Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

[Note. This is a continuation of the subject under discussion at the conclusion of Installment #9, in which Prof. Hanko was quoting from Bibliotheca Sacra.]

Even more revolting is another technique which results from IVF to which Bibliotheca Sacra refers in the same article.

Almost daily, new advances in artificial reproduction further erode the biblical categories of marriage, procreation, and family. For example researchers have developed a technique in animals that will soon allow lesbian couples to have children. Already lesbians have used artificial insemination to provide children for their “marriages.” A research scientist at Vanderbilt University has developed a technique which, if perfected, would allow doctors to take an unfertilized egg from one woman and fuse it with an egg from another woman and produce a baby girl genetically related to both women. This would provide lesbians with an ability to produce girl children without any male involvement!

John Jefferson Davis, while not flatly opposing IVF, nevertheless brings up a couple of other practical problems resulting from this technique. In fact, his main objection against IVF, a practical one only, is the problem of birth defects. While IVF is too recent a procedure to evaluate this problem statistically, he quotes with approval Paul Ramsey who writes: “A small risk of grave induced injury is still a morally unacceptable risk.” And this in turn brings up various legal questions:

Physicians and researchers who are working in the area of IVF could be subject to malpractice suits in the event of the birth of a child with birth defects (Davis, op. cit., p. 88).

Before we turn from this aspect of the problem, we note that some have also called attention to the psychological problems which seem to be an inevitable part of this technique. Trowel and Sword (p. 20) writes:

Participation in an IVF program demands a great deal of upheaval of normal life-style and hence dedication. This, coupled with a failure rate of 75-90% is known to cause many psychological stresses which may even be greater than those of infertility alone, hence many couples drop out early. Furthermore, the psychological effect on the children produced is yet unknown. Who knows what trauma the knowledge of being a “test-tube baby” will bring?

But all these objections are more or less of a practical nature. We are convinced that IVF can also be condemned on principle grounds. The practical objections after all deal with misuses of IVF; and IVF, if used properly, would still be an acceptable method of having children if no principle objections could be raised against this practice. But if IVF is wrong principally, the child of God may not, before God, make use of this technique.

We are convinced that IVF is wrong for especially two reasons. The first deals with what was called earlier in this article “spare embryos.” Bibliotheca Sacraspeaks of this in terms of a “waste of fetal life.”

A major scientific issue centers on one’s concern for human life. Procedures like IVF and embryo transfer are wasteful of fetal life and can sometimes result in miscarriages that may pose a medical threat to the mother. An Australian study published in October 1985 shows that 45% of all women who are impregnated through in vitro fertilization fail to give birth. The study also shows that women undergoing this treatment were about three times more likely than other mothers to give birth prematurely. The success rate of embryo transfer is even lower than the success rate of in vitro fertilization. 

At the moment these techniques are less effective than normal conception. Therefore the burden of proof must fall on the experimenters to guarantee the safety of the unborn child. A wife may feel she is ready to take the risk in order to have a child, but another life is involved in the equation—the child to be conceived. Do Christians have any ethical responsibility toward children conceived by this method? Further study and research are necessary before Christians could, in good conscience, counsel others to use these techniques (pp. 62, 63). 

In vitro fertilization and embryo transfer violate this sanctity in three ways. First, there is the potential loss of fetal life. Even with the newer and more successful techniques, there is still a considerable loss of fertilized ova. Second, there is a general practice of destroying fertilized ova if they appear abnormal. Third, there has been the practice of hyperfertilization. Many eggs are fertilized simultaneously, one is selected for implantation, and the others are thrown away. Until protection of the unborn child can be guaranteed, Christians must question these practices (p. 66).

Here we come to the crux of the issue. IVF can only take place successfully when many ova are fertilized. The rest, if not frozen for future use or set aside for experimental purposes, are discarded. But, if it is correct that a child, a person, a baby, is formed at the moment of conception—and we firmly believe that this is true, then any discarding of such fertilized ova is murder on the very face of it. Even conservative ethicists have argued that this fact is not necessarily true—i.e., that a fertilized ovum is a person. But this position cuts the ground away from abortion, for whether conceived in the womb or out of the womb, such a fetus is then only a glob of tissue, and can be discarded if conceived out of the womb, or aborted if conceived in the womb. IVF involves those who practice it in murder!

