TEST TUBE BABIES (revised 2/19/04)

by Dr. Andreas Lambrianides
General Surgeon
Brisbane, Australia

Technological changes are occurring at an alarming rate and one of the major fields involved is Reproductive Technologies in particular In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) (Latin: In vitro=in glass) The moral issues that are in question are: How far can we manipulate life, and are all these new advances acceptable to the child of God? It is not until we have worn the shoes of infertility that one can fully empathise the anguish and bitterness of infertile couples.

The bible reflects its judgment on such issues stating in Proverbs 30:15,16:

"There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say enough: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says enough"

In Samuel 1 the reader is told how discouraged and bitter Hannah became when the Lord closed her, "Womb", once again reflecting the beliefs the bible has upon fertility.

Before one can make judgement, a person must understand exactly what the IVF process involves.

A typical cycle begins with shutting down of the ovaries followed by strong stimulation of the ovaries to ovulate. The shutting down and stimulation of the ovaries is by the means of chemical drugs. When the cells are ready then the final step is to stimulate the maturation of the eggs, which are subsequently harvested by passing a thin needle into the ovaries and suctioning the eggs from the follicles.

Within the cycle characteristically 5-15 eggs are harvested and are fertilised when adding 100,000 sperms to each egg. If the egg will not naturally become fertilised then intracytoplasmic sperm injection is performed which involves the puncturing of an egg and injecting a sperm into the egg. Success of this fertilisation is confirmed under the microscope. The embryos are then observed for 3-6 days, three to four of these are then transferred through the cervix into the uterus. It is possible within the IVF to transfer more advanced stages such as the blastocyst stage. The blastocyst stage occurs seven days after fertilisation.

A pregnancy test is performed 2 weeks after the initial observation then in the following fortnight the foetal heart can be visualised using an ultrasound machine, which makes use of high frequency sound waves thus making it safe to visualise the foetus. Success of the IVF procedure ranges from the mere 11% to a greater possibility such as 45%. The IVF procedure is very expensive and each cycle costs about 7,000 US dollars.

These embryos can be transferred directly into the fallopian tubes, bypassing the uterus. This differing procedure still holds the same success rate but involves an anaesthetic. It is a common practise to fertilise more than one egg and as a result a number of embryos are produced in order to make sure that at least several healthy embryos are produced for transfer and also some can be stored for future pregnancies.

In assumption that the embryo is successfully implanted a healthy and completely normal baby is born in the traditional nine months, creating a miracle for the infertile parents whilst also taking a significant portion of their savings, making one question that the only people to recreate their infertile life happy are those who can afford it.

The next important factor that creates controversy is what will be done with the remaining embryos. The first idea is to discard the embryos if the family wishes to have no more pregnancies. The second idea is to donate them for the benefit of stem cell research. The third is to donate the remaining embryos to infertile couples and the final idea is to freeze the embryos in liquid nitrogen.

The first two options result in the death of the embryos, and the third is not a morally accepted option by the parents, as they are reluctant to give the embryos for adoption as they will have no control over who will raise this part of themselves they have produced. In regard to the fourth option it is a well-established fact that a significant number of frozen embryos will die as a result of the freezing/thawing process as well as the somewhat unethical nature of the act. Embryos are human beings yet the dignity that each embryo identity deserves as with its own human right to live has been discarded as the tornado of money interests and unethical science takes command of society.

Assuming you have chosen the final option of freezing embryos, there are six different options. The first option is that the embryo is donated for research in which case the embryo dies. The second option is to donate to other infertile couples in which case the embryo survives. The third option is to that the embryo is thawed and discarded and the embryo dies. The fourth option is to sell the embryos to public individuals (a good embryo can have a price tag of around 50,000 dollars) however one must question what defines a, "Good" embryo and whether a scientist looking at an embryo through a microscope can possibly have an accurate picture of what this embryo will one day become. The fifth possibility is the failure of the storage containers, resulting in loss of liquid nitrogen and death to the embryo. The final possibility is that criminal activity can result in damage to the containers and death of the precious contents.

There are thousands of human embryos frozen at infertility clinics remaining from IVF programs, however human eggs cannot be frozen and later thawed for fertilisation. All the eggs collected must be fertilised first then embryos implanted. Embryos can be frozen immediately after fertilisation at the pronuclear stage (early cleavage stage 2-8 cells) or after 5-7 days of culture, at the Blastocyst stage. The pregnancy success rate with the frozen embryos is the same as with the non-frozen embryos. It is possible that some or all of the embryos may not survive the freezing process and if they do survive, the risks associated with freezing such as birth defects are not clearly established. As one knows, a sperm and an egg are needed to create an embryo. The sperm may come from the father or may be donated. (AID). If it is donated the donor must remain anonymous and this raises the possibility of consanguineous matings or even incest.

