IVF Morally Reprehensible


"The House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow federal dollars to go toward research on stem cell lines created from donated embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization [IVF] procedures."

"The bill is headed to the Senate, but President Bush has vowed to veto the measure to prevent it from becoming law."

– Annie Schleicherm, NewsHour Extra

I watched the debate between two senators on the news hour. The main point for the pro side: the "extra" IVF embryos would be destroyed anyway. The con side: Americans who find the research morally unacceptable should not have their tax money used on this effort. One thing not mentioned was the morality of IVF itself. Breeching this topic would surmount political suicide for any politician. However, every pro-life individual should find IVF morally reprehensible.

My problems with IVF:

1. Creating and eventually destroying some children to birth some other(s) (in many cases birthing more than originally thought (2-8)).

2. There are children to adopt. Adopt instead of resorting to IVF. [This point needs to be emphasized more. IVF is a very selfish procedure. There are countless children in need of homes. We should look to them before playing with petri dishes. – Funky]

3. It removes the love aspect of marital consummation (love and openness to life required).

How can we bring about debate on the morality (legality?) of IVF in general?

Comments 22

  1. Jerry wrote:

    “I don’t understand the overwhelming desire to have a child of one’s own flesh. I really don’t.”

    The degree to which people feel this desire does seem to vary, but I’ve learned that it can be quite powerful.

    Perhaps many of those desires are inordinate. After all, IVF has a lousy success rate, and costs a fortune even for one try (and many people try multiple times). Some philosophers, including I think the estimable Peter Singer, have opposed IVF on utilitarian grounds, that it is a bad allocation of medical resources and money. (Alas, the the anthology that includes the topic has been put in storage…)

    Right or wrong, however, it must be understood, and we must empathic for pastoral and pragmatic reasons if nothing else. Herein seems to be the chief difficulty of IVF rhetoric: I think that because IVF involves (at least rhetorically) the creation of life rather than its destruction (though in practice far, far more embryos are destroyed than brought to term), it is a tougher issue to take on.

    Discussions such as this one are quite useful in forming effective responses, but I think real gains may not be had until people are more sensitized to embryonic humanity, and how even well-intentioned procedures like IVF can be destructive in reality. Emily, your point about adoption is also very good, and this will help us address the abortion issue as well (kick butt in law school so you can help out some familes and orphaned kids, eh? 😉 ).

    Posted 06 Jun 2005 at 8:03 pm
  2. EmilyE wrote:

    “The urge to have a child of one’s flesh is quite primal.”

    Yes, it is … But maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe we as Christians need to do more to promote adoption — to remind people that, no matter whether a couple has biological children or adopts them, they will love those children just the same.

    My younger brothers are adopted. I am not. And it’s not like I was somehow more special to my parents because I was biologically “theirs.” They loved all of us and treated us all equally.

    I don’t understand the overwhelming desire to have a child of one’s own flesh. I really don’t. Sure, I’d love to bear a child(ren). But I also know that medically, I may have a great deal of difficulty doing that. I would much rather turn to adoption than to infertility treatments. It’s far less selfish, IMO. (Actually, even if I could bear an unlimited number of biological children, I’d still adopt a few.)

    Posted 06 Jun 2005 at 4:18 pm
  3. Jerry Nora wrote:

    “There are children to adopt. Adopt instead of resorting to IVF.”

    Um, we can adopt instead of conceiving naturally as well. The urge to have a child of one’s flesh is quite primal. While I see cloning as a rather necessarily manipulative thing, IVF does play to very basic desires, and I find this objection vulnerable, if not on its objective merits, but for the fact that you’ll turn a lot of people against you with its emotional appeal (and like it or not, we must address people’s affects, their hearts, and not just talk moral theology or bioethics).

    Posted 04 Jun 2005 at 3:46 am
  4. Emily W wrote:

    Obviously, you haven’t met as many Romaphobic Protestants as I have. It’s kinda hard to be Christian allies when someone denies that you’re a Christian at all.

