Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) – An Affinity Statement
God creates and sustains all life (Genesis 1:21; Psalm 54:4). But because human life is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), human beings uniquely possess intrinsic dignity and value. Therefore we seek to uphold and promote the utmost respect for all human life, from fertilisation until natural death. Consequently, we are opposed to the deliberate taking of innocent human life, at any of its stages.
Human life begins at fertilisation. When a man’s sperm fertilises a woman’s ovum, a new, genetically-unique, one-cell entity, technically known as a human zygote, is created. The amazing development of a zygote into a blastocyst, a morula and an embryo represents the early stages of fully human life, and as such they deserve the greatest respect and protection.
We therefore reject the false notion that human life begins at implantation, viability, or any other stage. Scientifically, philosophically and theologically the life continuum has only one starting point – fertilisation. In addition, we repudiate the idea that life during these early stages is merely ‘potential’ human life, or even ‘non-person’ life. The truth is simple – a human embryo is an embryonic person, as once we all were.
God gives us our children. His benediction on our first parents was, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number ...’ (Genesis 1:28). Our ‘children are a reward from him, like arrows...’ and ‘Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them’ (Psalm 127:3-5). Furthermore, God is sovereign in both fertility (Luke 1:36-37) and infertility (1 Samuel 1:5).
As many as 1 in 6 couples are now considered to be infertile. We acknowledge the longing and heartache experienced by many who cannot have children. Traditionally, such infertile couples could raise a family by adoption, with its wholesome biblical precedents, such as, 2 Samuel 9 and even Ephesians 1:5.
However, since the late 1970s a revolution in our understanding of embryology and reproduction has meant that assisted reproductive technologies (ARTS) are now increasingly available. These ARTs include artificial insemination by husband (AIH), artificial insemination by donor (AID) and especially in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with its variants, such as, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT).
We reject the idea that anyone has ‘the right’ to children. Some consider that all technological ‘making’ of children is morally unacceptable. Children as laboratory products is an uneasy concept and very different from normative parenthood, which is characterised by the procreative act of married union and associated with profound human interrelationships. The intervention of laboratory technicians is something else.
Nevertheless, we concede that AIH is the least objectionable of these technologies. It can be suitable for a married man and woman where the former, perhaps because of physical limitations or medical reasons, cannot naturally inseminate his wife. By contrast, AID is wrong primarily because it brings a third party into the marriage. It is at least technical adultery.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a most dangerous enterprise. It is not just its poor success rate of about 20%. Nor is it just the costs, which are financial (about £3,000 per treatment cycle), psychological (characterised by stress and relationship failure) and social (‘the right’ to children and jeopardising family structure when third-party gametes are used). Nor is it just the problems of multiple pregnancies (low birth weight, increased long-term disabilities, increased stillbirths and maternal health problems), which currently account for about a quarter of all IVF babies in the UK. Nor is it that IVF brings about unnatural dilemmas, such as, grandmothers giving birth to their grandchildren, posthumous fatherhood, and post-menopausal women giving birth.
Our principal objection to IVF centres on the creation of ‘spare’ embryos. IVF invariably use drugs so that the woman super-ovulates and produces many ova – a hazardous practice since between 1 and 2% of women will suffer ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). These ova are then mixed with sperm and any resultant embryos are assessed before ‘the best’ are selected and transferred to the woman’s womb. This is nothing other than quality control, or old-fashioned eugenics. The remaining ‘spare’ embryos face three unacceptable fates – freezing for future fertility treatment, destructive experimentation, or immediate destruction. Unknown thousands and thousands of human embryos are destroyed in IVF clinics every year. Almost 9 out of every 10 human embryos created for IVF, die by IVF. It is a reprehensible venture.
Surrogacy may initially seem to be a less objectionable practice. But it usually begins with either the artificial insemination of the surrogate, or the production and transfer of IVF embryos, derived from the gametes of the commissioning couple. That is, three people are always involved in the conception, birth and early environment of the child. Surrogacy therefore challenges the creational ordinance of the marriage covenant. The disastrous outcome of the surrogacy pact between Sarai, Abram and Hagar (Genesis 16) should serve as a sufficient warning – it is best avoided.
What have ARTs achieved? Of course, they have produced some lovely bouncing babies. But does the end ever justify the means? ARTs have produced a chilling view of human life – embryos are little more than biological materials, sexuality is merely a biological phenomenon. They have engendered a clinical, dehumanised world where there is not much awe, little reverence, and virtually no dignity. In short, ARTs have encouraged the commodification of children and the trivialisation of human life.
Public policy positions:
1. We urge all those in authority to halt the deliberate abuse and destruction of human embryos in both fertility treatment and research. All experimentation that is not for the direct benefit of an embryo should be prohibited.
2. The creation of human embryos solely for research purposes should be forbidden. We urge the UK government to sign the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine to that effect.
3. We support the disbanding of the HFEA – it has too often made lamentable policy ‘on the hoof’. The legislation and regulation of ARTs ought to be controlled more closely by Parliament.
4. We call for more funding for research into fertility treatments that
do not abuse human embryos, such as, NaPro Technology. In addition, common
causes of infertility, such as, abuse of drugs, stress, sexually-transmitted
diseases and lifestyle require further study.
13 February 2007.