The Barren Womb and IVF Part 1- by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonApologetics - A Reasoned Defense of the Christian Faith
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How should we think about IVF?
“…but Hannah had no children.” 1 Samuel 1:2
A young couple in a church not too long ago had a terrible plight. For some personal reason not disclosed to the church, they were unable to have children, though they desired them fiercely. The husband had a good job; the wife a homemaker; they were both devout Christians, church-going and the like; they had a beautiful suburban house, big backyard, a wonderful marriage–but no children, or as they saw it–no real family. (A theological mishap in and of itself.) They decided to turn to surrogate motherhood. They found a young woman in the church who would become artificially inseminated with the husband’s sperm and carry the child to term until pregnancy where she would give the baby to the parents. It seemed this was a simple solution to a major crisis. It is also a practice quite popular in today’s American culture.
Another couple, which were exploited (?) on the Evening News, were not able to reproduce on their own. The husband had a low sperm count and was unable to impregnate the wife. They turned to another form of artificial insemination as well. The doctor obtained sperm from the husband and an egg from the wife “causing” conception in a Petri dish. The doctor then injected the fertilized egg back into the wife who later conceived and had a baby. In the process of all this, the doctors not only took one sample from each partner, but also took a host of samples to insure pregnancy, in case some fertilized eggs died. The remaining good eggs were kept frozen just in case the wife had not taken the insemination process successfully the first time.
There is a growing excitement towards this type of medical engineering, IVF (Invetro Fertilization). Many barren women of yester-year did not have the option of going to the “baby bank” to become inseminated at their convenience or helped if the possibility of pregnancy seemed out of reach between a couple. It seems, on the surface, that this genetic engineering of human beings is giving the world a helpful hand for those less fortunate people who cannot have children, for 15% of all couples are infertile.1 The medical procedure of artificial insemination by a donor or husband has become a true “benefit” of our day.
Is IVF, AID, or AIH (forms of Artificial Insemination) ethical from a Christian position? If we peer through searching eyes we will find that the doctor is playing God for those who are barren? Is this ethical? What do we do with the frozen embryos which are not used and kept in containment? Could we leave them frozen indefinitely? Should we pour them down the drain? Should we pull the plug on the freezer? Would this be murder in God’s eyes? What does the Christian do in this dilemma?2
There are two views by which I would like to investigate this. First by way of Joseph Fletcher who opposes the Bible, and second by way of the Biblical picture. Fletcher states concerning AI (artificial insemination), “We have been maintaining persistently, as the pivot principle of ethics, that man’s moral stature, his quality as a moral being, depends first upon his possession of freedom of choice and, second upon his knowledge of the courses open to his choice.”3 What Fletcher is pleading for is “freedom.” It is a freedom of inquiry to those things readily at hand which may help us in our day and age for sake of convenience that he is heralding. We have the technology to do it, so go right ahead! Fletcher thinks control over human reproduction is very human. He believes that laboratory control over reproduction is even more human than conception by normal intercourse between a couple. (I say “couple” rather than husband/wife because Fletcher’s morals lead him away from the Biblical picture of marriage and commitment in the traditional sense.) He sees laboratory conception as willed, chosen, controlled, and purposed–qualities which distinguish us between other non-human creatures. Traditional intercourse is left up to “chance” as he sees it, and thus, less human and more animal-like. He sees intercourse as playing genetic roulette.4 Fletcher believes that AI is an answer for a problematic dilemma which carries couple to a wonderful end. (He is a avid adherent to Consequentialism – that the means does not matter so long as the ends are acceptable.) Though AI and IVF may involve masturbation, this “sinful” means does not negate the greater end by which the couple or single parent may be blessed. (The subject of masturbation is another topic all together which deserves a treatment all its own. Suffice it to say this about it here: my extensive research on this subject leads me to biblically condemn the practice as it violates a number of different principles contained in the word of God, and shows itself to be a debased form of homosexuality.) Though AI may give way to “…wild-imaginings about a super-race and other science fiction fantasies”, he is convinced that the economy of science would never venture to anything other than “protection and fulfillment of human values.”5
Science has already aborted over 43 million unborn children; but of course it is fair to say that they protect and fulfill the values of human life, right? Fletcher believes that the traditional marriage bond seen from statements in Genesis 1-2 is legalistic. He feels that AID does not impinge in any way on the morality factor. AID is not adultery in any way, nor does he see the child born from AID as illegitimate even though the father bond is non-existent. He even goes so far as to suggest that Sarah had done the right thing in instructing Abraham to conceive a child through Hagar because of her own barrenness using this as a plea for AID. (These biblical texts will be discussed later.)6 He views the marriage bond as intact if both husband and wife agree to the situation. “It is simply ridiculous to argue that a consenting husband in AID makes himself a party to an immoral and criminal conspiracy.”7 He borrows the quotation from Christ, and violates the third commandment, to insure his position is morally sound, “It is better to give than to receive.”8 All this proves is the concluding evidence that liberals are still in the business of damaging the biblical text. In Fletcher’s analysis in whole, which is impossible to reproduce in this article, his view is unacceptable when simple Christian ethics, and some common sense, is considered. As Davis notes, “From a Christian perspective an analysis of the morality of AI must take seriously the divine purpose for human sexuality and the institution of marriage. This personal dimension must be given a central place…otherwise the generation of human life is placed on the same level as animal husbandry merely because the technical possibilities are similar.”9 We must take into account what the Scriptures have to say on AID, AIH, IVF and surrogate motherhood using these techniques as well as from an ethical standpoint holding to Christian values.