    On the contrary, I may know more. I used to be one, and I grew up among them and went to college among them. I said we *ought* to be allies — I know full well it doesn’t often happen! Still, I think that working together as Christians on issues like this is perhaps our best hope, even if it’s not very common. We will not get “Romaphobic Protestants” (as you put it) to agree with our theology. But we have a far better chance of getting them to work with us toward a common goal.

    The comment about worldviews (secularist/relativistic vs. religious) is not mine, BTW. It’s the thesis of the book. Any arguments about “the conflation of secularism and relativism” should be directed toward the author, not me. 😉

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 7:15 pm
  5. EmilyE wrote:

    We may even find strange allies in certain Jewish sects and Muslims”

    There is a fascinating book called “The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion & Morality in Crisis.” We’ve been discussing some of its themes in a Bible study I attend, and I’ve only just started reading it. (So please forgive my vagueness when I talk about it.) The author, Robert George, is a professor at Princeton University.

    The whole thesis of his book is that the major conflict in the world today is not between the West and Islam — as some political scientists are so fond of predicting — but within the West itself. The most pressing conflict of our day is between those who hold a secularist, relativistic worldview and those who hold to a worldview rooted in faith and the belief in absolute truth.

    I think this book has a good point. Christians and Muslims could be allies on many, many issues, if we moved past our suspicion of one another and began to work together. The same goes for Christians and more conservative sects of Judaism. Let us not forget, either, that despite the deep denominational divides in Christianity, Christians of all stripes ought to be allies in this fight.

    Pope Benedict said something like this recently in one of his Wednesday audiences, I think… He said that the best immediate hope for Christian unity is for Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants to realize that they are on the same side of the “culture war” and begin working together to further the Kingdom of God on earth. The theological differences have developed over centuries, even millennia, and cannot be erased overnight. There must be dialogue on these differences, of course, but first, we need to learn to work together.

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 4:06 pm
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    a couple observations:

    “The most pressing conflict of our day is between those who hold a secularist, relativistic worldview and those who hold a worldview rooted in faith and the belief in absolute truth.”

    I can almost hear Theomorph’s teeth grinding at the conflation of secularism and relativism. 😉

    “Let us not forget, either, that despite the deep denominational divides in Christianity, Christians of all stripes ought to be allies in this fight.”

    Obviously, you haven’t met as many Romaphobic Protestants as I have. 😉 It’s kinda hard to be Christian allies when someone denies that you’re a Christian at all.

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 4:41 pm
  7. Rob wrote:

    And a reply to gbm3’s reply at the same url!

    (Please look at the preceeding comment. I am so sick of HTML right now!)

    Posted 06 Jun 2005 at 11:26 pm
  8. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Another alternative to IVF are more natural methods of assisted reproduction. One type of NFP is the Creighton Method, which is actually used largely as a method for getting pregnant. All NFP systems, by virtue of calling especial attention to a woman’s cycles, may be used to help a couple get pregnant, but the Creighton Method is associated with a particularly strong program of fertility care call NaPro Technology. Check it out at:

    http://www.creightonmodel.com/

    This would not undercut all IVF demand, of course, but it is quite cheaper and for most couples, uninvasive. I imagine that most people would pay perhaps not even a tenth as much as they would for one round of IVF. (For polycystic ovarian syndrome, there are possible surgical options, for instance.)

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 3:47 am
  9. Rob wrote:

    FD,

    I’m never sure if the trackbacks are going to work. Here’s my take on your post:

    IVF: A Christian Option

    Posted 06 Jun 2005 at 12:37 pm
  10. Funky Dung wrote:

    Gutter Ball Master has posted comments as gbm.

    Posted 04 Jun 2005 at 5:17 am
  11. Funky Dung wrote:

    He’s a college buddy of mine and my confirmation sponsor. :)

    Posted 04 Jun 2005 at 5:17 am
  12. Jerry Nora wrote:

    I think we need to work on some more fundamental issues of embryonic and prenatal life before we can address this somewhat fuzzier issue. Time to pick our battles.

