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

In Vitro Fertilization

In our last article on this subject we introduced the subject of in vitro fertilization (IVF). This is the process by which conception takes place outside the womb of the mother in a test tube or petri dish. It is a technique used for married couples who have exhausted every medical means of having children and remain childless. By this method ova are taken from the wife, sperm from the husband, and the ova of the wife are fertilized in the laboratory. When fertilization is accomplished, the fertilized ovum is placed in the womb of the wife where it is supposed to grow to term and result in the birth of a child.

This technique has proved successful in a number of cases. John Jefferson Davis writes in his book,Evangelical Ethics:

There are at least 100 clinics performing in vitro fertilizations in 11 different countries, and at least 200 children around the world owe their births to such “test tube” fertilizations (p. 83).

Without a doubt, the world has accepted this method of providing childless couples with children, and there is nothing which can be done to stop this practice. We may expect that this procedure will continue and that the techniques used will be refined in the future. More and more “test tube” babies will be born in our world. The question is: may people of God make use of this technique? Is it morally acceptable? Is it a practice which falls within the accepted moral guidelines of the Scriptures? May covenant husbands and wives look to this practice to enrich their homes with covenant children when God has not blessed such homes with children? Is it a morally acceptable means of using medical technology to realize a deeply cherished goal of covenant couples?

We noticed in our earlier article that the Scriptures do not speak directly to this issue. We look in vain in God’s Word for guidance and instruction on this use of a rather recent medical advance. The Bible neither approves nor disapproves in any direct and explicit way this method of having children. This ought not to come as a surprise to us. The Bible is not a textbook on Ethics and does not speak directly to every moral problem which arises in the life of a child of God. This is especially true of modern ethical questions brought about by recent medical advances. But we may not conclude from this that the issue before us has to be decided on purely pragmatic grounds—as if the Bible is no help at all. God gave His Word to His church as the rule of faith and life. God knew, when He gave the Scriptures, what problems His people would face in the future. God knew that in vitro fertilization would also be such a problem, and He gave His Word in the full awareness of the need for Biblical guidance in the lives of God’s people who desire to walk in the ways of God’s commandments and who look to His Word as a “lamp unto their feet and a light upon their pathway.” The Bible sets forth principles of moral conduct within which all these ethical decisions have to be made. We may expect, therefore, that the child of God who earnestly desires to do God’s will will also find help for this problem in what God has said.

We must remember, however, that this in itself implies an important principle. Those who are not fundamentally and principally interested in doing that which God requires of them will be able to set forth seemingly plausible arguments which justify their conduct. The sinner can always find an excuse for his sin – and even justify his sin on the basis of Scripture. The Scriptures will speak, and speak clearly, only to those who bow in humble willingness before God and ask themselves in good conscience before God’s face: “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” In humility and reverence, in the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, the believer will find an answer to his question.

Understanding this, we are convinced that IVF (in vitro fertilization) is an unacceptable procedure and that it can only bring upon the one who makes use of it the wrath of God and His sharp and condemning displeasure.

Why is this?

We find, in answer to this question, two lines of argumentation. The first has to do with various practical considerations. The second has to do with principle objections. We discuss the practical considerations because, while they in themselves do not make IVF wrong, taken together they clearly show how evil this practice is and add weight to our arguments against it.

Turning then to these various practical considerations, it is important to note (though often overlooked) that the ability of scientists to bring about fertilization outside the womb is a necessary step in various other techniques and lines of experimentation which are horribly wrong. It must be remembered that IVF is a procedure developed by ungodly men who consider a fetus to be nothing else but a glob of tissue—whether now that fetus is formed through the natural means of intercourse or through the technique of IVF. Because the fetus is nothing else but a glob of tissue, it is considered to be no different from any piece of tissue, whether taken from the skin, the lungs, or the heart; whether taken from a child, a rat, a rabbit or a monkey. It is a laboratory specimen to do whatever the scientist in charge of it wishes to do.

This view not only is a direct conclusion from evolutionary theories of man’s development, but is the reason why abortion is so widely accepted. Evolutionism stands behind the whole developed procedure.