Let us first look at AI as done by the IVF techniques. The whole aspect of IVF, considering the Christians stance on the sanctity of life, should be abhorrent.10 The Biblical record demonstrates that a child is a human being at conception. King David said that he was a sinner when his mother “conceived” him. Psalm 51:5 says, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” Here we see that David’s life, his being, began at conception. This reveals that God had a relationship with that fertilized egg – which at the time was known as sinful David only to the Lord. Yet, IVF uses more than just one fertilized egg as implantation devices. There have been cases where more than 20 embryos have been used as a precautionary measure; these are fertilized eggs from the parents which have entered the “conceived stage.” If any of these embryos is lost, the result is death; death of a human being. It is morally and biblically sinful to knowingly kill another human being. Imagine how many embryos have been frozen, thrown away, or killed off through experimentation because the value of human life has become almost obsolete in this day and age. Some say the embryonic life is nothing more than maternal tissue. It is this type of nonchalance that pulls us into the moral degradation which society is continuously plummeting. Dr. Edwards, a medical practitioner in this field, states of Louise Brown, a test tube baby, “The last time I saw her she was eight cells in a test tube. She was beautiful then and she is beautiful now.”11 This kind of talk is the substance of evolutionary prodding. And if such talk is acceptable, then Dr. Edwards must be able to say the same thing when it pertains to the murder of millions, as in the holocaust. If cells are just cells, whether 8 or 80 million, then creation or murder of those cells is nothing more than evolution at work. Can the Doctor disagree? He can, but could never remain consistent with his practice or his self-authenticated ethics.
IVF also involves deliberately freezing eggs, some of which are expected (and even hoped in cases for scientific use) to abort after insertion in the woman because the couple does not want multiple births at one time. The point is that none of these children would be in the position of possibly being a statistic if not for the deliberate choice to fertilize and implant them. Here, the couple and the doctor are both responsible in the cases where these embryos abort.12
IVF also circumvents the necessity for new human life to be produced by the union of one man and one woman as one flesh. Genesis 2:24 asserts, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” It is the husband and wife who hold the responsibility of procreation.
An embryo can be produced by the union of an egg from the woman and from the sperm of any man. Is it going to far to say that by using this technique man is attempting to take on God’s role as the initiator of creation? Even the notion that a woman’s egg could be fertilized by an animal’s sperm has been suggested (and even tried without success). Such medical technology is striving to go even farther and wider than many people would think or like.13 It is easy to understand why this aspect of AI is not acceptable to God since it requires, of necessity, the death of conceived human beings.
What about AID? This aspect supplies us with the most controversy. The donor, who remains anonymous, masturbates at the local sperm bank, and is paid for his sperm which is frozen for later use. The woman is inseminated by the donors sperm and thus conceives and bears a child. Unfortunately, opposite the claims of some Christians like Norman Geisler, AID is unethical in many respects and all Christians ought to biblically understand why.