    Posted 03 Jun 2005 at 5:11 am
  13. gbm3 wrote:

    I watched CBS Sunday morning yesterday (didn’t get online over the weekend though). Saw a segment entitled “Stem Cell Research’s Wide Divide”. It had many interesting points. You may want to read the entire transcript at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/06/05/sunday/main699717.shtml .

    I found one comment by a scientist who was for the research very poignant:

    “It’s important to explore the full implication of the claim that an embryo is equivalent to a person, that it’s like a baby,” said Michael Sandel of Harvard University. Sandel also sits on the President’s Council on Bioethics but disagrees with his colleague Robert George.

    “If you believed that it was, then of course you would oppose embryonic stem cell research. It would be a kind of infanticide, But then you wouldn’t just want to deprive infanticide of federal funds, you would want to ban embryonic stem cell research, you would want to punish scientists who engaged in it, and for that matter, you’d want to ban all fertility treatments that created and discarded excess embryos,” Sandel said. “We might even ask whether we should be providing burial rites and funerals for lost embryos if you play out the moral logic of that position.”

    I totally agree with this logic. The burial rites comment may be over the top, but the essence is there.

    “(and like it or not, we must address people’s affects, their hearts, and not just talk moral theology or bioethics)” -Jerry Nora

    I agree. In the debate, affects need to be addressed. I cannot necessarily talk about any other person, but I mourn for those babies (yes, babies in another stage of development and of a smaller size) killed for others’ pursuits and pray for them (and aborted/pre-birthed babies) to be welcomed by Jesus into heaven.

    (Mt 2:16-18; the holy innocence; another case of killing babies for their own pursuit, if more explicitly wrong):

    When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
    Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
    “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”

    Posted 06 Jun 2005 at 5:28 pm
  14. EmilyE wrote:

    Jerry, you make good points.

    I think that perhaps our first battle is sensitizing Christians to embryonic humanity. Plenty of Christians who shudder at abortion don’t have a problem with IVF, even though there are some embryos destroyed — because they do want “a child of their own.” (FYI, I despise that phrase. Children are yours whether you bear them or adopt them.)

    I would argue that their desire for biological offspring *is* inordinate, if they must resort to IVF and hence the destruction of embryos to have that offspring. But you’re right, that’s a sensitive issue. You can’t just tell people that they shouldn’t desire to have biological offspring… I think addressing this widespread desire may require a two-fold approach: First, emphasizing the humanity of the embryos that are destroyed, and second, emphasizing the tremendous value of adoption.

    “(kick butt in law school so you can help out some familes and orphaned kids, eh? ;-)).”

    I plan on it!

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 12:51 am
  15. Stuff wrote:

    Man, I always feel like I read these things too late and then nobody else will read my post. Anyway, just in case anyone looks at this, I’d like to comment on Jerry’s and Emily’s dialogue regarding the desire for biological children. I agree wholeheartedly that to go through IVF it must be completely inordinate. But having had two of my own, I think I understand why some desire them so strongly. Now, I don’t think I have a typical marriage and/or home life, so my comments may not hold true for the masses, but I’m sharing anyway. I love my husband more than myself – before we married I feared for his soul and scared myself silly with the realization that I would rather suffer the pains of hell for him than see him go there. The strength of that love has only grown in the (almost) five years we’ve been married. Our two sons are like carbon copies of him, physically. But personality-wise I see a lot of both of us in them. They are the most beautiful children on the face of the planet (no bias whatsoever) and with each one I not only fell in love all over again with someone new, I fell in love all over again with my dear husband. That’s the way God intended marriage to work – it’s a reflection of the love of the Trinity, if I remember the writings of Bishop Sheen correctly. As the love of the Father and the Son gives us the Spirit, so the love of man and wife brings forth new life. It’s an awesome participation in God’s creative power (and some may be a little more power-hungry than others) and there is nothing else like it. Now I’m not saying you can’t have stronger than steel love for someone who’s not your own blood (if that were true I wouldn’t be gushing about my hubby so much), but I just wanted to give a more personal description of something that is very natural that can get out of hand – the desire to bear offspring.
    What’s that you say? Tangent? No, not me. Never.
    I would also like to thank you, Jerry, for bringing up NFP in this discussion. It is such a valid part of this issue – however, if more people were educated properly on it, lots of big companies would lose lots of money. Isn’t that always the way? It’s a crime how many women believe ’tis better to spend inordinate amounts of cash on an ovulation predictor than to learn what their body actually does.

