertilized. Since science has established that beings that reproduce sexually begin their lives at fertilization (none of us can trace our lives back to being a sperm or an egg, but we can trace our lives back to being teenagers, toddlers, infants, fetuses, and a one-celled embryo), that means the 15 one-celled embryos the couple had created in a lab are 15 distinct human beings.

But what became of these humans? The couple reported that by three days, only 12 were “viable,” meaning already three were lost. That left 12, only five of whom were described as “really good.” Only two of those embryos were inserted, leaving behind 10 human embryonic children. The couple froze five of the embryos, meaning not only are those five at risk of not surviving the freeze-thaw process down the road, but raising a question of what happened to the other five. Since they weren’t frozen or inserted, were they killed right away or, depending on laws, possibly experimented on first?

The couple presented their story as joyfully giving birth to twins, but in reality, those two children came at the tragic expense of jeopardizing 13 other lives.

Extramarital Third-Party Donors

Or take the IVF industry’s common advertisement of egg and sperm donors (more accurately described as egg and sperm sellers, because it can be incredibly profitable to become one). On the surface this may appear as though one person is helping another; it looks good. Dig deeper, however, and we realize it involves treating the creation of unrepeatable, irreplaceable individuals as though they can be manufactured.

It also raises these questions: Can we claim a right to another human? If we are only supposed to have sex within the confines of marriage, but use a third party for the sperm or egg, then aren’t we creating children who morally would never be able to come to be through spousal intercourse? Even if only each spouse’s sperm and egg are used, if we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply only with our spouse, how is it ethical to contract the creation of offspring out to a third party to execute? It is one thing to aid a couple in their private sexual act achieving its end of pregnancy, such as with drugs for ovulation or surgery to unblock fallopian tubes; it is quite another to replace the sexual act entirely and manufacture a human into existence at the hands of a stranger external to one’s marital bond.

There is no denying that how one comes into existence has no bearing on the value of who comes into existence. That is why, if four people were conceived by four different methods (marital lovemaking, a hookup, rape, or technology), each of those individuals is valuable and equal even though the means by which they came to be are not.

Ethical Alternatives

So what hope is there for couples who struggle to achieve or maintain a pregnancy but want ethical alternatives to IVF? I have benefited from restorative reproductive medicine, which “seeks to cooperate with or restore the normal physiology and anatomy of the human reproductive system. It does not employ methods that are inherently suppressive, circumventive or destructive.”

I was investigated through bloodwork and a sonohysterogram for physiological problems that could explain my pregnancy losses. Although in my case, no condition turned up to explain my miscarriages (pharmaceuticals and surgery can be helpful for others), progesterone and a daily baby aspirin during pregnancy have helped sustain the lives of a minority of my children. Having said that, the deaths in my body of the majority of my offspring have reminded me of the fragility of life, that life is a gift no matter its length, and that we cannot claim a right to another’s life.

In my book, I share a story of friends of mine, married for more than 20 years, who wanted babies but never succeeded in conceiving. My friend said:

Very early on we felt the Lord call out the idol of having children. Although a blessing … if our life only had meaning or was fulfilling if we had them then we didn’t trust the Lord for the life he would give us … we realized that there’s something inherently wrong with saying ‘Having children is so important that I will go to any length to have them.’ It’s like the big idol in my life showed up when I started to think that way. … [I sensed God saying to me], ‘I have plans for you … but I want to free you from your idols so you can live the fullest life I have possible for you.’

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