Is in vitro fertilization (IVF) “Ark Technology,” technology used in accordance with God’s will and to glorify Him, as was Noah’s Ark, or is it “Tower Technology,” used according to the will of man to glorify himself, as was the Tower of Babel?
Let me make it clear that the purpose of this article is not to judge those who have used IVF and have children by this process. I personally know such couples and their children, but have learned from these relationships that not all couples are clearly aware of the process involved. My goal is to lay out, in simple terms, the basic facts of IVF—not judge the people who have used the process.
Fertilization in Glass
The basic procedure of IVF begins when the woman is treated to produce many viable eggs per cycle. The eggs are retrieved through a hollow needle inserted through the abdominal wall. They are placed in a petri dish and mixed with sperm. Fertilization occurs and development begins “in glass,” Latin, “in vitro.”
A laboratory technician then assigns a grade to each embryo based on his visual microscopic assessment of how “good” each embryo appears. This is completely subjective—and is admitted as such on fertility clinic websites. Generally, embryos with “poor grades” are discarded. Many couples are unaware that this happens.
Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis
At this point, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis may take place. A nucleus from one of the embryonic cells can be removed and analyzed. If a genetic disease exists, the embryo may be destroyed. Since gender is determined at the moment of conception, this technique can be used to select boy or girl embryos, and the clinic will only implant the babies of the gender the client chooses.
The “good” embryos are placed into the uterus. The procedure generally calls for three or four embryos to be inserted because not all may implant in the uterine wall. The success rate is about 30 percent. When multiple embryos do begin to develop, doctors often recommend “selective reduction” so only one or two remain. Selective reduction=abortion.
Embryos not inserted may be frozen in liquid nitrogen. Although freezing techniques have improved, embryos may be harmed in this process, and harm may occur when they are thawed. Couples with frozen embryos generally have four options:
- Have more inserted at a later date
- Donate them for research
- Seek to have them adopted by another couple
- Allow them to die
IVF and God’s Word
Marriage – IVF allows for introducing donor eggs or donor sperm into this process. This would violate the one-flesh union of marriage instituted by God in Genesis 2.
First Commandment – If we trust in technology to the point of ignoring or violating God’s truth, then we fall into Satan’s trap. Luther says in the Large Catechism under the First Commandment that whatever we turn to for more help and good than God becomes an idol, another god.
Fifth Commandment – The possibility for embryos to be destroyed is inherent in the normal IVF process. Remember, these are little boys and little girls. In addition, the idea of hurting or harming during these procedures—and especially in the freezing and thawing aspects of IVF—comes into play.
Luther also brings the positive aspect to this commandment. We are to help our neighbor. Christians must see these embryos as our neighbors to love, speak up for, and defend—not as commodities or guinea pigs to be used in research.
Parenting – Christians using IVF need to remember that God gives us children, not just for us, but for them. As Dr. Robert Weise of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis likes to say, “You cannot parent a frozen embryo.” We are given children to be part of a family to be nurtured and brought up in the Lord.
The Incarnation – We see the magnitude of God’s love for us in that His Son laid aside His Godhood and became a speck, an embryo in Mary’s womb. This divine humiliation was necessary so that our God could further magnify His love by taking on human flesh, walking among us, and then becoming a bloody and forsaken spectacle on a cross for the sins of the world. This would all be for naught, of course, if it had not been for the spectacular—the resurrection of Jesus from the dead! We have a victorious and reigning Lord who is with us in the midst of our sins, assuring us of His forgiveness, love, victory, and hope. Nothing can ever separate us from Him, and we need never doubt His presence and power and purpose in our lives.
What if we have a married couple who use the husband’s sperm and the wife’s eggs? We only retrieve two eggs and we do not subject them to any grading process or any genetic testing. We then insert them both with the intent of carrying both to term and thus avoid any freezing. Have we met all of our theological problems in this scenario? Some I have talked to say yes. Others have said no—we are still introducing a third party into the one-flesh union in the lab technician who mixes the egg and sperm. Plus, some would say, even in this process hurt or harm may come to the embryos.
Even if the above scenario leaves a small window open for the Christian regarding IVF, it is clear that the normal process of IVF would not be acceptable. Please share this information. We want our fellow Christians to be fully informed and to avoid getting into difficult situations. If you have used IVF and are now in a difficult situation, we commend you to the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ. Talk with your pastor, seek a Lutheran counselor, or give me a call.