Christian Ethics – More on In Vitro

I’ve been discussing this with my wife for the past few days, so I thought I might talk it out.

First, I clearly cannot put myself in the shows of a woman who wants a baby but simply cannot have one. I’ve tried, but I cannot. Neither can my wife, because, well, we have three and they came along pretty easily. I also believe in a divine purpose to the big things in life. I don’t think God plans whether or not your wear a red shirt or a blue shirt, but for something like this? Surely right? Or maybe there are environmental factors or genetic factors or something like that. Or maybe God put those things there. Anyway, I also know that there are plenty of children who have been abandoned or will be abandoned, mistreated, neglected, who need the love of parents. Maybe the above factors which are increasing is meant to be offset or perhaps offset the rising number of the above mentioned children.

There is also the issue of embryo wastage, so to speak. What happens to the wasted embryo? Is it a life or not? Are Christians who practice IVF unwittingly supporting some sort of Abortion? In my personal theology, children or a gift of life from God. So, how does that play into this?

I think of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Sarah and Hagar. Sarah couldn’t have children, but God had promised. So, Sarah gave Abraham her servant girl to be a surrogate, and that surrogate gave birth to Ishmael. God wasn’t pleased, was He? So, even by New Testament times, Ishmael was seen as the child of human effort whereas Isaac who arrived when God chose, the child of promise. Further, there is the issue of Gentiles, who were not the people of God, suddenly by adoption, now heirs to the promise. Not by anything that they did but only through the gift of God.

A bit ago, a pastor who had preached always about the all-sufficiency of Christ and the need to fully rest on him, was challenged on this issue when his daughter chose to use IVF to have a child. When approached, his only answer was ‘Sometimes, God needs help.’ Of course, Abraham and Sarah said the same thing, and the Gentiles tried but never did become children of God until Christ.

Or, perhaps we deal with this on a purely secular level – although I admit I have a difficult time doing that.

For nearly the span of human history, children (and marriage) has been seen as a means to an end. The more children you have, the more likely that one will survive. The more hands you have to work in the field. The more daughters you have, the easier it is to make family connections. Children were used and discarded in the Industrial Revolution. They were not so much loved as needed. Society as progressed, I hope, past most of this (although…) in passing child welfare laws, child labor laws, etc… (Although in many instances, child abuse laws find their root in animal cruelty laws.) So, we have stopped seeing children as a means to and end – progeny, family connections, free labor, etc… – and more like a gift which parents are responsible for, to love, guide, mold, and raise free of the abuses of both the modern and the past generations. Our view on children has moved from a commodity or resource to a gift and a responsibility. Does in vitro remove or hinder that social progression? Would wide spread in vitro remove the status in our culture and society which children now have?

Of course, there is the other side of the coin too. What about those children produced as a result of in vitro? If you decide against it, or if your congregation, church or denomination decides against it, do you then invalid a child? Or the love of a parent to that child?

So, what are Christian ethics when it comes to this?

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

13 thoughts on “Christian Ethics – More on In Vitro

  1. I am unaware of any embryo wastage that some may speak about. Therefore I do not see that there is any problem with wasted embryo. Life begins when sperm and an embryo joining with the spark from God is ignited in the new baby. Death, on Earth, is when the spark is extinguished. In vitro fertilization is not link with the murder of a baby. Vitro is just an unnatural way to unite the sperm and egg. God did not design it to work this way. Yet, this topic is not resolved in the Bible so ethics we have come to understand from Scripture will have to guide our judgment. Dennis Hollinger wrote in Choosing The Good “Perhaps nowhere is this sense of human control more evident than in reproductive technologies. When we combine new technologies with this sense of control, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince people that not all new forms of procreation are morally legitimate within a Christian ethics framework or even wise within any framework” (Hollinger, 96). I believe the question is the exploration for the good of all under the Law of God or is it for selfish gain that may only hurt the majority in the future.

    1. So because you don’t know any wastage, there is no problem with it? There are plenty of evidence of wastage and indeed, abortions to rid the mother of multiples.

      Again, your argument is without merit.

      Instead of quoting others, read the bible, then the post, and respond with your thoughts and dialogue there. We use the bible to figure out ethics, even with modern technology. The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Haggar for instance, when the ‘technology’ of the time was used and the result produced was against God’s plan.

  2. Please inform me on your understanding of “wastage”. I do not understand the use of this word when dealing with an embryo. How is the embryo wasted?

  3. I unfortunately know about the practice of abortion. The terminology of embryo wastage is what had me confused. I never heard or understood this definition until now. From my spiritual beliefs and statistics I feel that embryo should not be used. It is reported, “Adult stem cell [have] been able to give treatments for 73 different conditions whereas embryonic stem cell therapy has not helped even a single patient” ( I think there is no need for abortion or embryonic wastage. I believe these treatments should not be administrated or a route that anyone takes.

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