What Christian traditions say about IVF treatments

The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that embryos should be considered children has forced Americans to grapple with the jumble of complicated realities about law, infertility, medicine and politics.

Christian theology is at the center of the decision. “Human life cannot be unjustifiably destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God,” wrote the court’s Chief Justice Tom Parker in his decision.

Among conservative Christians, the belief that life begins at conception has been a driving force behind anti-abortion politics for years. Among the most ardent opponents of abortion, this thinking has also led to uncompromising opposition to in vitro fertilization.

“It’s a fundamental premise of our entire movement,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, which opposes abortion. IVF, she said, “is literally a business model built on disposable children and treating children as commodities.”

But on the morality of IVF, a more noticeable divide is between Catholics and Protestants. Catholic teaching expressly forbids this. Protestants tend to be more open, in part because there is no similar top-down authority structure that requires a common doctrine.

The evangelical tradition has built a public identity around being pro-family and pro-children, and many supporters tend to view IVF positively because it produces more children. Pastors rarely preach on fertility, though they may on abortion.

But the Alabama decision is “a very morally honest opinion,” said Andrew T. Walker, associate professor of Christian ethics and public theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The ruling, he said, shows a direct line of reasoning between the belief that life begins at conception and opposition to abortion and in vitro fertilization.

“It will make conservative Christians think about their own potential complicity in the IVF industry,” he said.

The Roman Catholic Church is perhaps the largest institution in the world that opposes IVF. Almost all modern fertility interventions are morally prohibited.

The IVF process usually involves many elements that the Catholic Church opposes. There is masturbation — “an offense against chastity,” according to the catechism or teaching — often required to collect sperm. There is fertilization of the ovum and sperm outside the woman’s body — outside the sacramental “marital act” of sex between husband and wife. And then there is the creation of multiple embryos that are often destroyed or not implanted – a “failed practice”.

The church’s first significant statement opposing IVF came in response to the world’s first “test tube baby”, born in England in 1978. Written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, the document deals with various fertility technologies , such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.

Last month, Pope Francis condemned surrogacy as “despicable” and called for a global ban on the practice. An unborn child should not be “turned into an object of commerce,” he said.

Many Catholics use contraception and IVF treatment in violation of Church teaching. But for practicing Catholics, opposition to IVF is part of an ecosystem of beliefs about marriage, family, and especially sex.

The marital act of sex must be performed at conception, and the embryo must not be subjected to “various humiliations, pokes and prods” by scientists, said Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Center for Bioethics.

In cases of infertility, some “assistive” technologies may be fine, he said, but not “replacement” ones like IVF. i want children

For example, Mr. Meaney said, he and his wife faced fertility problems and used methods to conceive that included surgery to remove scar tissue and deep tissue massage. “Helping means there has to be sex,” he said. “Swap means no sexual act.”

But the bioethics of IVF is not a topic that most conservative Christians have on their radar. Evangelicals tend to rely on a literal reading of the Bible rather than centuries of Catholic social philosophy and anthropology. And the Bible, an ancient text, of course does not mention IVF

Mr. Walker said that when he considered introducing a resolution on artificial reproductive technology in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, friends and colleagues reacted with hesitation.

But evangelical and Catholic communities are increasingly coming together over shared conservative political beliefs. America’s Now Inescapable Fertility Policy Could Shape Evangelical IVF Belief and Practice

Emma Waters, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, hopes that evangelical pastors will work to train their churches on the theological reasons against IVF, as Catholics do. She sees a potential opening with Gen Z evangelicals who oppose hormonal birth control and the broad ways technology has infiltrated their lives.

“IVF is just the beginning of reproductive technologies,” she said. “We’re just not ready to deal with the onslaught of problems that are coming.”

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