Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

In-Vitro Fertilization and the Pro-Life Movement

I was reading an article about in-vitro fertilization (IVF hereafter). The article was primarily concerned with a new technique to minimize the chances of multiple births. (Multiple births, even twins, have much higher associated risks than single births.)

What caught my eye, however, was the manner in which IVF is conducted. What happens is more-or-less this: doctors harvest a number of eggs from the donor mother, then mix them with sperm from the donor father. The fertilized eggs which result from this are then incubated in a petri dish for two to six days. Then doctors examine the developing embryos, select the ones that look the healthiest, and implant them in the mother.

In traditional IVF, I gather eight or more embryos may be created, of which two to three, or possibly more, will be implanted, in the hopes of producing one infant.

Now, for those who are generally pro-abortion, this should pose no moral challenge. Even if you have a standard of “when the fetus has a heartbeat” or “looks like a baby”, you probably need not be worried about this. (For reference: a three-day old embryo is, in fact, the proverbial “small cluster of cells”. A healthy one is visible through a microscope as a small round mass composed of eight cells.)

But if you believe that life begins at conception, then this poses significant moral dilemmas. One could argue that the prospective parents are killing seven or more people in order to give life to one.

If a couple is resorting to IVF, it’s because their chances of conceiving a child naturally are virtually nil. (A single IVF attempt will cost $10,000 or more, and the chances of successful pregnancy aren’t even all that great – 60%, perhaps. No one’s doing it this way for fun.) Assuming this couple is committed to a traditional marriage, their choices are “use a method like this one” or “remain childless.” To extend the above example, this would be like saying “I can save one child out of eight, or I can let them all die.” But that would assign a value to unfertilized eggs, and virtually no one does that.

Still, it’s hard for me to convince myself that it’s morally better to have no children than to have one child, at the expense of several doomed embryos that would otherwise not have existed. That would be the exact opposite of those who argue against abortion “because if it had been legal, I would never have been born.” An in-vitro child may say, “Had my parents not been willing to sacrifice several embryos, I would never have been born.”

This also lays aside the consideration that a significant percentage of eggs fertilized in the natural fashion will not implant. (I hesitate to call this a miscarriage, because almost no woman is even going to be aware that it occurred. The resulting microscopic embryo is flushed from the body as part of menstruation, and I doubt there are any available statistics on the likelihood of this occurring.) This is part of why IVF implantations aren’t necessarily successful – even in nature, a fertilized egg does not guarantee that a pregnancy will occur.

Obviously, no one is going to contend seriously that it’s wrong to try to get pregnant, because the pregnancy might be miscarried. Can a woman undergoing IVF argue that she is doing the same thing, just with some technological help?

But the hard facts of the matter, that we have several embryos created and doomed, just for the chance of a pregnancy, are hard to dismiss, to my eye. If I believed that “life begins at conception,” (ie, that the killing of an embryo is morally equivalent to the killing of an adult human) then the preceding arguments would all look like equivocating, the creation of grey areas where none exist.

However, since I don’t really believe that “life begins at conception” in that sense, there’s only so far I can go with this. I am curious, however, what my friends who are strongly pro-life think of this procedure. Any comments?
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