In Vitro Fertilization and the Forgotten Abortion

By MeLissa LeFleur

"What do you want us to do with them once we're done with the procedure?" the doctor asked. "Would you like to donate them to research or destroy them?"

Given the recent videos exposing Planned Parenthood, you may instantly think the scenario above took place in an abortion clinic, but the real location might surprise you. This scenario is played out numerous times a day in fertility clinics across our nation. It's a topic that many people who call themselves "pro life" are unaware of. Yes, my friends, hundreds of thousands of babies have been aborted in fertility clinics and most of us have either chosen to look away or we are ignorant of it. Each day embryos are discarded with casual indifference.

As you may know from reading this blog, my husband and I have been unable to have children. We've gone through a lot of testing and our situation continues to be "unexplained." Through our 18 years of marriage, we've tried various fertility treatments and we've experienced the heartbreak that comes when they were unsuccessful. Through those treatments, it became glaringly obvious that a lot of fertility doctors and staff have a very different view of personhood than we do. This came to light when our doctor (one of the best in the USA) talked to us about In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

Let me walk you through a very basic IVF procedure in case you are unaware of how it works: 1) The woman takes medicine to help stimulate multiple eggs and follicles to develop. 2) Once the follicles are mature, the eggs are retrieved. The average number of eggs retrieved is 8-12 and often depends on the age of the woman. 3) The male donates sperm. 4) The sperm and eggs are put together in a lab. 5) Fertilization occurs (note: some eggs that are retrieved may not fertilize or develop correctly). 6) The embryos are cultured for around 2-5 days. 7) One or more embryos are put into the woman's uterus through a transfer procedure. If all works well, the woman becomes pregnant.

Embryos that are not transferred to the woman's uterus are frozen (often through a relatively safe method called vitrification). If the woman doesn't become pregnant or if she miscarries the baby, the couple can try the process again with the "left-over" embryos. If the couple becomes pregnant on the first try, they may have 10 "leftover" embryos. This is where many people have ethical concerns. The couple can leave the embryos frozen in case they want to transfer them in the future, they can donate them to an embryo adoption service* (for other couples to adopt), they can donate them to "science" (destroyed), or they can have them destroyed (without donating to science).

So the question becomes, is it considered abortion when an embryo is destroyed? In my mind there are 2 potential considerations, but they fall short:

Age — An embryo in a fertility clinic is generally 2-5 days gestation, while traditional abortions take place later in the gestation period. But, who decides what age determines personhood? According to biology, a genetically distinct new life begins when the DNA combines (at the end of fertilization). Therefore in my mind, the age of a person has no bearing on personhood or value. If you believe that life begins at conception, then age has no determining factor.

Location — One baby is inside the womb, while the other is in a lab. Does location define personhood? An embryo is a person and has value even if it is living outside the womb.

Location or age has no effect on personhood or value. All humans are made in the image of God and have intrinsic value.

If so many IVF embryos are discarded (aborted), why is there very little concern being shown about this? The double standard is so glaring that it's bordering on hypocrisy...yes, I'm speaking to myself here too. I see a woman going in to a fertility clinic and think, "The lady wants a baby so bad. She is pro-motherhood, pro-family. I hope she gets her heart's desire." The woman at the abortion clinic isn't ready to be a mother, or can't support a baby, or maybe even had sex not wanting to be a mom. "She is killing her own child." So I ask myself, "Does the embryo in the fertility clinic have any less worth than the fetus who is dying just down the street?"

If the baby in the abortion clinic is a person and the baby in the fertility clinic is a person, then we better get our act together. We can't have it both ways.

I am well aware that many men and women who discard their embryos don't understand what they are doing. To those couples, I'm sorry if you were misled or misinformed by doctors who have very different worldviews than you do. I have friends who wanted a baby so bad that they were talked into destroying life. Sometimes, when life gets hard and cravings are strong, we are willing to bend our ethics just a little in order to fulfill that craving. But what happens when that slight bend in our ethics kills one of our offspring?

I understand that the equation: "more embryos = more tries." I get it. But remember to have a plan for those babies — each one. They are your babies and they have value. I do think that IVF can be done in an ethical way that retains the value of personhood. As a couple, you will need to be diligent with your doctors, even when they consider your demands overzealous and maybe call you crazy. Plan ahead for all living embryos to be transferred, regardless of their grade. Plan ahead for changes in health and situation. What will you do if you can't carry all of them? Will you use a surrogate? Whatever your choice, your babies should not be discarded (due to genetic defect or any other reason) or donated for research. Each one should be valued and given the right to live.

If you are like me and my husband, you may have drawn the line before IVF. For us, IVF was further down the infertility path than we were willing to travel. There were too many unanswered questions and ethical unknowns. That's ok too. Listen to God and follow His plan for you.

You may have a quiver full of kiddos running around and are wondering what this post has to do with you. In response, I ask you to take a moment and pray for the couples who are desperately seeking children — through fertility treatments or adoption. Pray that they will see the value in each life, because each child (no matter how small) is made in God's image. Also if you have a healthy uterus, have you considered adopting embryos?* Look into it! I'm not asking you to picket outside of fertility clinics. I'm asking you to be aware of the situation and to be consistent in your worldview.

* According to the Nightlight Embryo Adoption, there are currently over 600,000 embryos in frozen storage in the United States. Babies exist in a state of limbo, just waiting for someone to adopt them. For more information, contact your local fertility clinic to see if they have a donor embryo program.

Image Credit: ZEISS Microscopy; "IVF Capillary Tube Insertion"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Current-Issues  | Family-Life  | Hardships  | Personal-Life  | Womens-Issues

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Published on 9-9-15