Infertility Ethics: Frozen Embryos

theological-thursdaySomeone asked me a few months ago how I felt about embryo adoption. I told them I knew about it, but did not have a strong stance on it either way. I think people really do not think about how they feel theologically about things like in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo adoption until they are faced with infertility and really have to make a decision related to that. Personally, since I have not been faced with a reason to come to a clear stance on the issue, I haven’t. Since then, I have been thinking about this more.

I have heard from a few different Christian experts in the field and I have found varying views. I believe Christians do not speak about these things very much because they often feel very strongly one way or the other and do not all agree. Like politics, they all have Biblical reasons for believing differently. This week, I will mainly address the issue of frozen embryos. Some of this applies to IVF as well, and some does not.

If you’re wondering what a frozen embryo is or what IVF is, please let me explain in my non-medical language. (And forgive me medical people.) Let’s start with IVF. So if a couple cannot get pregnant and has been trying for over a year, this problem could be called “infertility.” Let’s call this imaginary couple Jane and Dan Doe. The Does might even seek out a special infertility doctor after struggling to get pregnant for over a year. Such a doctor might suggest a process called IVF, which most of us just understand to be complicated and expensive. IVF basically takes sperm from the man and eggs from the woman and pairs them up in a lab (outside of their bodies). Once a sperm and an egg have been fertilized, it becomes an embryo. An embryo can then either be frozen (for an unknown amount of time) or placed inside a woman’s uterus to grow into a baby.

Imagine that Jane and Dan decided to try IVF. The lab (or doctor etc.) would collect so many eggs from Jane and so many sperm from Dan and try to pair them up to make fertilized embryos. Imagine that five of those paired up actually successfully turned into embryos. Then at least one of those would be placed inside of Jane to grow into a baby. I know one couple who had two placed inside of the woman and two placed inside of her friend as a surrogate hoping that just one would successfully make it through the womb safely and turn into a full grown baby. Yet all four were successful (even though many had failed before) and they now have quadruplets! But back to Jane and Dan.

Let’s say the Doe’s embryo after being placed in Jane’s body became a healthy baby. Jane and Dan might go ahead and freeze the other four embryos until they want more children. Then they might use two more of those embryos and have two more babies at a later date. Then they might be done having kids, yet they still have two unused frozen embryos! What happens now? Well, now they can sign a release waiver to release these embryos to be… well that’s another controversy. Will they be used for medical research like stem cells? Will they be adopted by another couple struggling with infertility? Or will they be thrown away?

The National Embryo Donation Center reports the United States having somewhere between 700,000-1,000,000 frozen embryos currently.[1] While not all of those are up for adoption, is it Biblical to adopt a frozen embryo? That’s the question many Christians are asking and coming to very different conclusions.

On the one side, the argument starts with viewing embryos as living beings. The argument goes like this, “If we believe life starts at conception, then an embryo is a conceived life!” Therefore, we must adopt these embryos and fight for them to not be destroyed etc. Christians here believe that we should help with the adoption of those already in orphanages and foster care as well as embryos. In other words, one is not more important than the other. Each is equally important.

On the other hand, some Christians wonder how much is just science and how much is “playing God?” Where do we draw the line? For instance, many Christians would agree that we should not clone people—even if it’s found to be possible. Yet is this the same thing? Is this man creating life more than God? When God creates life (outside of Adam and Eve and Jesus), it is from two coming together and becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24). This group of Christians also often argue that the money used with IVF and storing of frozen embryos would be better spent elsewhere.

Those are the most basic explanations of where Christians stand and why. I personally see both points as valid. I see the place for IVF and a frozen embryo. Yet I also agree that it sort of seems like we’re playing God through parts of this. Yet many would say the same thing about using birth control (which is another topic for another day). Where do you draw the line and where should the line be drawn? I know Christians who believe IVF is wrong, yet are willing to do embryo adoption. I know others who would say the opposite. Ultimately, is this a matter of conscience? At the moment, I am going to say, yes, it’s a matter of conscience. (Next week’s Theological Thursday also addresses more issues related to Infertility Ethics.)

 

[1] https://www.embryodonation.org/ accessed 12.19.2016.

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