There is probably no place in modern medicine where ethics, morality, and science collide with a more resounding crash than in the field of reproduction. There are so many heart-wrenching decisions to make, so many scientific advances to celebrate, and so many long-lasting implications of any actions we take. Struggling with infertility affects about 1 in 7 couples.
As a Reproductive Endocrinologist for 23 years, I’ve seen firsthand many of the personal challenges those with infertility face:
- The overwhelming desire for a child a woman may have, and a couple may have together, that may eclipse every other aspect of their lives.
- The sacrifices they often choose to make in terms of time, money, pain, health risks, and more.
- The toll infertility and infertility treatment may take on marriages, emotional stability, work life, long-term finances, and more.
- The struggle many Christian couples feel in understanding what treatments their faith may allow, and what God has to say about the issues involved.
If you are on the Catholic end of the spectrum, your church dictates which treatments are allowed and which are not. If you don’t claim any Christian faith the questions may seem less complicated, and you’re more inclined to pursue whatever you want or can afford.
But if you’re a Christian who takes the Bible personally and seriously, and are not part of a denomination that dictates the specifics of your reproductive health, you have a lot more personal decisions to make when struggling with infertility.
In wrestling with some of those decisions, here are a few things the Bible has to say to those facing infertility:
- God understands the desire for children. He planted that desire in a woman’s heart. The stories of Sarah (Genesis 11:30, 17:19, 21:1), Rachel (Genesis 30:1,2, 22), Hannah (1 Samuel 1), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:7, 13) show how much God cares for those with infertility, and understands their desperate heart’s longing. God calls us His children, so it is being like Him when we want children of our own.
- Children are a blessing from God. This is not to say that those who do not have children are not blessed, but it is clear that God sees children as a good thing. (Psalm 127:4,5) For each of the women mentioned above, God’s blessing was realized through their conceiving and bearing a child.
- God places value on physical legacy (genetics) AND spiritual legacy. Some Old Testament regulations focused on passing on one’s genetic heritage. But stories such as Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 17:18,18:10) and Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:13) demonstrate that there’s much more than genes involves.
- Bringing outside parties into the building of a family creates problems. Although it was part of the culture, when Abraham and later Jacob agreed to have children outside the husband-and-wife pattern it created enormous conflict in the family. (See Genesis 16 and 30)
- God can also use and bless those who remain childless. Many of those God called and used in the Bible did not have children. We know Jeremiah did not have children, and many others likely did not as well: Elijah, Paul, Anna, and more.
- God values life. All life. God is involved from the earliest moments of conception. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5) Jesus began His earthly life as a human embryo! (Luke 1:35) We cannot discount the value of a human being right from its earliest moments.
- Our lives on earth are to be for God’s glory. Our own desires cannot be the most important factor in making decisions. All our resources – our bodies, our money, our time, and our energies – is to be expended only after making certain that doing so is in the best interest of God’s Kingdom. “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)
Each couple facing infertility will have to wrestle with these ideas in their own individual way.
But as a physician caring for infertility patients and as one who take’s God’s word seriously, here’s what I personally believe those Biblical truths mean for medical treatments involving infertility care:
- Medical interventions designed to help a married couple have a child can be part of fulfilling God’s plan for one’s family.
- If medical treatments are contemplated that could result in the creation of human embryos (i.e. IVF – in vitro fertilization), a specific plan must be in place for how those embryos will be used while respecting their potential for human life. The clearest option would be to donate any embryos the couple do not wish to use themselves to another couple who is unable to have children (i.e. embryo donation/adoption).
- Bringing a third party into the equation, such as using sperm donors, egg donors, or surrogate parenting, does not appear to be “sinful.” However such arrangements are fraught with complications, especially in the area of family conflict and unnecessary emotional risks for all adults and children involved. Wisdom would indicate that the risks these arrangements entail usually outweigh the benefits.
- As important as having a child may be, there are other things that are more important. A couple considering infertility treatment must carefully weigh the potential costs not only to their finances, but also to their marriage, their time, and their long-term mission in God’s Kingdom.
- Embryo adoption and child adoption are God-honoring pursuits, and can result in blessings for both children and parents involved.
I personally believe interventions including ovulation induction, intrauterine insemination using husband’s sperm, and ART (i.e. IVF) using wife’s eggs and husband’s sperm are within God’s guidelines, and He can bless them. Stepping outside of these boundaries (i.e. donor gametes, surrogacy) becomes too full of family, emotional, and spiritual risks.
My position may be considered much too restrictive by some. But I hope this is helpful to someone who is trying to weigh the many difficult choices involved in medical care for infertility.
Your Turn: Do you see any other Biblical principles that should be considered in making infertility decisions? How would you apply the principles listed here? Leave a comment below.
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