IVF morally right?

(Jeremy Vander Galien) #1

Almost a week ago, Wayne Grudem posted an article at TGC’s blog, arguing that IVF can be morally right.

While I’ve grieved as those I know and love have suffered through infertility, I can’t imagine making an argument, no matter how nuanced, that would ever encourage and condone IVF. Am I nuts?

This article responds to some of the errors in Grudem’s article. But, in general, I am not aware, even after some google searching, that IVF is possible without destroying human beings being knit together by our Creator? What, in God’s name, is Grudem doing? Am I missing something?

(Joel Norris) #2

I would always advise against IVF. In principle, I suppose one IVF could potentially be accomplished without leading to death of embryos, but in practice the risks seem so great that I don’t see any benefit outweighing that.

Edited to add: but I have not read the article.

(Joseph Bayly) #3

Thanks for posting these links. I’m very interested in discussing this here. Let me start with just a few observations about the articles themselves.

In the response you linked to by Matthew Lee Anderson, he seems pretty confused himself on several issues, and quite sane in his reasoning in other places.

  • He denies that Gen 1:28 is a command. I’m left scratching my head. What is it, then?
  • He is uncomfortable with, but has no idea whether voluntary childlessness is wrong. Therefore he objects to Grudem based on the potential implications of Grudem’s argument that would impinge on a couple’s decision to not have any children. I have no idea how he can’t see this, when he says later, “I look at Scripture and see everywhere the affirmation of the importance of holding marital intercourse and conception together.”
  • He objects because Grudem’s arguments leave no space for condemning “indefinite life extension.” I don’t see the problem here. I’ve got no problem with people trying to live as long as possible as healthy as possible. He seems to take it for granted that human ingenuity will blast away God’s statement that man’s days will be numbered, and that death will be the final enemy to be destroyed and that He will be the one to do so. I know that the high priests of science declare that they are gods and they can accomplish anything. I know from the Bible that they are full of hot air, though, so I just laugh at them. I’m sure many would have said that something like IVF was “impossible” 100 years ago, and perhaps justified it by saying that God is the one who opens and closes the womb. However, I feel like the biblical case regarding death is substantially different. Am I crazy?

Anyway, this quote from Mr. Anderson is wonderful:

Scripture shows us what is good and right for humanity. Sometimes it clarifies that with prohibitions: but sometimes, it allows us to infer those prohibitions from the goods it treats as normative for us (and not simply normal).

I also find myself sympathetic to his basic position and several of the criticisms he has of Grudem’s reasoning. Here’s another great quote: “Let’s say a couple knows they are infertile: the wife is missing ovaries. Even for such a couple, every act of intercourse has something to do with conception—even if by way of their knowledge of its absence.”

I’ve only skimmed Grudem, but his argument in point 4 (“a child should only be conceived by and born to a man and a woman who are married to each other, and in no other situation or relationship”) seems to prohibit Christians “adopting” frozen embryos and implanting them. Though I suspect he may not have intended it to be that broad, and his emphasis is clearly on prohibiting single women from engaging in IVF, perhaps he does also oppose the adoption scenario. I’m curious.

Personally I have counseled against embryo adoption, but my arguments have been found lacking.

(Jeremy Vander Galien) #4

Agree completely and should have stated that Mr. Anderson (sorry, couldn’t help it) was both helpful and unhelpful.

I thought the same thing. Huh?

Beyond, this, I really don’t see any way to state, even with lots and lots of nuance, that IVF is morally justifiable. I’ve been helped along the way by Grudem in many areas, but in the past few years, I’m finding more and more to object to with this brother.

