Monday, January 16, 2012

IVF - Think About It

If you haven't read this about my "Think About It" posts, please read it before going on.

Thinking About: Christians and IVF.
As I begin, I am assuming 2 things about you, the reader.  Number one, that you believe that human life begins at conception, and number two, that all life is precious in the eyes of God and deserving of protection.  If you do not believe these two things, this post will mean nothing to you. And please don't post a comment arguing these points; I will just delete it. (But, you can email me privately and I'd be happy to discuss it with you.)

This post is many years in the making. Back in 2004, I read an article in Christianity Today called Frozen Out: what to do with those extra embryos.  The writer of the article - John Van Regenmorter - has a ministry to infertile Christian couples. He describes the issue of extra embryos as being a "modern moral dilemma," and offers up embryo adoption, through programs like the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program*, as a moral choice.  After all these years, Christianity Today still has the article available. And after all these years, I still wonder how it could have been written by a person who claims to know the God of Life that I know. 


Before reading Frozen Out, I had naively thought unwanted embryos were the result of living in a fallen world where people chose to do anything in their power to have children, no matter what the cost of life in the process.  Tiny human babies were in freezer-storage because people didn’t believe they were babies – and thus treated them as property, a commodity to be used in any way they saw fit. 

I was shocked to find out this is not the case.  The picture the article presented was that of loving, Christian couples who had “extra” embryos after IVF and were trying to decide the moral thing to do with them.  The article said that “a significant number of frozen embryos belong to believers.”  And “Embryo adoption can be the answer to prayer for those burdened with extra embryos and those struggling with unresolved infertility.” Notice the terms "burdened" and "extra embryos." I almost couldn't believe what I was reading.

After reading Frozen Out, I contacted Focus on the Family to find out what their view is. They said that their official position is that IVF is a choice that Christian couples can consider prayerfully, if they follow a few basic guidelines: That a married couple is using their own sperm and egg, that the number of eggs fertilized is not more than the number of children the couple is willing to parent, and that all embryos are implanted.  I've searched for a link to the FOTF's official position statement, but can't find it now.
Despite the approval of a well-respected Christian fertility counselor and the great James Dobson, I still have a huge problem with IVF (even following Dobson's guidelines). 

So, here's the assertion I'd like you to consider: IVF is immoral. Period. 

Consider these facts:
  • The success rate for an IVF attempt is only 25-50%.   This means that there is a 50-75% chance that NO embryo will survive the process   

  • When three embryos are implanted, there is a 20% chance of twins and only a 5% chance of triplets.  This means that you have almost guaranteed that one and probably two of these embryos will die after implantation. 

  • Nobody knows how long frozen embryos remain viable.

  • It is extremely unlikely that all embryos created will survive.
Van Regenmorter puts it this way: 

      "Perhaps two of the embryos will be implanted in an initial attempt, and the remainder will be frozen for later use. It is extremely unlikely that all six embryos would become viable pregnancies. If such a "miracle" should happen, the couple has predetermined that they will give all six embryos a chance at life. None of their embryos will remain in limbo on a shelf.

That's the approach he calls life-affirming!
 
Now, just replace the word “embryo” in everything I've said so far with the word "baby" –which is what these tiny “blobs” of human cells are.  I ask you – is this moral?  Should we be so blasé about creating tiny babies that we know will almost certainly die?  God created the miracle of birth as one to be initiated out of an intimate love between spouses, guided by His loving hands to become the gift of a child.  How can Christians yawn at the idea of creating life in the sterile environment of a fertility clinic, divorced from any loving union of parents - life that can be used or put in the freezer for later, life that has only a small chance of survival?

Focus on the Family stated that, following the guidelines they mentioned, IVF probably does not violate any moral principle, even though there is a high risk of death for the embryo. Because, at that point the process is left in God’s hands, and He decides which ones live or die, just as He does when the embryo is conceived naturally.  But isn’t that a bit like putting your young kids out on the street and saying, “hey God, it’s up to you whether they live or die?” 

Christians supporting IVF have to make a distinction between born children and unborn children (in the form of embryos).  If I decided to play Russian roulette with the lives of my born children, no Christian would accept that it was okay because God would decide which ones lived or died.  If we had the technology for me to cryo-preserve my son so that I would have a back-up if something happened to my daughter, Christians would be appalled at the very thought of it.  But these are the exact things done in the IVF process.  And by not taking a firm stand against it, Christian leaders have silently given a nod to this distinction between a baby in the embryo stage and a born child.  And that is exactly what the pro-choice camp does.  Is it not hypocritical to support IVF but stand so strongly against issues such as early abortion and embryonic stem-cell research? 

To be truly Pro-life, we have to respect life at all stages.  IVF does not respect life.  By its very process, it treats human life as a commodity to be created, stored, traded, and disposed of as the "owners" see fit. 

We do not own our embryos. We are not the Author of Life. Think about it.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16


 *I believe that adopting an "unwanted" embryo can be a moral choice in line with Jesus' command to care for orphans. But, as with any adoption, it should be prayerfully considered, especially given the added medical issues surrounding embryo transfer and legal issues that arise because the embryo is considered property, not a person.


"Think About It" posts

I am an information junkie. I love to learn new things through reading and talking to other people, or listening to other people. When I approach a subject/new information I like to do research, think, read applicable scripture, think some more, pray, think more, seek council when necessary, and then form an opinion. Because of this process, my opinions are usually very passionate. That's not to say that I am opposed to hearing alternative ideas; I value them. God has used the contrary opinions of others to force me to reevaluate, and either to become more solidified in my view, or change it.

So let me go back to the part about passion. Because I am passionate, and because I express myself that way, I often offend people. A lot of the time that's not my fault - some people become defensive anytime someone else holds a strong view that doesn't align with theirs. But sometimes it is my fault, and that's something I'm trying to work on. So this post is a sort of disclaimer: I'm not judging you. I'm asking you to think about it. Examine the things that I'm saying with an open heart and spirit. Pray. Ask God to show you whether my words are applicable to you. And please feel free to make points of your own in the comments. God uses the members of his Body to teach and admonish one another.

If I do come across judgmental, a helpful comment would be, "When you said... it seemed judgmental." A non-helpful comment would be, "Who are you to judge what I do with my own family?" Ultimately, how you live your life is between you and the Lord. I love this thing my pastor says, "It's not my job to play Holy Spirit."  So, remember: I'm not trying to play Holy Spirit for you. And, I'm not judging you!

Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.