[5]        Birth (3): Reproductive Technology

STORY: In 1985, for $10,000 Mary Beth Whitehead signed a contract  and agreed to artificial insemination with William Stern’s sperm in order to bear him and his wife a child. In 1986, Mrs. Whitehead gave birth to a girl in New Jersey named Sara. Two weeks later, Mrs. Whitehead told the Sterns that she would not give up the baby. The Sterns filed a custody suit, the famous Baby M. case. Mrs. Whitehead tried to escape but was caught. After one year of litigation, the court awarded custody of Sara to Mr. Stern. This case reveals the legal problems that may result from new 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        It can solve the problem of male infertility such as low sperm counts.

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 (of the couple) from in vitro fertilization.

o        It can solve the problem of female infertility.

(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 to increase chance of success) are placed in the woman’s uterus.

o        It can solve the problem of unexplained infertility.

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.

o        The first successful birth of IVF baby was in 1978.

b.   Genetic screening:

o        Embryos are examined and screened for hereditary diseases or to determine their sex.

(1)  Sex pre-selection: sperms are separated according to the sex chromosome; those with the desired sex chromosome are then inseminated (AI).

(2)  Sex selection: embryos with the desired sex are incubated using IVF before they are introduced to the woman’s uterus.

c.   Embryo research and use of fetal tissue:

·         Fetal tissue transplant is effective for sufferers of many diseases (such as Parkinson’s Disease, leukemia, diabetes, possibly Alzheimer’s and AIDS).

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) and pelvic inflammatory disease 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, possibly because of: (a) environmental factors such as increasing use of pesticides and chemicals in food, (b) heightened level of stress of modern life, (c) undisciplined lifestyle such as increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs

b.   Benefits of NRTs:

·         New reproductive technologies can help otherwise infertile couples to have children of their own. The intent is to further the bond of marriage and is therefore 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. Therefore, they regard children conceived by reproductive technologies as illegitimate. However, 1Co 7:3-6 teaches that companionship is an essential element of marriage, in addition to the procreative element.

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 [see Gen 16], (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 [similar to AID], 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. The cruel procedure is practised because fetal tissues obtained from normal abortions are not useful because the fetus is already dead. Some partial birth abortions are performed for the sole purpose of obtaining the live fetal tissues.

o        Such research indirectly encourages more partial birth abortions.

o        In 2001, US President Bush supported research using only adult stem cells and limited those using embryonic stem cells. This is a responsible pro-life position.

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 organism which is the exact genetic copy of a living organism. While there is still no reports on successful cloning of humans, cloning of animals have been successful since the announcement of Dolly, a successfully cloned sheep, in 1996.

b.   Presently, cloning of humans is banned in most industrialized countries including Canada, the US, and Britain.

c.   Potential benefits:

(1)  another reproductive option,

(2)  chance of maintaining extinct species,

(3)  can clone individuals of great genius, or pick the sex and physical characteristics of child,

(4)  may be able to overcome genetic defects and diseases by cloning only healthy persons,

(5)  clones could provide organs for transplants and could reduce rejection.

d.   Ethical concerns:

(1)  unduly tampering with the natural order, and playing God with bypassing parenthood,

(2)  encourage surrogate motherhood, single parent families, children in homosexual homes,

(3)  abuse lives if clones are used to produce organs for transplant,

(4)  loss of embryos in the process because of low success rate,

(5)  problems of eugenics: favouring some individuals more than others

e.   Practical concerns:

(1)  deterioration of gene pool if too much cloning,

(2)  could perpetuate and increase incidence of genetic defects,

(3)  could produce defective clones and possible malpractice suits,

(4)  loss of uniqueness of individual persons,

(5)  many scientists recommend against it because of high chance of failure for humans,

(6)  many unknowns, such as the existence of the clones’ souls

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