(Daniel Meyer) #5

Extrapolating from what I know…

  • In practice, the IVF facility always fertilizes more than one egg—the cost of the operation combined with the high probability of failure to implant means they harvest more than one egg while they’re at it; and I for one wouldn’t trust the doctors to fertilize just one even if they claimed they would. Why wouldn’t I trust them? Because…
  • The IVF facility never treats the embryo like a baby; they treat him like he’s fluids, or tissue—non-human property. There have been instances where freezers thaw and kill the embryos and they don’t staff for that like it’s an emergency. Is this not criminal neglect?
  • The parents never treat the embryo like a baby. They’ll swear they’re totally committed to following through with implantation, but if something comes up that makes that impossible or even inadvisable you can bet that leaving “it” in the freezer will be a strong option for them. They’ll salve their consciences for their abandonment, saying, “maybe some non-lesbian—even Christian, couple will adopt and raise our baby.” Imagine treating your 3-month-old baby like that.

Do such current considerations mean IVF is simply inadvisable now, or do they point to a larger problem that makes IVF wrong and sinful at root? I’m not sure. I do think both church discipline and criminal codes need to take into account these new potential forms of neglect, as they are so common in the IVF world.

(Nathan Smith) #6

From Grudem’s article:

“and if care is taken to prevent the intentional destruction of embryos,”

I find this argument counter to biblical justice. If I drive recklessly and kill someone I cant claim innocence based on lack of intent.

Who do I think I am? Hillary Clinton?

Frankly I find this argument shockingly sophomoric and disgusting. Maybe my gut reaction is wrong and needs to be tempered but come on, Wayne…

I can’t believe this argument would be made by the guy teaching everyone systematic theology for years.

IVF success varies a lot based on known factors - age, health, reason for infertility, etc - but the highest numbers I can find are in the 50/50 range. That’s absurdly low if you ask me. Compare that to D-Day when around 3400 of 133,000 landing men were killed. I just don’t know how you can argue in favor of it being moral with those kinds of numbers.

I would say it’s only moral if an infertile couple is adopting embryos that are going to otherwise be killed. And even then you are involving yourself in a messy, messy system.

(Jesse Tiersma) #7

A couple thoughts about both articles. Grudem doesn’t seem to be arguing for IVF per se, but rather that it is permissible if certain standards are met (like ensuring no embryos are destroyed). This, it seems, is why he says he is not opposed to it “in principle.” The biggest problem with his article is that it is all theoretical, no dealing with the thorny difficulties of IVF procedures as they are done today.

Matthew Lee Anderson’s best points are when he’s not directly arguing with Grudem, but just making his case from the nature of sex and fertility. Despite his harsh words for Grudem’s arguments, the parts of the article where Anderson interacted with Grudem were extremely weak, and often illogical. Particularly his opening argument on preventing death through medical advancment, which bordered on incoherant.

(Ross Clark) #8

So, when a pastor is asked to baptise or dedicate a baby who was born via IVF … I don’t think this would ever be an issue in practice, but it could lead to some very awkward conversations with the parents.

(Joseph Bayly) #9


I don’t see why this would be the impetus for the awkward conversation. But yes, being a pastor requires you to have such conversations.

My wife points out that the foster care system is very messy as well.

(Bnonn Tennant) #10

Hmmm, a guy publishing on The Gospel Coalition turns out to have poor moral reasoning…

(Joseph Bayly) #11


(Joseph Bayly) #12

That’s a great article, by the way. You should read it for a sense of why professional ethicists are both extremely powerful and problematic in these discussions.

From the article:

the transformation of procreation into a manufacturing process, subject to strict quality control, might undermine the unconditional love we expect and value between parents and their children.

This is seen directly in the combined use of IVF and the human trafficking also known as surrogacy. What is a mother? After feminism’s insistence that a father is simply a donor of genetic material, and its further insistence that a woman is no different than a man, is it any wonder that the woman who gives up her body to protect, nurture, grow, and ultimately be split open in childbirth is cast away and the female donor of genetic material hailed as the “mother”?

But as the author points out later in the article, the biological connection is obviously not meaningless, either:

To imagine such a culture — where parenthood is held as such a cheap bond that making someone a genetic parent without consent is considered acceptable — is to be horrified.

Yet this is already happening and being fought out in courts in Israel where parents of adult children that die are requesting that their eggs/sperm be harvested immediately so that they can use IVF (and a surrogate) to create another child that is biologically related to them.

