Wrestling with the Ethics of IVF and Sperm Donation.


I was recently speaking with a Christian married man who has a family of his own, who was considering, with his wife’s support, becoming a sperm donor through the IVF Australia clinic in Sydney. I have been helping him wrestle through the ethics of coming to that decision. I posed the question as an ethical dilemma on Facebook and had fairly extreme comments on both sides of the argument with a few people asking ultimately what is my opinion. So I did more research with the man in question to get my head fully around the process in order to make an informed decision.

First the facts about the process:

A sperm donor to the IVF Australia Clinic, has to undergo counselling with, in this case, the man’s wife included, to ensure they are aware of the psychological challenges ahead. The man then has to fill out an extensive medical survey of his broader family to ensure there are no genetic disorders that he could potentially pass on to his offspring. He then undergoes a barrage of medical tests to verify his health. Once he has passed all that, he then fills out a directive as to how his donation can be used specifying whether it can be used for a single lady, a lesbian couple, a heterosexual couple or a married couple. He can then donate but can only help a maximum of 4 families. There is protection under NSW law for the donor and he can never be asked for maintenance. He also is anonymous until the children are 18. There is no financial remuneration for giving at all.

His Motivation:

I asked the gentlemen in question why he would want to be a sperm donor and he said that several years ago he was reading the Sun Herald and they were reporting on the lack of donors in NSW due to changes in Government legislation that took away donors anonymity. He said he wanted to donate to help childless couples as he has known several couples in his life who couldn’t have children and has seen the incredible pain of not being able to have children.

Ethical Dilemmas:

There are a whole host of potential ethical dilemmas. Firstly is it playing God to be involved in IVF in any way shape or form? Some would say IVF bypasses the will of God and therefore is wrong, but the same comment could be made about any medical procedure and as its not explicitly forbidden in scripture, I think this is a mute point. Ultimately if we believe Psalm 139, no baby is a surprise to God and if God wants no pregnancy for a couple, then he can stop IVF.

Some people argue against being a sperm donor as they see there is a parallel between that and the spilling of Onan’s seed in the Old Testmant, where ultimately Onan was killed. I have heard a similar argument talking about masturbation:- but it’s drawing a long bow to use this story to build up some sort of theological anti masturbation or anti donor framework. Onan was killed because of his disobedience to a sinaitic law.

I guess if I wanted to really find an issue with the process, then I would say that as the donation is happening, the gentlemen in question would need to keep his thoughts pure.

Some comments on my Facebook thread were around the concern that people had for the child in question. Fair comment. However, if the sperm is going to a heterosexual married couple that desperately want a child and they are prepared to go through the expense and trauma and pain of IVF, then obviously the baby is going to be born into a loving, nurturing family. The gentleman in question is also prepared for the children, when they turn 18 to locate him. This donation is not done in secret from his family, as his wife, current children and parents are all aware of his thinking and are supportive.

Obviously, as a Christian, the donor will of course cover his “ donor children” in prayer.

Some other comments on my Facebook were suggesting that adoption may be a better option for the childless couple. I guess my comments on this is that its just not up to us to make that kind of call on behalf of a couple. Additionally, Melanie and I were in the process of adopting a little girl from China and had spent $15,000 on being approved and 5 years, when we were told it would be another 5 to 7 years. As I would have been 47 at that stage, we pulled out of the program. So adoption is certainly not the “easy” alternative.

I guess there is a bit an issue with the recipient couple looking through some kind of a booklet at potential donors. How do they decide on a donor? Is it level of education they have reached? Is it race? Is it religion? Is it the profession the person is in? Is this shopping for a baby? Does this mean they are actually unethically designing their own babies by choosing a sperm containing a genetic information that they wish their babies to own?

I wonder too what impact this entire process would have on the two couples involved? The donor is obviously married and he has obviously talked it through with his wife. I wonder how she will feel when there are other children born to her husband with another woman. Conversely the recipient couple are going to have a baby that biologically excludes the husband. How does he feel about his wife carrying another man’s baby? These are ethical dilemmas that we are unable to solve or debate out here as they are intensely personal with each couple involved.  It would be interesting from my perspective as a pastor to speak to IVF Australia and ask some of these questions and get the answers from their experience with couples. Not sure they would be too forth coming with the information, but would be some interesting questions.

