Scriptural Principles Governing In Vitro Fertilization
CLR NOTE: This essay was originally titled Scriptural Principles Governing Test-Tube Babies (click here for original essay). The term “test-tube baby” was initially used to refer to children conceived with in vitro fertilization (IVF). The essay was revised using these current day terms to describe fertilization outside the womb.
The writer has tried very hard to remain objective in the comments made thus far. He has tried to give the world’s viewpoints concerning in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer, the strongly in favor of, the mildly in favor of, the mildly opposed, and the strongly opposed. Why is there such a divergence in opinions?
At the time of creation, man was perfect. His will was in complete harmony with the will of God. He had a perfect understanding of God’s will. He was created in God’s image and everything about him was as God himself said, “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But then, man fell into sin. Man lost the image of God. His knowledge of God’s will became clouded and darkened. He no longer had a correct understanding of right and wrong, and was unable to distinguish the difference in given situations. Consequently, in any question of ethics, it is not always perfectly clear what man should decide. This is why we have so many different opinions about in vitro fertilization also.
But for the Christian the matter should not be puzzling. In order that man might know the difference between right and wrong, God has given him his verbally inspired Word. And this Word of God is the only infallible authority in all matters of faith and life. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness: so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Hence, even though Scripture does not state in these words “In vitro birth is right” or “In vitro birth is wrong,” it does lay down some definite principles which make the decision for us rather an easy one.
Let us arrive at this decision by considering the following topics: Creation, God’s Providence, The Purpose of Marriage, God and Evil, Death, Dignity and Worth of the Individual, and the Sanctity of Life.
The Biblical doctrine of creation has a definite bearing concerning test-tube birth because it tells us that the matter making up the embryo was created by God’s almighty power. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Moreover, it was by God’s almighty power that the matter which He created became alive. The Bible is very clear, too, in pointing out that the creation of human life is on a higher level than plant and animal life. For plant and animal life, God summoned them into existence by His almighty Word. But when it came to the creation of man, God’s action was of a special kind. “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ ” (Genesis 1:26). “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul“ (Genesis 2:6). “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man” (Genesis 2:22).
So God created matter with His almighty power. It acquired the characteristics which we call life by God’s almighty power. And Scripture also tells us that new life originates by God’s almighty power. When He said, “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28), He not only gave a command, but also the power that life might continue. Conception is in the hands of God. “Man may prevent it. He may be a secondary cause in effecting it. But he is not the primary agent in bringing it about. The giving of new life is God’s prerogative” (John W. Klotz, A Christian View of Abortion, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973, p. 34). “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him“ (Psalm 127:3).
Thus what Scripture says of the origin of life and of the way in which it continues must be given serious consideration in any discussion about IVF.
The doctrine of providence is also involved. It is God who governs the universe. The earth’s future is not finally determined by what happens in Washington, but ultimately its future is determined by the almighty God who sits in the heavens. God is not the watchmaker God, who sets everything in motion and who now just watches it tick. No, God is very active “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3b). ”He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). That the world does not disintegrate is due to the will of God. Francis Pieper says:
Were God to withdraw himself from the world, the world would disappear without a trace. Were God to withdraw himself from a portion of the world, that portion of the world would cease to exist. (Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950, Vol. 1. p. 483)
His providence, then, extends also to the affairs of individuals be they husband or wife, doctor or scientist. It is God who causes and permits conception to occur. It is God who causes the egg and the sperm to unite even though He may use secondary means to bring this about. It is God who determines genetic content of the egg and sperm which is united. “That conception occurs, that the individual receives a particular set of genes from his mother and from his father, that certain conditions exist in the womb are a part of God’s providence, not the result of chance” (Klotz, op.cit., p. 35). “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The providence of God directs and controls the fortune of each individual from the moment of his conception.”For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13, 15-16)
Moreover God’s providence directs the course of each man’s life. To each one God has appointed his particular task and work. To Jeremiah the Lord declared: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Man does not know what God has in store for each embryo he creates and brings into existence. How could man determine which egg and sperm to unite? How could man assume the responsibility of deciding which embryo to implant and which to discard? How could man determine if an embryo is not worth implanting? “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
The Purpose of Marriage
When God created the woman and brought her to Adam, thus establishing marriage, no mention is made of offspring. Companionship alone is spoken of. “God ordained marriage, not in order to assure progeny, but in order to create a ‘help meet for’ man” (Genesis 2:18; and Hans Kirsten, Birth Control as Ethical and Pastoral Problem, p.8). The reason given is “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Of this companionship it is further stated “and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
In the condensed account of the sixth day of creation in Genesis 1, mention is already made of the blessings resting on marriage. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:28). What is not to be overlooked is that the institution of marriage and God’s reason for it actually precede the blessing pronounced upon it. The latter is pronounced on the wedded pair living in marriage: “male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
We see from this that the essence of marriage does not depend on its resulting in childbearing. When a couple is unable to bear children naturally, their marriage does not become invalid. Their love for each other should not diminish. And their relationship can be as happy as a married couple that has been blessed with children.
