The basic question here is: how much technology is too much? How far should Christians go in order to bear children? At what point should we consider that maybe God did not want us to have children?
Artificial Reproduction Technology and the Christian Life
Here is a topic that is heating up but still in it’s infancy stage…pun intended. Let us start with a question. Since we are God’s beautiful creation, made in his image (Gen 1:27), do we have the authority to design life ourselves outside of natural sexual union and conception? If God is the giver of all life (1 Tim 6:13), can we view our human boundaries to being fruitful and multiplying (Gen 1:28)? Here are some things to consider from the biblical narrative. Keep in mind we are an extension of the biblical narrative.
Reproduction in the Bible (Abraham and Sarah)
First off, the Bible does not mention things like Artificial Insemination or In Vitro fertilization. Abraham and Sarah did not have a reproduction clinic to go to in 2000BC. Most people from that era did one of two things. They either appealed to a higher power which was typically a fertility god or idol, or they provided a surrogate. It should be noted, however, that reproduction in biblical times was very much centered around stability of the linage. When a lineage died it was as bad a crime as murder. Thus, the idea of a surrogate mother was not uncommon.
In the story of Abraham and Sarah it was Hagar, Sarah’s servant, who was used as a surrogate. Many would be quick to point out that God was not pleased with Abraham for this (Gen 17), but God never corrected him other than reiterating that He wanted Abraham’s offspring to come from his and Sarah’s conception. Thus, surrogacy is not condemned as far as it being completely natural.
However, there is a caution in the story. There is a very real social component to this method and that is jealousy. When Hagar becomes pregnant Sarah was upset and jealous and treated her with contempt (Gen 16:4).
Reproduction in the Bible (Jacob and the baby wars)
This trend continues with Jacob, who married two sisters (never recommended). When the time for child bearing came, one was conceiving and one was not. You might imagine that this would have been the ultimate Jerry Springer episode. Out of this situation arose what I like to call “Conception Wars!” Read on….
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die.” 2Then Jacob’s anger burned against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” 3She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children.” 4So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. 5Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son.
6Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son.” Therefore she named him Dan.7Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8So Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed.” And she named him Naphtali.
9When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11Then Leah said, “How fortunate!” So she named him Gad. 12Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13Then Leah said, “Happy am I! For women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.
14Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15But she said to her, “Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son’s mandrakes also?” So Rachel said, “Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” 16When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17God gave heed to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18Then Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my maid to my husband.” So she named him Issachar. 19Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob. 20Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. 21Afterward she bore a daughter and named her Dinah.
If you still think the Bible is boring then your not reading it! So, as you can see there are clear biblical examples of the social issues with surrogacy.
As for the ancient’s ready appeal to fertility Gods, such as: Ishatar (Assyria/Babylonia), Asherah (Ugaritic), Baal (Canaanite), Artemis (Greek), God clearly condemned this behavior….because God wanted to be their source of trust. Below are some examples of the ancient fertility idols.
This was one of the reason’s why the 1st commandment was such a difficulty for people. It meant that those who were barren were now also hopeless unless God provided. To compound the issue, in ancient culture child bearing is a source of identity and fulfillment. The question for those who cannot conceive is: is it your desire or God’s desire to have children? If God is calling you to have children, are you willing to depend on the Lord to provide? That was God’s real issue with Israel. They refused to trust in Him.
Now lets talk about the modern technology. How should we understand things like Artificial Insemination, In Vitro, genetic material donation, or others? Let’s discuss each one here separately.
Options for conceiving a child with technology
1. Artificial Insemination
This is the the process of having a doctor take the sperm and inject it into the vaginal canal or Fallopian tube; thereby creating a blind date between the egg and the sperm in hopes that they conceive an embryo.
One of the benefits of this method, for a Christian, is that it still uses only the natural genetic material from the parents. So the child is 100% a product of natural conception and child birth.
The only caution is that this process can easily separate reproduction from God’s design for reproduction, I.E. SEX. What happens in the relationship when sex is no longer a joyful experience but only a disappointment? What happens if one partner begins to refuse to have sex because it is no longer valuable since no offspring will come from it? Sex is much more than a reproductive event but at the same time it is God’s design for reproduction. The other danger is that perhaps we may be superseding God’s will for our lives in seeking alternative means.
2. In Vitro
In Vitro is different because the sperm and the egg(s) are placed in a laboratory dish and then conception is either assisted via injection or a natural meeting. In this method 5 or more embryos are created. An embryo is the earliest stage of life, where the egg is fertilized by the sperm and has lived long enough to survive the transfer process. Most are done after only a few days.
The next thing that happens is that 2-3 embryos are placed in the uterus of the woman in hopes that at least on will attach to the uterine wall. The others are frozen for later use, but if not used will eventually be discarded.
The moral questions here are 1) is it ok to discard human embryos? 2) Does the end justify the means? Many people I know would openly endorse artificial methods like this, but they would never condone abortion. So there is a bit of confusion about artificial reproduction all together. One has to deal with this in their marriage as well. Will you look back 20 years later a regret your treatment of the discarded embryos? It’s a very difficult decision for any Christian.
3. Donor Material
The last possibility we will look at is different than the other two because AI or IAI can both be done with or without donor materials. In the donor process one partner or even both have to come to terms that they are not able to produce a child normally. They are sterile or barren or something else. So the semi-natural method of pregnancy with donor material is chosen. This does have its ow benefits. The mother still carries the child and will produce milk. So it’s very much like a normal pregnancy.
This is an interesting method because as we saw, from the Bible, using a donor of some nature was never condemned. We did see that it did produce a lot of animosity …. and a ton of offspring. However it does not seem to be out of the question. Of course a couple has to also consider whether or not they are trying to align with God’s will for them or if they are trying to dominate their own destiny. If someone is seeking alternative childbearing because they, like Rachel, need to be vindicated through a child or they just need to feel like they have an identity, then do not do it.
I repeat, if you are struggling to have a child and you cannot say that God has definitively called you to have children, do NOT use alternative means to reproduction. If in doubt of any moral question always pray and rely on God. It took God 14 years to fulfill His promise to Abraham. What makes us think he will be any quicker with us?
Lastly, perhaps we can consider remaining childless for the sake of the gospel or adopting a child in need. I read a statistic recently that…..
In Russia and the Ukraine, studies have shown that 10% – 15% of these children commit suicide before they reach age eighteen
These studies also show that 60% of the girls become prostitutes and 70%of the boys become hardened criminals.
I am not saying that reproductive technology is evil…I am suggesting, however, that couples (not singles) should proceed with caution and they should be sure of their calling. My post on this topic is long and still not 100% thorough. If you have input, please leave it.
Here are some resources to consider on the topic….