The biggest ethical dilemma I see in this whole story is what happens to unused created embryos. Now there is an argument out of Leviticus that life is in the blood and so life begins at implantation, whilst others argue that life begins at conception. Pro Life people or those who support abortion, say that life begins at first breath. I certainly don’t believe that. I am somewhere between conception and implanting. I think in an ideal world, all created embryo’s would be used for creating babies. Apparently as I spoke to my potential donor friend, he did say that as part of the paper work, he was able to specify that no embryos were to be used for stem cell research. Overall this ethical dilemma wasn’t entirely satisfied.

Another serious ethical dilemma ar the rights of the child in question to know its biological father. This has been acknowledged in NSW law with the removal of total anonymity of the donor. This is only one way though. The children can find the biological father, but the father can’t find the biological children as some recipient couples do not disclose the means of the child’s conception.

Recently I heard about surrogacy in India, where a couple go to India and they can pay an Indian woman $10,000 to have a baby for them. They then adopt the baby and bring it back to Australia. This is not in the same ethical field as sperm donation, as the India concept opens up a whole range of new issues, ie the payment for the baby, the motivation that absolute poverty pays in recruiting the woman etc etc.

Conclusion

I appreciated talking with this guy and hearing his heart and motivation. We did talk through how will his headspace be when he hears via the IVF clinic that there are children of his being raised by another couple. He did confess he is wrestling with the problematic issue of the unused embryos, but was happy at least that he was able to specify that they will not be used as embryonic stem cells. My conclusion and possibly somewhat controversially is that is that I would give my cautious approval to this man being a sperm donor as long as he thought through all the issues raised, prayed for God’s guidance and took his wife with him on the journey. I guess I have walked the long hard road with couples who so desperately want children and who have been unable to conceive:- if IVF helps them experience the God given gift of parenthood and they raise a child in a loving family then that fits with my biblical narrative.



Categories: Current Affairs, Family, Nowra City Church, Theology, Topics to wrestle with

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15 replies

  1. Thanks Peter, very informative re: the process of sperm donation. I am for it as long as the child has the right to meet his biological father when he is 18 if he chooses so am happy that anonymity has been removed. For children who have been conceived through donation or adopted children, it’s very important for their self-identity in most cases, to have as many pieces of the puzzle filled in as possible. As much as we absolutely adore Micah, we realise that one day he will want to meet and know more about his biological family and that is a totally natural desire.

  2. Peter, my question to you is why fostering is left out of the equation in this debate as an alternative to IVF?

    Fostering, although sad to say there is a need for it, gives an unique opportunity for childless couples to have and raise children as unto their own. Many have done so, fostering children from as young as 6 weeks old and providing a life long relationship between them. Some have adopted and some haven’t.

    Just consider the nearly18.000.00 children unable, at present, to live at home in NSW, do we really need IVF?

    Becoming foster parents takes a lot less red tape and is hugely beneficial to the lost and the lonely. You can become parents and have a child within 3 months.

  3. Interesting debate. For me personally, I couldn’t donate knowing I was handing my offspring and my responsibility to someone else. Even if I could stipulate that the parents were christian and not same sex. Stupidly, adoption is far too difficult, but does supporting IVF stop the movement of making adoption easier? Why adopt if you can have IVF? I have been fortunate enough to not have problems having children but I do know the pain of losing a child. I would have loved to have had more and know the ache that it brings. We couldn’t adopt because we have children all ready. Fair enough to make parents with no children a priority, but heck, do something about the adoption laws. I would rather see abortion dealt with and more adoptions placed than enter the whole realm of IVF, surrogacy and sperm donation.

  4. Something does have to happen to unused foetuses. Perhaps, they are not used for stem cell research, perhaps they are not frozen (if they were, what would eventually happen to them?). What I read a couple of decades ago ….. they are all washed down the sink. That was the official procedure. Prior to that I was fully supportive of in vitro fertilisation. No longer.

  5. That’s ridiculous. What kind of ethics professional are you? Those would be HIS children, conceived on purpose with women who aren’t his wife and who are deprived of their father. Exactly how highly educated in ethics do you have to be before you rationalize these major ethical no-nos (as we non-professionals call them) away? Not to mention that most conceived IVF children either die or are disposed of — which he would also be agreeing to. Finally, there is no reason hat if sperm is wanted, he should be the one to give it. The world if sull of poeentiial “donors” — it’s not as if he had a rarer matching kident to donate. This man has NO reason at all to “wrestle” with the issue. But about that kidney…

  6. MY THOUGHTS ON IVF AND SPERM DONATION

    God created us to multiply and so if a couple cannot have a child then it can be a very emotional situation. However, what we are to do if we find ourselves in such a situation is not to be dictated by emotion but by the word of God.

