May 9, 2017

The desire for descendants comes from God. He has given within us the holy longing to hold our own offspring. He Himself has bestowed upon us the heavenly blessing of having babies. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28a) affixes the Lord’s benediction to man and wife made in Trinity’s image. This image includes the two becoming one flesh (Matthew 19:5) in the person of a third.

Pregnancy comes about only in accordance with His will. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3a). It does not operate as mechanical or automatic “reproduction,” as if apart from our Creator. Whatever the circumstances or mechanisms of conception, it constitutes a gift of God. Zygotes, embryos, and fetuses always amount to full-fledged human beings, however they originated. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14b). Even out of sexual assault, infidelity, or other awfulness, children bear no blame for their parents’ mistakes. God’s grace gets credit for every conception. Indeed, Lord God retains all responsibility for every opened womb (Genesis 20:17, 29:31, 30:22)—and reserves every right to close wombs (Genesis 20:18, 30:2; 1 Samuel 1:5-6).

So, unsurprisingly, the devil directly assaults procreation. Sin’s intrusion into human nature significantly impacted the privilege of producing children, making it more difficult and at times impossible. “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16a). Yet Almighty Maker claims even this predicament as occasion to extend His great love. Scripture and its Savior prove sensitive to the sorrows of those struggling with infertility. The Lord listens to the cries of patriarchs (Genesis 15:1-3, 25:21, 30:1) and prophets (1 Samuel 1:1-16, 2 Kings 4:8-17, Jeremiah 31:15, Isaiah 54:1) and lifts the curse from them. Jesus also intervenes with His crucifixion to roll back barrenness: “[B]ehold, your son!” and “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27)

Still Satan meddles, despite divine compassion, or perhaps precisely because of it. The Ancient Serpent can use infertility as opportune time for transforming desires to idols and twist sinfulness from gifts. Not every strategy or solution for childlessness channels the good and gracious will of God. Abduction and adultery, for example, do not make God-pleasing means of obtaining family. What about in vitro fertilization? Certainly, many Christian couples have succeeded in childbearing utilizing this technique. The process of IVF, however, presents several ethical questions and problems.

IVF usually begins with intensive medication. These chemicals make a woman’s body generate more than the normal one ovum (egg) per monthly cycle. Such a procedure aims to reduce the costs and delays associated with collecting the necessary cells. But it also endangers the would-be mother’s health and safety. It can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), with symptoms such as abdominal pain, excessive weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, blood clots, respiratory distress and fluid accumulation, cysts on ovaries and rupture thereof, and death. Gathering the father-to-be’s gametes may also involve questionable methods like masturbation. Some IVF attempts use eggs or sperm from donors due to deficiencies in the man’s or woman’s reproductive system. Inserting a third party into the two-becoming-one and removing the resulting child from a biological parent wanders away from the good things God imparts and outlines in the sixth and fourth commandments.

After this, IVF combines the sperm and egg cells in a laboratory container. (The Latin phrase in vitro translates into English as “in glass.”) Not every mingling of sperm and egg yields an embryo. Because of the expenses and intervals IVF entails, technicians almost always try to make multiple embryos. Not every embryo formed survives, and not every embryo transferred from lab to womb implants (only 35% transition to viable pregnancies). Typically, physicians transfer a few or even several embryos at a time to increase the odds that at least one makes it. From among all the embryos cultivated, doctors assess and select specimens for transfer by grading their appearance (a rather unscientific and somewhat subjective approach).

Sometimes more than one embryo does implant. Many practitioners then recommend “selective reduction” (aborting the additional babies) to improve the resources and chances available to the desired child. In addition, they either discard the “left over” embryos (as “medical waste”), donate them for experiments that destroy them, or hold them in frozen storage to preserve them for future transfers. This freezing frequently causes damage or death to the embryos. Furthermore, budgets dictate that embryos be frozen and thawed in groups of two to five (called straws) rather than individually.

Every step of the IVF sequence appears to endanger embryos. This especially holds true if the woman’s fertility difficulties derive from a womb that is less conducive or even inhospitable to gestation. Placing embryos in such hostile surroundings, even with the best sentiments, exposes them to an unsafe environment. All along the way, IVF risks laying greater weight upon adult desires (and economic concerns?) than the best interests of the child. And while taking certain careful measures (less aggressive collection methods, or fertilizing and implanting only single embryos) may mitigate some of the above moral perils, other obstacles remain intrinsic to IVF in any form. For these reasons, Lutherans For Life objects to and opposes the use of in vitro fertilization.

We also rejoice that God forgives even sins against life. None of our sins (and we all have sinned and are sinful) can lessen His love or undo His grace. Jesus Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection have demonstrated that He redeems also our failures and brings good from not-good. We celebrate couples who have undergone IVF and their children as persons eternally precious to God our Creator and Savior. We encourage compassionate ministry to them, not condemnation, that they may receive the comfort of Christ. Despite discomfort with IVF, Christians ought not to abandon our brothers and sisters who struggle with infertility. Along with the promises of the Gospel and the body of Christ accompanying one another under crosses, we advocate God-given medical treatment options that mediate the healing power of Jesus. Chief among these is NaProTechnology ( This natural procreative approach seeks to investigate, diagnose, and remedy men’s and women’s reproductive abnormalities rather than circumventing them.

Though parts of our bodies have fallen asleep, our spirits have been awakened to Him whose voice raises from death (John 5:28-29, Ephesians 5:14). It is His way to call into being things that are not (Romans 4:17), and “out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9 NIV). He who has already done it to us will also do it for us, and the One who has begun the good work in us will carry it on to completion at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)!