Lamb, James. “IVF: From Created to Creator.” Lecture, Infertility Ethics Symposium from LCMS Life Ministry and the Concordia Seminary Life Team, St. Louis, November 8, 2014.
Dr. Lamb’s presentation began with an acknowledgement that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is becoming increasingly known and practiced. There is, in all this, a moral burden in dealing with the “extra” embryos. Where would we want to begin a discussion of this moral burden?
- not with social aspects
- not with moral propositions
- not with biology
- WITH THEOLOGY - but where do we find this theology?
Lamb suggested that we could begin with the 5th commandment, talking about taking a life versus helping a neighbor. We could also begin with the 6th commandment and the idea of marriage. Another possible starting place would be the 1st commandment, realizing that technology can become a god. Yet those may well not be the best place to start. Lamb suggests the best starting place is with the incarnation of Christ. Citing the Epitome of the Formula of Concord 15.8 we find that Jesus was true God and true man when conceived. In Luke 1:43 we see that Mary is the mother of Elizabeth’s Lord when she is newly pregnant with Christ, conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Lamb went on to consider the value which Jesus’ conception gives to humanity. From the time of our conception we do need redemption. Jesus provided this.
- Jesus needed a body to accomplish salvation.
- He did it as a real human from the time of conception.
- This is evidence of God’s love for his creation.
- Psalm 139:13-14 paints an intimate picture of the inward being, pointing us back to the 1st article of the Apostles’ Creed where we see God’s care for his creation. It also points us to the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed where we can see that God wants everybody to be redeemed.
Our value does not come from what we can do but from what God has done.
What about IVF then? Lamb discussed some nuts and bolts.
- Hyperstimulation, harvest of eggs at a precise time, mix with sperm in a dish (allows for donors)
- Initial growth “in glass”
- Embryo grading - can be destroyed if not up to grade, some clinics do and some don’t
- Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis can be done - removal of one cell for analysis
What happens with the “good” embryos?
- several implanted in uterus - approx. 35% success rate so they use several. If multiple implant, “selectively reduce” pregnancy.
- Extras may be stored by “freezing” in a tube in liquid nitrogen - this can cause death, as can thawing. Vitrification can be done - makes water solid without freezing.
- What if there is a non-receptive uterus? Embryo cannot implant.
What about the leftovers?
- implant later
- donate to research
- allow to die - most clinics will save up to 5 years
What is the connection to the Word of God?
- IVF allows for donors which brings at least one additional party into the marriage.
- IVF puts us in the role of a creator, a role reserved for God.
- In the 2nd article of the Creed we see that Jesus was a zygote also (Luke 1:31a).
- There is an issue of coveting - we want what we may not be able to have.
- 5th Commandment - honor to parents may be eroded.
- 1st Commandment - we may not recognize God’s sovereignty in the process.
- Parenting - the frozen embryo cannot be parented.
In the question and answer period, Lamb was asked about counsel for those who think of adopting frozen embryos. He said while this is a worthy pursuit it is often not fruitful. 10-25% perish in thawing, some while frozen also. A total of about 50% die in the freezing and thawing process.
10% of couples suffer from infertility issues. Where do we help people with this? Lamb suggests as early as possible we should encourage people that God may sovereignly give them children and may not, but God is still good.