Because this is true, all sorts of things can be (and are being) done with these fertilized ova. You see, in order to make IVF work, a number of ova must be taken from the mother and a number of fertilized ova are the result when the sperm of the male are introduced into the test tube. Only one to three fertilized eggs are actually planted in the womb of the mother, and the question is, what to do with the rest.

In some instances, these fertilized ova (and we must remember, on the basis of Scripture, that these are all conceived children, persons, new human beings) are frozen and stored for future use. Sometimes these frozen children are saved for the original mother in case the first attempt fails. Sometimes these frozen children are implanted in the wombs of other women so that they can have children, though not of their own. In the December, 1985 issue of Trowel and Sword the author writes:

The process of freezing embryos, though certainly increasing the success rate and decreasing the cost of subsequent transfers, again leads to the problem of what to eventually do with unused embryos. This is clearly illustrated by the recent situation when a Chilean couple died, leaving their frozen embryos as heirs to a fortune. 

In IVF, the couple chooses whether excess embryos are frozen for later transfer if the first attempt fails, disposed of, used in experimentation, or donated to another couple.

D. Gareth Jones in Brave New People writes:

The embryos not placed in the mother’s uterus or preserved by freezing are discarded, or are used experimentally. Not surprisingly this is where controversy comes to the fore. These are the “spare” embryos. Frozen embryos can be returned to the mother’s uterus if another embryo has been aborted, in an attempt to ensure a subsequent pregnancy. Embryos stored in this way can be kept for decades, although a limit of 10 years has been imposed in some countries. Pregnancies have resulted following the transfer of embryos stored in liquid nitrogen at -200 degrees C for periods of around four months. 

Alternatively, spare embryos may be donated to another woman, they may be discarded or used for research purposes. Experimental work which has been carried out has been aimed at determining how a normal embryo may be recognized. This entails detailed microscopic studies of the cells. If they have already stopped growing, sectioning presumably does not kill them—as they are already dead. If they are still growing, these procedures inevitably destroy them (pp. 86, 87).

This experimentation upon “spare” embryos (children) is very common and is justified on the grounds that it unlocks the secrets of human development and opens up the possibility of dealing with diseases which are inherited.

We must insist that these embryos are indeed children. Every moral sense in the Christian rebels, against such procedures which freeze children for later use or which use children for experimental purposes. That it follows inevitably from an evolutionary viewpoint is clear; that it is abhorrent to the child of God and contrary to the Scriptures is equally clear.

From this practice arise other evil practices. If these embryos can be manipulated outside the womb, it is entirely possible, of course, to determine also the sex of the child. In the January-March issue of Bibliotheca Sacra (p. 63) the author writes:

Suppose a wife wants a child but she wants to specify its sex and physical characteristics. If she wants a boy, sex selection procedures enable physicians to separate X-sperm (which will produce a girl) from Y-sperm (which will produce a boy). There is no technological reason why this cannot be done; so most people say, Why not?

Perhaps worse than this is the fact that already scientists who busy themselves in this area are speaking of developing techniques which will enable them to grow a fetus to maturity outside the womb. D. Gareth Jones (op. cit., p. 88) writes:

More futuristic (plans) include various forms of genetic engineering prior to implantation such as the sex determination of embryos, the screening of embryos for genetic and/or chromosomal defects, and the repair of genetic defects. Even more futuristic vistas include ectogenesis (the maintenance of embryos in vitro beyond the implantation stage, and perhaps ultimately throughout the whole gestation period), the use of ectogenesis as a source of embryo parts for transplantation into children and adults, cloning, and the creation of human-animal hybrids.

The issue of Bibliotheca Sacra referred to above speaks of this:

This in face was the central premise in the novel Brave New World written by Aldous Huxley in 1932. His vision for the future was a dystopia (the opposite of utopia). He feared that technology, especially genetic technology, would create a world of tyranny. He envisioned a world dominated by and controlled by genetic engineers who created future generations in their own image and forsook the traditional forms of human procreation and parenting. Certainly some of these new forms of artificial reproduction move us closer to that possibility.