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 6:14 am
  16. gbm3 wrote:

    More comments at http://www.unspace.net/?p=255 in response to:

    FD,

    I’m never sure if the trackbacks are going to work. Here’s my take on your post:

    IVF: A Christian Option
    Rob

    Posted 06 Jun 2005 at 9:30 pm
  17. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Regarding Romaphobes, I doubt that in 1978 many would have predicted so many Evangelicals’ cooing over John Paul II, or praying for the electors of his successor and cheering for Ratzinger’s election. There is precedent for anti-Catholic Protestants turning around. Some have just done so before others. I reckon with the maturing of the JPII generation, Evangelicals will have more reason to root for the Papists.

    Posted 08 Jun 2005 at 1:06 am
  18. Jerry wrote:

    Steve, you wrote:

    “Now it is far from clear that IVF is well-intentioned, per se–it merely meets a demand in the market, for those willing to pay.”

    Steve, I know you have an axe to grind with the free market, but this is going too far.

    I can, and do, doubt the motives of those who manufacture drugs like Prozac and Celexa. Does that mean that Prozac and Celexa are dubious morally? No, whether they are always used properly is another matter, but that isn’t the drugs’ fault, and I think they are quite licit, and in fact life-savers for many people.

    Likewise, with IVF we should distinguish between the providers and the users. Sure, the IVF clinics are out to make a buck, but it doesn’t mean that they may think that they are doing a genuine good. (And how many of you out there work for free, and just trust God to help you pay the rent/mortage and so forth? Hmm?)

    I know about some women who have been ripped up inside over not being to have children, and Steph’s personal testimony there is a great look into that human need. Hey, helping them get a child would make me feel really good inside, and if I didn’t have qualms about IVF, why not give it a shot?

    So even if the IVF people are free-market extremists and moral nihilists, they don’t always wave those credentials around, and so a childless couple may go to them in good (if misinformed) conscience.

    Certainly there are money interests in this debate, but with the Internet, and dare I say it, a more truthful vision of the human family, I can be quite optimistic. I’ve read about how Germany, Brazil and China are encouraging Linux and open-source software, in spite of the Microsoft juggernaut. Some bloggers are writing about a home-funeral movement that bypasses expensive funeral homes (even though the funeral industry is quite large–it even costs money to croak around here!).

    The moral of the story is that people can learn of better things and force the market to change with them. Critters like the Internet and home computers can do a lot.

    That and good families that are icons of the Trinity, to show people how the family life could exceeded their wildest expectations. That’s more important than blogging, ultimately, though exchanging ideas like this is fun, and has a very important place.

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 5:56 pm
  19. gbm3 wrote:

    The bill to which was referred can be viewed at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:h.r.00810:
    H.R.810 Title: To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research.
    Sponsor: Rep Castle, Michael N. [DE] (introduced 2/15/2005)

    Also,
    more comments at http://www.unspace.net/?p=255 .

    Posted 08 Jun 2005 at 7:43 pm
  20. EmilyE wrote:

    The following comes from Christianity Today:

    “As a professor at Tbingen during the turbulent ’60s, Ratzinger forged an alliance with Peter Beyerhaus and other evangelical leaders to stand together against the forces of unchecked secularism and unbelief.