First, AID allows for the further breakdown of the Biblical family picture because it allows for, and encourages, single parent families to grow. Any woman may go to the hospital and become inseminated. I do recognize the fact that there are legitimate families out there that are single parented; maybe a spouse has died, or an unbeliever has abandoned the marriage covenant. But nowhere do we find in Scripture that a single adult can pursue the avenue of bearing a child alone. How could it ever have been posed? Rather, Biblically, reproduction has its divine decreed place within the context of marriage, and the context of subduing the earth as a family.
Secondly Lesbians can be inseminated and raise a child in the atmosphere of bi-sexuality, homosexuality and lesbianism as an acceptable characteristic of life. This is clearly immoral from a Christian and biblical perspective.
Thirdly, AID is a form of fornication, adultery and homosexuality. God never intended the procreative aspect of life to be associated in any way other than the unitive aspect of marriage. The purpose of the union God created, man and woman in the covenant of marriage, should not be adulterated by the use of such lustful alternatives. Pro-creation is never adulterated unless it involves the seed of someone other than the intended husband (such as in the instance of Tamar). God’s concern is always with the propagation of the seed. If this seed was to be propagated by any other then those in family lines, even in Old Testament times, it was considered a breach on the covenant (such is the case of Abraham and Hagar). It is easy to see from a Christian perspective that AID is morally unacceptable to God and to the Christian.
Should we go with Fletcher’s assessment that if the capability and medical procedure of IVF/AI is out there we should go ahead with it? Though he may still hold to AIH, AI used by IVF is simply murder (in most cases) by which any of the embryos are aborted, as already said, either on purpose or accident. And this does not constitute using this “sinful” means as a hope to have a happy ending as Fletcher would have us all believe. Consequences do not rectify nor justify the means by which they were maintained because ordinarily people are acting towards this end by their own will without searching thoroughly for the will of God. So what do we say in response to Fletcher’s claim that AIH is acceptable? There is much consideration on the part of theologians today to allow for AIH to be seen as an acceptable apparatus by which barrenness can be solved. The key word here is “solved.” Whenever we see this problem arise, it is deemed just as I have stated—it manifests itself as a “problem.” No doubt for those who are barren their “need” for a child becomes all encompassing. (And it is important to remember that many are artificially inseminated because they want to be, not for any medical reason, but rather a moral one.)
The first question to be posed is “why?” Why are so many people turning to this medical monstrosity to overcome barrenness? For those who are Christians the answer to the above cited question is “trust.” If we reiterate the question it should go something like this, “Why is it that you are attempting to over rule the sovereign act and plan of God? Why would a person willfully move against the biblical narratives which teach us that the womb is opened or closed by God?” I believe Christians have lost touch with the biblical picture of their relationship with God. This surely effects the bond between God and us and our ability to choose according to His will rather than our own. Matthew 26:42 states, “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” We want what we want now! We cannot wait for God in such a busy culture. Most of the time He seems to wait until the eleventh hour to answer our one minute prayer, and that’s just too long to wait! The plight of barrenness is overwhelming to those who suffer from the want to children. “There are three things which will not be satisfied, four that will not say “Enough”: Sheol, and the barren womb, earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says “enough” (Proverbs 30:15-16) One of the primary Scriptural roles of the woman is to bear children and to raise a family–she was designed that way. And we should not take lightly that the barren womb cries out. But we should direct that crying to God and not the local doctor and his syringe. We can hypothesize a number of answers to this “problem.” What do the Scriptures say?
We saw previously the attempt made by Fletcher to include Abraham as an example of AID. Fortunately he has misread much into the text (in hermeneutics, the mode and principles we use to interpret the Bible, we call this eisogesis). Abraham was not honored for doing what he did with Hagar. God specifically stated that Abraham’s seed was to be the true propagation for his line (his union with his wife constituted the “seed”). The son would come by Sarah. Abraham was wrong to have slept with his wife’s servant girl, not right. His lack of trust in God gleams forth all through this passage in the Hagar narrative. He should have waited on the Lord instead of taking things into his own hands.