Here’s another quote:

Making cloning or CRISPR experiments on human embryos easier to conduct will in turn make it easier for scientists to push these techniques toward use in assisted-reproduction clinics.

So the 50/50 rate will improve, and then will @Nathan_Smith’s concerns about unintentional destruction be moot? Not at all…

If stem cell–derived gametes (the general term for egg and sperm cells) do come to be used for human reproduction, many of the already troubling aspects of in vitro fertilization (IVF) will likewise be made more extreme. Reproduction will become even more like a manufacturing process, with doctors producing greater numbers of embryos and subjecting them to more rigorous “quality control” and selection — discarding ever more embryos considered to be defective or simply to have undesirable traits.

The basic argument is that we’re moving toward eugenics:

iterated embryo selection is more about its vastly greater efficiency, making it “possible to accomplish ten or more generations of selection in just a few years.”… [M]ass farming of human embryos to create genetically enhanced children who would be dozens of generations removed from any living human ancestors certainly introduces new ethical problems even as it avoids the moral problems of mass sterilization that characterized earlier eugenic efforts.

Then this:

While Bostrom the transhumanist clearly wants to defend the old eugenic dream of putting the unguided process of human evolution under rational control, Greely the respectable, serious-minded law professor updates the eugenics project in a more insidious way. In his vision of the future, eugenic control is exercised by parents, but under the gently paternalistic nudging of governments or health insurance bureaucracies.

I suspect the latter will do a much better job making it socially acceptable the way IVF has become today.

But the people who are setting the ethical standards for these scientists are already casting about to find the most repellent applications of this technology in order to justify them. And for what? Is “multiplex parenting” so urgently in need of moral defense? Do we really need to conduct a decades-long sociological research program to find out whether outcomes for children created in the lab by a polycule — a network of polyamorous relationships — are as good as for children raised in a two-parent household?.. There has been too little political will to seriously regulate and restrict the development of reproductive technologies. For too long the moral problems raised by them have been left to professionals with warped priorities.

(Ken Lamb) #13

I think someones been reading Huxley’s Brave New World.

(Nathan Smith) #14

I’ve been rereading it. I’m about halfway through. But I’m not sure you were taking to me.

(Ken Lamb) #16

Reposting to reply.
I was actually responding to the quote dealing with love and procreation. I find Huxley to be very informative on this topic.

Remember, the thing that distinguished the savage from the culture was that he was naturally conceived. His parents begat him of their love and intimacy, but the cultural that he was brought into had never known such things. They babies were not begotten, and their intimacy was not sacrificial. He could not understand how they could not love, how they could not believe in fidelity, and how they could continue to exist without actual purpose. I think Huxley accidentally stumbled into truth on so many social issues. He wasn’t a good evangelist for societal norms, but his book really makes a compelling case that we are heading in a bad direction.

(Nathan Smith) #17


I guess we’ll have to wait and see where the mad scientists run with this stuff, but I am highly sceptical that the unisex parent or the four parent stuff will work out. It’s just so contrary to the way God designed things. I just don’t think they will have “success.”

(Tim Bayly) #18

A friend of mine who’s an economist read Wayne’s book on economics and reported it contained glaring errors in knowledge of economics that made it an embarrassment. I would guess the same in ethics, and particularly any ethics in the slightest way connected with compassion for women. Wayne took “old wives’ tales” out of Scripture to placate women. His defending women having another chance for children through IVF is predictable. Wayne is at his best in simplifying what’s been written before, making it accessible to non-professionals. That’s his gift. He should not go above that pay grade. Love,

(Nathan Smith) #19

While on the topic, do you have a resource for good Christan medical ethics? A journal or website?

(Response here to Joseph Bayly but anyone else welcomed to input.)

(Zachary McDonald) #20

This book by John Frame.

(Jeremy Vander Galien) #21

I guess this was my presumption for his IVF article. That is, when I was thinking through the reasons why Dr. Grudem would write the article the only reasonable solution, in light of how terrible the arguments he makes are, was, “he’s accommodating a culture of feminism.” Which is no surprise given the platform the article was posted on.