If the childless couple recalls the promise they made before God to each other on their wedding day, “Will you love her, comfort her, honor her, and keep her in sickness and in health” and “Will you love him, comfort him, honor and obey him in sickness and in health”, is not unforeseen infertility included?
God and Evil
We must recognize that as a result of the Fall of man into sin, man no longer has that state of perfection in which he was created. This imperfection takes many forms. Infertility, blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, and other causes for barrenness are not to be blamed on God. Neither may they be the results of a particular sin committed by the individuals affected. But they are the results of original sin and the consequent departure from the perfection which God created. God is not at fault for the defect, but he may permit the effect.
But God assures all married couples who cannot produce their own children biologically, this is not a cross which is heavier than they can bear, or something that will cause them to lose their faith in God. “And God is faithful; he will not let you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). What then, is the “way to escape” in infertility?
Perhaps microsurgery is the answer, and the writer knows of nothing to forbid it in Scripture. But in vitro fertilization is definitely not the answer. Oh yes, it can be truly stated that in vitro births have been successfully accomplished. It is also true that the conceptions would not have happened unless God brought them about. The unborn would not have been preserved until birth without God’s hand protecting them. But when there is so much life destroyed with in vitro fertilization, which is not God’s will, would it not be that successful test-tube births are brought about in that God concurs by refraining from acting, inasmuch as he does not place insurmountable difficulties in their way and prevent them from occurring?
Aren’t other better “ways out” for infertile couples taking care of the homeless and abused children of the world through adoption or foster parenthood? Perhaps, our money and energy could be better spent by helping to educate and feed the children already present in the world. Or maybe the infertile couple could seek out a job working with children where this love for them may be satisfied. And who knows? Hannah’s barrenness was cured through prayer. Could not a faith that is able to move mountains remove a little fallopian tube blockage?
Also to be considered should be what Scripture says about death. Not only is the beginning of life in God’s power, but also the end. David prayed, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). Man has no right to take a life unless he is acting as an agent of the state or in self-defense. Man cannot even take his own life. Does this not apply then also to embryonic life which God has created? Only God should have the right to decide which embryos are to survive and which are not.
Dignity and Worth of the Individual
Another consideration is the dignity and worth of the individual. Did God not love the world that he sent his one and only Son to die for each individual? He cares for each of us even before birth. “Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese, clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.” (Job 10:10-12).
Each one is the object of God’s love, not only in granting him life, but also in sending him a Savior to suffer and die for him. The conceptus, the embryo, and the fetus also have a God-given dignity. This dignity is ignored in laboratory research of in vitro fertilization. This dignity of each individual becomes the subjective opinion of the doctor in IVF in the clinical aspect. The embryo is life and deserves great respect.
The Sanctity of Life
One final consideration is this. Human life is a special gift of God. This can be seen in God’s special creation of man. He formed man Himself out of the dust. He created man in his image. He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. God regards the violent termination of life as a serious matter.
He placed a severe punishment on the first murderer, and he threatens with death all those who violently take the life he has given. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6).
What about the defective embryo? Are we to assume that God made a mistake in creating them and destroy them? Hardly. The cross this individual may bear in life is also not so heavy that he cannot carry it. But through these defects God will purify the gold of faith.
God took such great care in creating life and he also took great care to see that life is respected. Since the beginning of time God has done a perfect job in these areas. He doesn’t need any help. For when man assumes these tasks, they will all come to ruin and fail. Although medical science has a legal right to proceed, there are certain moral limits that must be set. Thus far God has permitted in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer to continue. But let us have nothing to do with it and do all we can to withhold support from it and stop it.
By Rev. John Gawrisch