Voss, Kevin E. “An Ethics Survey of Reproductive Counseling Practices in the Lutheran Church.” Lecture, Infertility Ethics Symposium from LCMS Life Ministry and the Concordia Seminary Life Team, St. Louis, November 8, 2014.
Voss’ presentation was not exactly easy to follow. He presented a discussion of a survey on reproductive counseling. The goal of the study was to identify opinions about IVF and prenatal genetic testing among a population of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Jewish congregations.
“Little research has been conducted on the importance or quality of reproductive counseling.” Voss’ thesis was that there is a need for reproductive counseling. Leaders know the theology but may not know enough of the science to give wise counsel. He found that four studies had already been done. Not much had been done with clergy involvement in IVF and PGT counseling. He constructed questions about demographics, knowledge, beliefs, assessment standards, and alignment with the leaders’ religious bodies.
Infertility affects about 9%of couples. About 12% of women of childbearing age have used fertility services. There is a 2-3% chance of significant birth defects. Genetic issues contribute significantly to infant mortality. PGT is used to identify a disease. Voss suggests people question whether it is always appropriate to use the testing and whether it is appropriate to end a pregnancy.
Voss observes the profession of genetic counselors, who are trained to be nondirective, clarifying situations. At times this may interfere with or conflict with religious beliefs. Counselors are supposed to encourage couples to heed their religious values. Voss emphasizes that clergy involvement may be very helpful. The congregational leader is available, accessible, and is prepared to connect people to their faith community and traditions.
According to a 1993 study, most rabbis are uncomfortable with genetic issues. Voss generalizes this to other religious leaders as well. If that is the case, it is important for clergy to learn to interact with these issues, both with health care professionals and with congregations.
In time, genetic screening may become more routine. The screens, however, create an urgent need. A condition is found which is to be addressed quickly. Therefore, clergy needs to be ready to respond quickly. Voss observes that genetic counselors are normally carrying a very large caseload and are not always able to devote the time and energy needed to care for some concerns.
Voss returned to the survey he conducted. The survey was conducted among the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and Conservative Judaism.
What were the stated positions about IVF?
Roman Catholic - the embryo is an entity deserving dignity, IVF is therefore not appropriate.
Lutheran - IVF may be used, but strongly discouraging donor sperm or egg and no abortion.
Conservative Judaism - IVF is fine, abortion is allowed in case of problems.
What were the stated positions about PGT?
Roman Catholic - diagnosis is all right but not appropriate to threaten life
Lutheran - diagnosis is all right but not appropriate to threaten life
Conservative Judaism - diagnosis is all right, fine to terminate pregnancy in case of defect
Voss moved on to discuss the construction of his survey and a statistical analysis. Since details are available in the text of the presentation I will not attempt to reproduce my notes at this point.
- Pre-seminary should include training in the science of these matters.
- Seminary bioethics courses should be required.
- Seminars about counseling should be required.
- Church bodies should develop a special emphasis on bioethics.