An important passage in this issue is one which I have failed to see quoted in any book as a result of this study (thus the primary reason for the angle of this article), 1 Samuel 1:2, 5-6 states, “And he [Elkanah] had two wives: the name of one was Hannah and the name of the other Peninnah; and Peninnah had children but Hannah had no children…but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival, however, would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.” All things are ordained of God. (cf. Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:9-10) This includes the opening or closing of the womb. Hannah was “oppressed in spirit” because her womb was barren. To make the matter worse, she 1) saw that Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah had children, and 2) the she was ridiculed for not having children of her own (Yes, having more than one wife is sin as well, but that is not the object of this paper). Today many women face the same pressure and problem in their own lives as a single wife, much less the pain of Hannah. Many barren woman may see the fruits of another marriage, or a parent may pressure them with the eternal question, “When am I going to have some grandkids?” It may be a child asking when he may be a brother or she may be a sister. Regardless of what causes the pressure, it exists. Hannah experienced it and so do many women today as they through the centuries. What course of action is it that one should take though? Should we succumb quickly to the road that medicine has given us through the “guided hand of God?” Or should we do what Hannah did? What did she do? “And she, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (1 Samuel 1:10) Many Christians who have taken the medical road probably consulted God to some extent. But a great majority of them were probably too overwhelmed with the stress of barrenness that they gave in sooner than they should have.
Barrenness is not a problem. Why do I say that? Because of the text, “…and the Lord remembered her. And it came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to as son; and she named him Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked him of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:19-20) Hannah was barren, but she conceived. She conceived a son because God saw fit that the time had come when he would honor her request at his appointed time and allow her, out of His own sovereign will, to bless her with a son. Prayer works. Hannah is attesting to the very fact. Because society has made things easier through technology, many problems, which were once petitioned before the throne of grace, have now become “solved.” We have too many options before us to make life easier and prayer seems to be used as a last resort rather than our first choice. We are a get-up-and-go society; fast food, fast lives, fast everything. We would rather use the “choices out there” rather than waiting on the will of God. Barrenness is part of the curse and fall of man in the Garden of Eden, no doubt. But we must be very careful in overriding the will of God in a matter by which He has placed us in. Our choice should reflect His choice; and that means we deny ourselves most of the time until we have an open door by God which rings loud and clear the words “go ahead.”
God uses these situations of sorrow to help us grow and mature as Christians. (Heb. 12:11; James 1:2ff) If we continually short-cut God we learn nothing and lose everything. Theodicy (“Why do the righteous elect suffer?”) is a part of life, and barrenness, being only a small fraction of what suffering is really about, may be a part of life as well. But theodicy is there to help us learn and grow. AI/IVF is nothing but a short cut to achieve a selfish end. I would rather be a barren Hannah waiting patiently on the Lord than a Bio-mother who has succumbed to the degradation of IVF or AID. If our trust lies in God and His will for our lives then the plight of barren woman would be quite different. They would see the dilemma as something to rejoice in because God has all things under his sovereign control and all things work out for the good of his people. (Rom. 8:28ff) “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul states. Paul had come to trust God in all areas of his life. Even when we have our own thorns to plead with God about, we must accept His answer of “My grace is sufficient,” even though we may not enjoy what is happening to us. Glib answers like Fletcher’s only detract our trust for God and place our well being farther into the hands of fallible human beings. Many people would argue that the whole process of AI is a gift of God, and that it is a new way of dealing with the unnaturalness of barrenness due from the curse of Genesis. The fact still remains that we try to over rule God in most areas of our life. Hannah did the right thing in prayer. Sarah did not. I personally feel that if such a situation would be a reality in my own life, I would leave the “Creator” image up to God and submit to Him to give us, or not give us, a child in His own time. God has His reasons for the barrenness of the womb and I believe it is unethical for us to take matters into our own hands and succumb to AI in any form.
Be sure to read part 2 (you can find this listed in the Apologetics menu)
1. Payne Jr., Franklin E. Making Biblical Decisions Escondido: Hosanna House, 1989, Page 61.
2. Hilton, Bruce. First Do No Harm. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991, Page 74.
3. Fletcher, Joseph. Morals and Medicine. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, Page 100.
4. Feinberg, John S. and Paul D. Feinberg. Ethics for a Brave New World. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993, Page 232.
5. Fletcher. Ibid. p. 116
6. Ibid. p. 119.
7. Lammers, Stephen E. and Allen Verhey editors. On Moral Medicine. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.
8. Fletcher, Jospeh. The Ethics of Genetic Control: Some Answers. Page 349.
9. Ibid. p. 353.
10. Davis, John Jefferson. Evangelical Ethics. Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing Co., 1993, Page 60.
11. Feinberg. Ibid, Page 234.
12. Lammers. Richard McCormick “In Vitro Fertilization.” Page 334.
13. Feinberg. Ibid, Page 235.
14. Feinberg, Ibid, Page 215.