Some brief Christian reflections to mark the birth of 5 million children by IVF
Over 5 million children have been born
through IVF. The figure comes from a study, the first of
its kind, into IVF statistics from countries around the world.
According to Bioedge,
Researchers scoured government archives for information about how many women
had used the procedure since its introduction and estimated that 900,000
children had been born after IVF in China alone.
Of all children in the world born by IVF, an
astounding one-third of these children have been born in the past six years.
A lot of this has to do with increased success
rates. IVF has enabled babies to be born to couples who would not otherwise
have been able to conceive.
But on the other hand IVF has also opened what many
regard as a Pandora ’s Box of genetic engineering, cloning, pre-implantation
diagnosis, embryonic stem cell harvest and animal-human hybrids.
has also been fuelled by the rising levels of infertility which are exacerbated
both by sexually transmitted disease (leading to tubal damage) and women
delaying attempting to have children until such time as their natural fertility
starts to drop off. Women wrongly assume that IVF is a good fallback solution
when in fact the success
rates are 40-50% for the under-35s, dropping to 20% for the under-40s and
just 5% for women aged up to 43.
There are over two million infertile couples in the UK (one in seven) and infertility
can carry real stigma.
Infertility can result from defects in the production, release or transport of
egg or sperm and successful treatment depends on accurate diagnosis. The range
of treatments and their speed of development is bewildering, and not all
couples need IVF: other common treatments include artificial insemination (AI),
intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and gamete intra-fallopian transfer
In IVF (in vitro fertilisation), sperm and eggs are brought together in a petri
dish, and resulting embryos are then transferred into the womb. There is a high
failure rate (75-85% per cycle overall) and the treatment costs of £2,500 per
cycle will exhaust the resources of many of the couples who are unable to get
NHS treatment. As highlighted
just last week a couple is likely to have spent something of the order of
£15,000 for the three cycles it is likely to have taken should they be
fortunate enough to become pregnant. IVF heartbreak is real.
The emotional roller coaster of raised hope and
dashed expectation is another important cost to be counted; but I believe the
most important decisions Christians need to make involve honouring embryonic
life and upholding the marriage bond. We should not seek a child at any cost
Some IVF programmes involve the production of spare embryos, which are then
used for research, disposed of, or frozen for future use. Freezing compromises
embryo survival and there is a high chance that frozen embryos will never be
used. Other programmes involve screening out embryos or fetuses with congenital
disease either before implantation or later in pregnancy.
Our society thinks that because human embryos are
small, weak and physically insignificant they are expendable. But this is at
odds with the God’s loving grace, which sees even the weakest of human beings
as precious, and worthy of wonder, love, respect and protection.
The other key question to consider is whether the use of donated eggs or sperm
somehow violates the marriage relationship. Clearly using donor gametes does
not involve sex outside marriage nor the cheating nor lust aspects of an
But marriage is a spiritual, emotional and physical
union in which two become one and donor eggs or sperm inevitably introduce a
third person that will be genetically related to the child, but play no part in
their upbringing. And the child will be biologically related only to one, or
perhaps neither of his or her parents.
So my own guidance is that prospective parents considering IVF should carefully
count the economic and emotional cost and seek treatments that both respect the
human embryo and also honour the marriage bond.
Some infertile Christian couples will go on to conceive, either naturally or
with ethical infertility treatment, after a period of waiting. But this does
not happen for all, and God in his wisdom has left some couples childless
despite good treatment and patient prayer. Perhaps this is to ensure that there
are couples with a strong desire to be parents, who can either adopt children,
serve others’ children in some way or be freed up for some other special
purpose which God has for them.
These comments are based on a longer article in Nucleus, which can be