Summary: Advances in science and medicine have enabled many couples who cannot have children to conceive. And yet, in every society there must be a continual conversation between what can be done, and what should be done. That conversation is generally carried o
When Life Begins: A Christian View of Reproductive Technologies
Series: In the World But Not Of It April 17, 2005
Intro: (1 Samuel 1:1-17) – Hannah’s story
Different Context; Same Pain:
Although our context today is very different then it was in Biblical times, the pain of infertility is still very much present. In Canada, it is estimated that one out of 8 couples deal with the problem of infertility. (Ian Shugart, Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Canada,
http://bioethicsprint.bioethics.gov/transcripts/dec04/session5.html December 3, 2004). Some of you here this morning hear this passage of Scripture and can feel the pain of Hannah. Most of us know someone personally who has or is going through the same struggle. How should we as Christians respond? Are there lines that we should not cross in attempting to relieve the pain of not being able to have children?
The Principle of Love:
One of the foundational principles of Christian ethics is love. In fact, that should be the foundational principle of all of our actions and interactions and intentions. It is loving to attempt to alleviate the suffering of couples who deeply desire children, and it is loving to use appropriate medical and scientific options and opportunities to bring to reality their desire to have children and to raise a family. Yet, should we do that at any cost? Are there limits to the lengths to which we should go, or encourage, or even as a society permit?
What “Can” Be Done v. What “Should” Be Done:
Advances in science and medicine have enabled many couples who cannot have children to conceive. And yet, in every society there must be a continual conversation between what can be done, and what should be done. That conversation is generally carried out under the heading of “ethics”, and it is here that I believe we as Christians and as the church should seek to be involved and inform our culture.
You see, at the heart of it all we believe in the principles God has laid out in Scripture because we believe that God is good, and the principles He has established are for the very best for us. We can convincingly demonstrate that, and we can do so not from the perspective of “God says this so we should do it”, but rather from the perspective that “these principles will enable us to create the most just and loving society, rooted in the knowledge and revelation of God.” I firmly believe that this is a part of our mission in our world – to be witnesses to the goodness of God and to be defenders of justice and promoters of love.
Treatment Options For Infertility:
In Canada today, a couple struggling to conceive has the following options:
1. Accept their infertility, grieve, and carry on with their lives.
2. Attempt numerous non-medical therapies, such as being more aware of the best times for conception, or lessening the amount of stress in their lives and improve their over-all health with the hope of increasing their chances of conceiving naturally.
3. Begin medical treatments designed to increase the chances of conceiving naturally. These include drugs that manage hormone levels, and often include surgery to correct any physical problems affecting the ability to conceive naturally.
4. Begin more aggressive treatments, generally referred to as “Assisted Reproductive Technologies”. I’ll come back to these in more detail in a moment, because the ethical issues are more complex here.
The Ethics of #1-3:
The ethics of the first three are fairly simple. The second option, involving lessening stress and being more healthy, is probably good advice for all of us, and is not only ethical but to be advised.
The third option is ethically no different than medical treatments that might help a blind person to see, or that might clear a blockage in an artery. As Christians we would see a firm and clear analogy to Jesus’ ministry of healing, and rooted in compassion and our most basic command to love one another.
And of course no one would condemn a couple’s choice to accept their infertility, although I do want to digress here for a moment… In general, I think we don’t handle the pain of infertility very well or very sensitively as a culture. Questions such as “when are you going to have kids?” or comments like “you only have one kid – don’t be selfish, have more” are often hurtful and almost never constructive. When we do know of a couple struggling to conceive, many of those comments are also hurtful. We need to recognize how painful this struggle can be, as it was for Hannah and others in Scripture, and respond with compassion by taking the pain seriously, by listening without judgment, by avoiding minimizing the pain or trying to point out things like how kids can really be a bother sometimes, and by respecting people’s privacy if they don’t wish to talk about it.