[5]        Birth (3): Reproductive Technology


There has been increasing prevalence of infertility (about 10-15% of all couples are infertile) and the difficulty of adopting a child (2 years through a private agency, 6 years through a government agency).

Each year in Canada, there are over 6,000 women participating in artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF) programs resulting in about 1,000 women giving birth to 1,500 babies (about 10 times in the US). The IVF success rate is about 25%.

24.  What are the major types of new reproductive technologies (NRTs)?

a.   Manipulation of reproduction:

(1)  Artificial insemination (AI):

o        AI is the artificial introduction of sperm into the vaginal canal, for the purpose of conception.

o        AIH: artificial insemination using sperm from husband

o        AID: artificial insemination using sperm from donor

(2)  Surrogate motherhood:

o        A surrogate mother is artificially inseminated by the male spouse of an infertile couple and is paid to carry the baby to term. Another method involves planting of embryos from in vitro fertilization.

(3)  In vitro fertilization (IVF) or so-called “test-tube baby”:

o        Mature eggs are removed from a woman’s ovary and fertilized with sperm in the laboratory. After fertilization and incubation, the fertilized eggs (normally multiple eggs) are placed in the woman’s uterus.

o        Embryo replacement: fertilized eggs were placed in the womb of the same woman who donated the egg.

o        Embryo transfer: fertilized eggs placed into another woman.

b.   Genetic screening: Embryos are screened for hereditary diseases or to determine their sex.

c.   Embryo research and use of fetal tissue:

·         Fetal tissue transplant is effective for sufferers of many diseases.

25.  Can Christians use new reproductive technologies?

a.   There has been increasing infertility in recent years because of:

(1)  growing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) due to sexual promiscuity

(2)  delayed childbearing

(3)  decreased sperm count in men: US reports a drop of 50% in sperm count in 30 years

b.   Benefits of NRTs:

·         New reproductive technologies can help infertile couples to have children of their own. The intent is to further the bond of marriage and is morally justifiable. However, not all NRTs are justifiable.

c.   General ethical problems:

·         A general argument against such technologies is that they are interventions into the generation of life which is the prerogative of God. However, these technologies can be viewed as improvements to acceptable older methods of assisting conception (such as rhythm method or fertility drugs).

·         The Roman Catholic Church opposes any kind of new reproductive technology. Their teaching is that sexual activity should only be for procreation and procreation should only be the fruit of marriage. However, 1Co 7:3-6 teaches that companionship is an essential element of marriage.

d.   Ethical concerns of individual NRTs:

(1)  Artificial insemination:

o        Sperms of husband (AIH): acceptable because there is no ethical problems

o        Problems of using sperms of donor (AID): (a) the intrusion into the marital relationship by a third person resulting negative effects on the family and parent-child relationship, (b) potential legal problem such as legitimacy of the child, (c) possibility of transmission of diseases such as AIDS, (d) possibility of incestuous marriages in the next generation, (e) possible use by single women and lesbians, and children from this procedure will be deprived of a natural father who exerts tremendous influence on a child’s life

(2)  Surrogate motherhood:

o        Problems: (a) the intrusion by a third person, and may disrupt the marriage, (b) the element of business transaction [selling one’s body for profit], (c) potential legal problem [the famous Baby M case] if the surrogate mother refuses to give up the baby, (d) possible use of the procedure by single women

o        Some people try to justify surrogate motherhood by pointing to the case of Hagar (Gen 16), but Hagar was not a surrogate mother because she was part of the household. Further, this error of Abraham led to strife and envy between Arabs (descendants of Ishmail) and Jews (descendants of Isaac) today.

(3)  In vitro fertilization:

o        Problems: (a) IVF often involves the destruction of extra unused embryos [which are lives], (b) risk of damaging the embryo in the process, (c) potential legal problems on the status of the embryos such as ownership, (d) embryo transfer has the same problem of third person intrusion, (e) possible use by single women, (f) health risk: significant increase in ovarian cancer [2 times higher for successful cases of IVF, 27 times for unsuccessful cases], (g) high failure rate [85-90%] meaning death of many embryos and huge expenses [>$10,000], (h) may need to kill some embryos if too many are successful

o        The method should not be regarded as human creation of life because human eggs and sperms are used and the embryo must be implanted back to the mother shortly after fertilization.

(4)  Genetic screening:

o        Problem of screening of diseases: unsuitable embryos [which are lives] will be destroyed

o        Problems of sex selection: (a) it may destroy the natural balance of the sexes, the sex ratio may reach 130:100 instead of the normal 103:100 in India and in parts of China, (b) inappropriate preference of one sex (usually male) over the other

(5)  Fetal tissue research:

o        Problems: it involves extraction of fetal tissues from a very cruel procedure of partial birth abortion because fetal tissues obtained from normal abortions are not useful because the fetus is already dead.

o        Such research indirectly encourages more partial birth abortions.

f.    There is no clearcut biblical principle against the use of new reproductive technologies. However, the decision should only be made after careful consideration of all actual and potential ethical problems.

26.  Should Christians support cloning of humans?

a.   Cloning is the artificial reproduction of an exact genetic copy of a living organism.

b.   Presently, cloning of humans is banned in most industrialized countries.

c.   Potential benefits:

o        another reproductive option,

o        chance of maintaining extinct species,

o        can clone individuals of great genius, or pick the sex and physical characteristics of child,

o        may be able to overcome genetic defects and diseases by cloning only healthy persons,

o        clones could provide organs for transplants and could reduce rejection.

d.   Ethical concerns:

o        unduly tampering with the natural order, and playing God with bypassing parenthood,

o        encourage surrogate motherhood, single parent families, children in homosexual homes,

o        abuse lives if clones are used to produce organs for transplant,

o        loss of embryos in the process because of low success rate,

o        problems of eugenics: favouring some individuals more than others

e.   Practical concerns:

o        deterioration of gene pool if too much cloning,

o        could increase incidence of genetic diseases,

o        could produce defective clones and possible malpractice suits,

o        loss of uniqueness of individual persons

o        many scientists recommend against it because of high chance of failure for humans

f.    Cloning could be an alternative to produce children for infertile couples but there is a large number of serious ethical concerns.