Since preaching last Sunday evening’s sermon, I have been encouraged to write down for future reference the material I presented regarding in vitro fertilization (IVF). I am happy to do so because there is an increasing need for Christians to be able to thoughtfully and scripturally confront the ethical and moral issues with which we deal in the area of medical science. Although technology is a blessing from God, not all of it is used in a manner approved by the Scriptures. As Christians, we need to be able to discern whether the use of such technology violates any scriptural principles, and thus violates the will of God.
I am using the term IVF to refer to the artificial joining of the human male sperm with the human female egg in vitro, that is, outside of the woman’s body, in order to achieve fertilization, and then manually placing the fertilized egg back into the body of the woman for gestation and birth.
A proper view of the subject first requires a clear understanding that the destruction of human life, in any stage of development, is a serious violation of God’s will. The same reasoning I have presented many times in the abortion debate applies here. If the in vitro process results in the creation of multiple embryos (fertilized eggs), there is a temptation to destroy some of them. This is sometimes done for the convenience of the mother, the father, or other parties. Sometimes it is done for economic reasons, or hospital policy concerns. But the destruction of human embryos cannot be justified in view of biblical teaching regarding the sanctity of human life. The Bible account of the creation of man, God’s distinction of man from the animals and plants, and God’s plan for the home and family, including having children, all confirm that God considers human life to be special and sacred, not subject to capricious destruction by man, (see Gen. 1-4). Further, the Bible consistently speaks of a pregnant woman as being “with child,” (cf. Gen 16:11; 19:36; 38:24-25; Ex. 21:22; 1 Sam. 4:19; 2 Sam. 11:5; 2 Kg. 8:12; 15:16; Eccl. 11:5; Is. 26:17-18; 54:1; Jer. 30:6; 31:8; Hos. 13:16; Am. 1:13; Mt. 1:18, 23; 24:19; Mk. 13:17; Lk. 2:4-5; 21:23; 1 Th. 5:3; Rev. 12:2). This is a significant insight, and shows the independent personhood of the developing child within the woman’s womb. In Job 3:3, the Bible refers to an unborn “man-child.” Additionally, there are passages which speak of God actually knowing people while they were in utero, prior to birth, (Ps. 139:13; Jer. 1:5). Many other examples of scriptural proof could be multiplied, but this is sufficient to show God’s view of the person developing within a woman’s womb, and thus the sinfulness of destruction of pre-born human life—even at its earliest stages.
But not all IVF clinics destroy the unused embryos. Some have an ethical policy requiring insertion of all fertilized eggs into the mother’s womb. I have personally known of Catholic doctors who were opposed to abortion, and therefore required patients to consent to the implanting of all viable embryos. For this reason, it was not unusual in such IVF clinics to see multiple births (an occurrence usually greeted with great joy by the parents). Couples considering IVF should carefully do their research in view of these biblical principles, and not utilize clinics which destroy the unused human embryos.
It is also important to beware of involving third parties in the in vitro process, such as sperm donors or surrogate mothers. Issues of adultery may be implicated by such a practice. In addition, research and experience show the very real danger of identity issues in the growth of children. Children are naturally curious, and want to know who they are, where they came from, and who is their mom and dad. Be careful about intentionally placing children in a disadvantaged state, or a confusing situation where the identity of either parent cannot be known. Think through the potential psychological harm this may cause a child. It is my belief that IVF done properly may be scripturally used by a loving husband and wife seeking to have children of their own, but who require medical assistance. But, the above safeguards would have to be in place to be sure the procedure is not in violation of the teaching of the Bible. Through the blessings of modern medical technology, such procedures can assist, rather than subvert, God’s plan.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.