    ‘We saw,’ Benedict said, ‘that the confessional controversies we had previously engaged in were small indeed in the face of the challenge we now confronted, which put us in a position of having, together, to bear witness to our common faith in the living God and in Christ, the incarnate Word.'”

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 4:07 pm
  21. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    What we are talking about here, IVF, is a technique that along with abortion, surgically or drug induced, and hormone-based contraception, destroys human lives. Such techniques are rightly condemned by the Catholic church, and by anyone who coherently believes that human life ought to be protected and cared for from conception. But Jerry brings up an interesting point:

    I think real gains may not be had until people are more sensitized to embryonic humanity, and how even well-intentioned procedures like IVF can be destructive in reality.

    Now it is far from clear that IVF is well-intentioned, per se–it merely meets a demand in the market, for those willing to pay. What is far more insidious is the market itself. For that is where the true evil lies. The system of modern thought denies the existence absolute truth and goods that cannot be rationally reduced to human desire. Opposing any human desire, assuming the “customer” is willing to pay for it, is only allowable when the interests of another are at stake. And since microscopic zygotes whether in a test tube, in frozen storage, or failing the implant in their would-be mother’s chemically “pregnant” uterus, do not, either by law or by intuition, count as “another”, their cause is a seemingly hopeless one.

    We now live in a day where one can “choose” to have a child by similar means (e.g., technology) and for similar reasons (e.g., personal satisfaction) as another might “choose” to destroy a child, viz., the Unbridled Autonomy of Choice. And the only brakes on this train, moral absolutes having been abandoned long, long ago, is the lingering sense of “ickiness” that majorities of people still may feel about certain practices. Cloning embryos for stem cell research? Not icky. Cloning embryos for procreation? Icky. Chemically preventing a zygote from implanting? Not icky. Partial birth abortion? Icky. Fetal culling? Icky… but necessary to save lives… put into danger of course by medical techology itself… so let’s not talk about it. Ickiness is surely no reliable fortress against modernity’s caustic flood. I predict within 25 years that a majority of people won’t see anything inherently wrong with choosing the gender, eye-color, approximate height and intelligence of their babies. Most already see nothing wrong with culling (“choosing” against) the most poorly formed (Downs, Tay-Sachs, trisomy, &c.) living fetuses. It will be an “I’m personally opposed, but…” sort of attitude, I suspect.

    Jerry I agree with you that it is a sensitivity to embryonic humanity that is needed, but I don’t see how this is possible in the span of our lifetimes. Folks who agree with the Church about embryonic humanity are a profoundly small minority. A ban on IVF (like a ban on hormonal contraception) is politically unthinkable precisely because it is saying no to the desires of people on the basis of a good that cannot be reduced to human desire… and this is the one (and only) absolute no-no in modern politics.

    I am convinced the only “solution” is to preserve a remnant in our own (numerous) offspring, raised, within a community of radically orthodox faith, to undertand and share in these “fundamentalist” (non-objective, non-rationalist) values, and meanwhile enjoy the ride while the ship sinks. It may be (please, God) that the culture of life will eventually win out by sheer procreative force (we may even find strange allies in certain Jewish sects and Muslims), but this will take many generations, great prayer, and faithful obedience, charity, and catechesis.

    Cheers!

    Posted 07 Jun 2005 at 6:18 am
  22. Steve N wrote:

    Whoda heck is Gutter Ball Master?

    Posted 03 Jun 2005 at 11:12 pm

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 1

  1. From "Non-Controversial Human Embryonic Stem Cells…And a Bridge in Brooklyn" @ Ales Rarus on 23 Feb 2007 at 3:27 pm

    […] Well, you aren't killing 'em, but if you consider embryos persons, removing a chunk of mass from them without a by-your-leave is not very neighborly. Sure, they can regrow, but it still strikes me as ghoulish, and if we let ourselves do this, how do we guarantee that we can prevent other actions on embryos? Moreover, this has to be done by IVF, whose ethical concerns are being discussed elsewhere on this blog. […]

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