The second line of argumentation has to do with the destruction by IVF techniques of normal, God-created family life. Various ethicists have spoken, sometimes eloquently, of this evil. John Jefferson Davies writes (op. cit., p. 89);

Various observers have raised concerns about the impact of such technology on the institutions of marriage and the family. According to Professor Donald DeMarco, “By removing the origin of the child from the personal context of conjugal love . . . a decisive step is taken which necessarily depreciates that love.” In a similar vein, Professor Albert S. Moraczewski, another Catholic ethicist, argues the IVF violates the proper family environment for the generation of human beings. IVF “displaces the human act which is the essential bonding act of the family.”

In Bibliotheca Sacra we find this important statement:

A third theological issue is the biblical view of parenthood. Human parenthood involves two spheres: the unitive

Gen. 2:24

and the procreative

Gen. 1:28.

These are tied together by the union of sexuality, love, and procreation. “Making love” and “making babies” (to use vernacular terms) are tied to the same physical act. The pleasure of sex, the communication of love, and the desire for children are unified in the same act. Artificial reproduction frequently separates these functions and thus poses a potential threat to the completeness God intended for marriage (p. 67).

While Gareth Jones does not consider this to be a principle objection to IVF, he warns against the evil (op. cit., p. 102):

It is important to realize that IVF converts what is intimate and personal into an impersonal process.

Leon Kass has argued that the laboratory production of human beings is no longer human procreation, because making babies in laboratories is a degradation of parenthood. He writes: “Human procreation is begetting. It is a more complete human activity precisely because it engages us bodily and spiritually, as well as rationally.” From this basis he has drawn the following conclusions: “What is new is nothing more radical than the divorce of the generation of new life from human sexuality and ultimately from the confines of the human body, a separation which began with artificial insemination and which will finish with ectogenesis, the full laboratory growth of a baby from sperm to term.” 

To move away from the physical and sexual is to deprive procreation of its human connotations, because it no longer involves the diversity of factors constituting human love. This may have implications for the family as a biological unity, because the wholesale transfer of procreation to the laboratory would undoubtedly undermine the justification and support which biological parenthood gives to the monogamous marriage. It is in the family that we learn to become persons, experiencing the basic form of human love and caring, and learning to take possession of our capacity to relate in love. To undermine the family, therefore, would be to compromise the ordinary conditions of our growth as persons.

God instituted marriage as a divine institution. He did this because in the marriage relationship husband and wife love each other in the Lord Who binds them together. That love unites them in the unique oneness of “one flesh”. That love which makes them one flesh comes to expression also in sexual intercourse, which God has also given for the propagation of the human race in general, and for the perpetuation of His covenant in the lines of generations. In this way the marriage of believers becomes a unique picture of Christ and His Church, and, therefore, a picture of God’s everlasting covenant of grace which He established and maintains through Jesus Christ. The unity of marriage, that which makes husband and wife one flesh, is a unity of love, a unity of flesh in inter- course, a unity of nature in the children God is pleased to give them. By this is formed the family, the basic institution of society and the essential unit of God’s gracious covenant. To separate any one aspect of this unity from the other aspects is to destroy the whole. To separate the sexual communion from the unity of love and the unity of procreation is to damage irreparably the whole institution of marriage and its God-ordained purpose. This is why it is not only true, as Bibliotheca Sacra says, that IVF and its inevitable results leads to a redefinition of marriage and the family; it is also true that it leads to a destruction of marriage and the family. The conception of covenant children is shifted from the covenant union of love into the laboratory. This will never do.

God sometimes withholds children from covenant parents. We do not by any means intend to minimize the difficult spiritual struggles which such childless couples endure as they seek to reconcile their will with the will of the Lord. Nor do we mean to condemn any medical assistance which such couples seek when medical malfunctions are the cause of childlessness. But God gives children and God withholds them. Couples to whom God does not give children ought seriously to ask themselves the question whether God does not have some special work and calling for them in His kingdom and covenant to which they can devote their time and energies. It may be that God purposely refrains from giving them children in order to use them in some other great and noble task in the Church. But whatever may be the case, let them seek their comfort in their heavenly Father Who knows the ache of their heart, but Whose ways are always higher than our ways in His goodness to His people.