    However if we know the Bible at all we know that it is “quite evident, (that) the New Testament nowhere guarantees a life free of hardship, difficulty, trials, opposition and persecution. It promises them over and over again. And it nowhere talks about believers seeking to be happy – it does talk a lot about believers seeking to be holy” (https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/01/05/best-life-now-working-joel-jesus/). These thoughts are not designed to provide one with false happiness.

    The place to start thinking of IVF and sperm donation is the Bible. Why? Because as Paul writes to Timothy it “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” and as he says to the Corinthians “Now these things (Israel’s mistakes) happened as examples for us”. So, we’ll look at the Bible, see what it says, and learn from that.

    IN THE BEGINNING

    We must start at the beginning. In Genesis 1 we read “God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth” and if nothing else happened all would have gone well. However, in Genesis 3 we see the fall, and sin enters the world. Not that that negates the command to be fruitful and multiply which God repeats to Noah and his family in Genesis 9.

    Because of sin our bodies now die, and part of the death process involves our bodies not always working correctly. There is a myriad of things that can go wrong and we each have or know of some of them so I don’t need to list any. However one of the areas where things can go wrong is in our reproductive organs leading to the inability of a couple to have a child.

    REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM PROBLEMS

    Some of the more common causes of male infertility are Low sperm count, Poor sperm motility, Birth defects, Hormone problems, Illnesses or infections, Medication side effects, Varicocele, Lifestyle habits, including smoking and drug use, Injuries and physical trauma and Obesity

    Female infertility can, among other things, be caused by Ovulation disorders, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome , problems with tubal factors, or things like blockages, abnormal tissue growth, scar tissue and fibroids in the uterus.

    INFERTILITY IN THE BIBLE.

    When a girl reaches puberty she has about 400,000 immature eggs in her ovaries of which about 450 will mature and be released over her lifetime. A boy on the other hand will start to, and continue to, produce sperm at the rate of around a billion per month producing over 500 billion during his lifetime. A single ejaculation can contain between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells.

    This means that a couple could produce a very large number of different children in their lifetime, the ones actually being produced being the unique combination of one particular sperm with one particular egg. Working on numbers if our mothers conceived either one day earlier or one day later there would have been a difference of 30,000,000 sperm competing to fertilise our mother’s egg and so there’s a good chance we wouldn’t exist.

    Given the large number of different children a couple *could* produce, it’s interesting to see how God used infertility in working out His plan of redeeming man through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary.
    The first woman was Sarah. She was about 65 and barren (Gen 11:30) when God called her husband Abraham and promised him that he would be a great nation (Gen 12:2). She did not have her only child for another 25 years when she was 90/91 (Gen 17:17). (As an aside, Abraham allowed Abimelech king of Gerar to take Sarah [through whom God would bring promised Messiah] into his harem. As punishment God “closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech” (Gen 20:18) and later opened them again).
    Sarah’s son Isaac married Rebekah who was also barren (Gen 25:21). They were married 20 years before they had Esau and Jacob. Isaac would have been 60 but we don’t know Rebekah’s age.

    Rebekah’s son Jacob (Israel) had children from four women but the one he really loved was Rachel who also was barren (Gen 29:31 – interestingly this verse also says “the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb” so was Leah also barren?) After God opened her womb (Gen 30:22) Rachel had her first child Joseph who was the 11th of Jacob’s 12 children. Benjamin, Rachel’s second was Jacob’s last. Joseph was used by God to save Jacob and his family during the seven years of drought that later came on the world. Benjamin was an ancestor of the Apostle Paul, without whom we would be missing most of the New Testament.

    Other women whose sons played a role in the history of Israel are Manoah’s wife, the mother of Samson a judge over Israel; Hannah, wife of Elkanah, the mother of Samuel the prophet; Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias and mother of John the Baptist; and there was also a Shunammite Woman, whose husband and son are unnamed.

    …cont

  7. continued ….

    SEX AND SIN

    “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain” (Gen 4:1) and that is how God meant it to happen. Sex outside marriage is sinful to the extent that the penalty for such is sometimes death (Deut 22:23-24 and Lev 20:10).

