“The brilliant T.S. Elliot once observed that before we know what to do with something, we need to know what it’s for. That applies even to sex.”
As science and technology spread to all aspects of life, even the most intimate ones, it’s important that those advances are guided by God’s morality.
John Stonestreet of Christian radio program, Breakpoint, recently considered this very topic and his analysis is worth considering.
John Stonestreet, who is also the president of Colson Center for Christian Worldview, is sought after worldwide for his spoken and authored perspectives on faith, worldview, culture, and apologetics.
But in this kind of discussion, it is important that we first establish the definitions.
What exactly do we mean by reproductive technology?
For the purposes of Stonestreet’s analysis, we are talking specifically about surrogacy and IVF.
Traditional surrogacy involves another woman becoming artificially inseminated with a father’s sperm. That means that the child born to a couple will biologically be the father’s and the surrogate mother’s.
Due to legality, this goes as far as having the surrogate mother listed on the child’s birth certificate as her egg was used in the creation of this human.
Gestational surrogacy, on the other hand, involves a process where the intended biological father and mother both donate their sperm/egg which are combined to become an embryo that is then implanted in the surrogate mother.
That woman who acts as surrogate will carry the child and give birth, but the child’s DNA will be a combination of the donor mother and father.
This process of bringing the egg and sperm together and then implanting it into the surrogate is known as IVF, or in vitro fertilization.
According to Fertility SOURCE Companies:
“Surrogacy is becoming more common for intended mothers who can’t carry a pregnancy herself due to uterine issues, or the intended mother may have undergone a hysterectomy, or other health issues that might make a pregnancy for the intended mother risky. Sometimes intended mothers use a surrogate when their infertility is unexplained, or they have endured several miscarriages and getting pregnant and carrying to term hasn’t been successful for them.”
And lastly, we should also note that it is possible for a couple to use IVF to become pregnant themselves, without a surrogate. In this case, each of their “donations” are brought together in a petri dish in hopes that they intermingle and fertilize.
More invasive methods scientifically inject the sperm into the outermost layer of the egg, furthering the chances of that sperm entering and fertilizing the egg.
Either way, once fertilized, the newly-formed embryos are implanted inside the original, biological mother in order to carry the child to birth.
Now here is where the first major ethical issue presents itself.
In the case of IVF, very often many more embryos are created than are needed to produce a single child. This is because there’s always a chance that a single embryo will not properly implant or survive the first few days or weeks in the uterus.
This means several fertilized embryos are implanted into the mother to increase the chances of at least one surviving.
Furthermore, in some situations, fertilized embryos are frozen for possible future use, but stats are very unfavorable for the longevity of those eggs. They most often die in the frozen state.
Many have commented in an attempt to answer the several ethical questions surrounding the use of reproductive technology.
Just over 50 years ago, Pope Paul VI presented the Humanae Vitae, that is, “Of Human Life.”
His intention with this encyclical was to give people a firm and grounded understanding of human sexuality from a Scriptural perspective. Natural law was also used in the discussion, showing the efficacy and present-day legitimacy of Scriptural perspective.
Pope Paul VI navigated the topic by dividing sexual action into two parts, or two purposes.
The “unitive function” is about love and physical intimacy. It is the aspect which God has designed to give humans a way to express their deep and passionate desire to become one, to be united in the most intricate and vulnerable ways.
This unitive function is part of God’s plan that we may understand how intensely unified, how very connected He desires to be with us. That there is no part of us hidden from Him, and all of Himself is given to us.
It’s actually miraculous. And it also explains why our abandoning Him through sin (“separation from God”) is such a grievance to our relationship with God and His original, intended design.
Learning that God is “jealous” for us, or that He asks for our whole heart, makes more sense when we have such a physical example to experience what He means.
The other half of God’s gift of sex according to Pope Paul VI is the “procreative function.”
That is, that God gave this act to humans fully aware that childbearing would be the result—a result that can only occur by God’s ultimate Sovereignty.
Affirming this viewpoint of Pope Paul VI, John Stonestreet says: “While there are certainly debates to be had about limiting conception, there’s no debate about the inherent, created, purposeful connection between marriage, sex, and children as instituted by God in the Garden when He gave Eve to Adam, and sanctified by God when He gave the Church to Christ as His bride.”
Stonestreet argues that, “Before deciding [our stance on reproductive technology], we need to be clear on what God designed sex and procreation for.” However, as he points out, “by and large evangelicals are not clear on these things.”
The Bible makes it clear that only married couples should enter into sexual relations and marriage is between one man and one woman.
Therefore, naturally, the only situation into which a child should be born based on the Bible is to a married mother and father.
Yet, technology today has made it possible for a child to be born outside of this situation, making it possible for anyone to become a parent, whether single, homosexual, etc. However, this would seem to clearly violate His will.
On the other hand, these technologies can—and do—help married men and women who suffer from infertility.
“After all, don’t these technologies offer cures for infertility? Aren’t they blessings for those who can’t conceive kids naturally? These are hard and emotional questions, but they require careful thinking,” says Stonestreet.
“Just as the unevaluated evangelical acceptance of contraception promises sex without babies, the unevaluated acceptance of assisted reproductive technologies promises babies without sex — or even marriage!”
It seems our priorities must be in order. IVF should not replace the unitive purpose of sex, which is to bring true intimacy to our marriages. And it must not be used to unnaturally try to replicate fertility in homosexual relationships, which violates the unitive purpose of sex.
More time in prayer, study, and consideration of these matters is really required for one to determine how they agree or disagree with that statement in individual experiences.
But another potential ethical question also arises.
Stonestreet writes: “Surrogacy often exploits poor women and commodifies their wombs. And IVF almost always involves overproduction and screening of embryos. In other words, only the fittest embryos survive and the rest often expire in freezers.”
If we believe life begins at conception, then every single fertilized embryo is a human being with human rights and dignity. They are not to be discarded at will or left to die in lifeless clinic freezers.
Answering these ethical questions about reproductive technology is not a small topic and it is definitely not an easy one to dissect.
It is quite likely that at some point in your lifetime you will either face these questions for yourself, for close family or friends, or even have to come in contact with them via media.
And if we as Christians have not considered the matters as per what the Bible says, we are entirely susceptible to accepting what the media and the human worldview at large believes on the matter.
Take time to ponder these things—the purpose of sex and the purpose of childbearing, and consider God’s intentional design for them.
Know what you believe and where you stand. This way, you are always ready “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).