    A child conceived out of wedlock is a bastard and on bastards God says “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord” (Deut 23:2). That should end any discussion about sperm donation as a child produced by sperm donation is not the child of a man and his wife and therefore is a bastard, it is illegitimate or not valid or as the writer of Hebrews says though referring to the undisciplined, “then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb 12:8).

    (Another aside, Judah was the father of the bastard Perez by his daughter in law Tamar, Perez(1) was the father of Hezron(2), the father of Ram(3), the father of Amminadab(4), the father of Nahshon(5), the father of Salmon(6), the father of Boaz(7), the father of Obed(8), the father of Jesse(9), the father of David(10) the king. Tamar was a widow because Er, her first husband, was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life and Onan, his brother and her second husband, wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother which was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.)

    WAITING ON GOD

    Last Sunday’s sermon (8-Jan-17) was on waiting on God and one of its by-products, character. I was aware of how long some Bible characters waited a while, e.g. Abraham, 25 years; Moses 40; even Jesus 30; and Paul 10 but the two mentioned were Joseph 13 years and David 20. But an added bit that I was unaware of is that in that wait period things went bad, then they seemed to be going good, then they went bad again until finally God’s promise was fulfilled. Can we not expect this to happen today, does God still want us to learn to wait?

    At least three times in the Bible we see mention of a meal being prepared starting with a live animal (Abraham before the destruction of Sodom, a year before the birth of Isaac; Jacob for Isaac to get his blessing; and for the Parodical Son). Of Abraham it just says “Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it” (Gen 18:7) but have you considered how long that took? He had to catch the calf, possibly string it up, kill it, bleed it, dress it, then take part of it and cook it, and that would have taken a lot lot longer than the 30 minutes we’d have to wait for a pizza delivery. They did wait for their meals.

    THE IVF PROCESS

    The four basic steps in the IVF process are 1) Ovulation Induction, 2) Egg retrieval, 3) Fertilisation and 4) Embryo transfer and Implantation. While leaving the details for people to look up themselves I’ll comment on the fickleness of people.

    In the early days the children born by this method were referred to as “test tube” babies. Perhaps this came with negative sci-fi connotations and the term is no longer used but we still speak of IVF. IVF actually stands for In Vitro Fertilisation and In Vitro is Latin for “in glass” so “test tube”, “in glass”, much the same thing really, it’s just that most people wouldn’t know they’re saying “in glass”.

    THE OUTCOME OF IVF – HOPED AND ACTUAL

    The hope of those starting an IVF process is life, the life of a child, and this often happens. However the most frequent outcome is death in that over 70% of the babies implanted in their mother are never born. And as there not all the babies created are planted in the mother being classified as things like unhealthy or extra this %age would actually be greater.

    OTHER MEDICAL PROCEDURES

    Life’s tricky in that we know that there can be medical reasons for a lack of fertility (e.g. blocked tubes) but at the same time it can be a direct act of God (see Gen 20:18). We also know that God can reverse infertility (Gen 30:22). However a medical procedure to unblock a woman’s tubes allowing a man to then impregnate his wife is very different from IVF.

    ETERNITY – HEAVEN OR HELL

    I haven’t the time or space to address the question of where children, particularly unborn children, spend eternity, but we do know that some adults, at the moment most adults, end up going to hell when they die. Therefore there is a very good chance, possibly a certainty, that descendants of a couple who have a child through IVF will spend eternity in hell.

    MY CONCLUSION

    OK, we’ve seen that God actually promises a life of hardship, difficulty, trials, opposition and persecution rather than happiness; we’ve seen that God can cause and heal infertility and use it to establish His own ends; we’ve seen that God can take a long time to do what we want Him to do now (though we didn’t actually look at the long-term effect of not waiting, e.g. the affect in history of the birth of Ishmael or at the use of IVF by people who can have children normally as a means of “gender selection”); we’ve seen that medical procedures such as unblocking a woman’s tubes is very different from IVF; we’ve seen that sperm donation results in bastards so we have to say no to that; and we’ve seen that the main result of the IVF process is death. Would any of these cause a Christian to say “no, that’s not the way for me to go”?

    Here’s what definitely would get it for me. Could I, at the last judgement, stand and watch descendants of mine, people who only existed because I wasn’t prepared to walk with God through the pain of childlessness and instead went ahead with IVF, could I watch these descendants of mine be thrown into hell where they would suffer the physical pain and agony of God’s wrath for all of eternity rather than I (with God beside me) suffering in my emotions for a few decades? I couldn’t.

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