The bible states its judgement on such immoral acts stating in Leviticus 20:17:

And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people: he hath uncovered his sister's nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity

The average donor may be used for up to fifty pregnancies. Legal problems also can surface in the cases of failed marriages where the husband claims no responsibility for child support since the sperm was not his. A further problem would be an increasing number of lesbian couples having children and also an increase in the number of surrogate mothers and the flourishing of, "Rent-a-Womb", businesses. Another issue is the psychological problems that can affect the child, how do you explain that their mother was paid to bear them? Unfortunately modern society seems to allow children to be born to lesbian homosexual or even transsexual environments.

The bible passes it’s judgement on such sexuality in Romans 1:24-27:

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.  For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

If AID is used to fertilise the egg then do we have to deal with the problem of adultery? Although adultery involves the sexual act it is not entirely limited to a physical act, adultery thoughts and ideas are also within the boundaries of this sin. Whether the sperm is from the father or whether it is from a donor it has to be collected and this is usually by means of masturbation with use of a pornographic aid and thus this separates the sexual act from marriage. Although the bible does not specifically forbid or encourage masturbation the question is, does it bring glory to God? As stated in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. David says in Psalm 101:2 that he would walk with integrity even in his house when no one could see him.

An embryo or foetus is considered to be a living human body and thus a living human soul. Throughout the bible the baby in the womb is assumed to be a living human being:

"The babies jostled each other within her" Genesis 25:22

"As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy" Luke 1:44.

"For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb" Psalm 139:13

A fundamental principle of biological science is that life begins at fertilisation with the union of the sperm and the egg to form a diploid zygote. The zygote-one cell embryo contains all the genetic information necessary for the formation of the new individual such as: sexual characteristics, colour of hair, eyes, height, body type, personality, and intelligence. The sperm and the egg on their own cannot be considered as a human life as they only contain half the genetic information necessary to form the individual. Fertilisation or fusion of the sperm and egg give rise to the full complement of genetic information necessary for the production of the new individual.

Many theories have been developed as to when human life begins, some have argued that human life begins when the embryo becomes viable, for others it is twenty-four weeks after conception whilst others argue that life begins after implantation. Christians believe that life begins at the time of fusion of the egg and sperm and that is when the breath of life enters the embryo this is belief is clearly shown many times in the bible:

"Behold, thou shall conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing; for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death". Judges 13:7

"Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me" Psalm 51:5

"My substance was not hid from thee when I was made in secret and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them" Psalm139: 15,16.

"Behold the angel of the lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee marry thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Matthew 1: 20

"And behold thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus" Luke 1: 31

The bible shows us that Christ’s human life began at conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, thus human life must begin at conception as well. The bible shows the implications that life beginning at conception has. Having accepted the fact that human life begins at conception the embryo’s life then has meaning, dignity and sanctity, as it is related to God who created it. We are made in the image of the Creator, and this image is consisted in righteousness as is stated in the bible:

"And that you put on the new man, which after God created in righteousness and true holiness" Ephesians 4: 24, holiness: Ephesians 4: 24, and knowledge.

"That you might walk worthy of the lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" Colossians 1:10

It is because of the doctrine that we have been made in the image of God that murder is such a heinous crime. This is because a human being is the most God-like living being in this world. The taking of innocent life is always condemned in the law of God as stated in Exodus 20:13: "Thou shalt not kill", but also failing to protect it is condemned. Jesus in the sixth commandment stated that allowing a man to die when you have the means to protect or preserve life is the same as murder.

Frozen IVF embryos are human beings whose lives have been held below freezing in a state of suspended development. They are not inhuman resources or commodities to be bought or sold in the biotechnology industry or for the sale to public individuals. Man has no right to destroy life only God alone has the right. This is stated in Samuel 2:6: The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.

Life begins at conception and the breath of life enters the embryo at this time. An embryo may not function the same way as an adult does nevertheless it is still a human being. It is considered a human just as a person with a mental or physical handicap cannot function as a normal being yet they are still human. As we have no right to terminate the life of a handicap person because they are not functioning as a normal human being neither do we have the right to terminate the life of an embryo simply because it is still made up of one or more cells and can not function as an adult. Given time, the one-celled embryo has the genetic information necessary to develop into a fully mature normal adult human being.

God allows technological advances to cure disease but IVF does not actually cure the disease of infertility, as the individuals are as infertile after as they were before the procedure. The process of IVF separates sexual love from conception. The sperm is collected by masturbating usually using a pornographic aid. The doctor then harvests the eggs from the ovaries after chemical stimulation and maturation and technicians fertilise the egg and sperm in some container outside the body. In resolution the doctor finally artificially implants the fertilised embryo into the womb. If you can call this sexual love between the husband and wife, then we should redefine our understanding of love.

There is so much interest in the preservation of the environment, the ozone layer and the land, but is there the same interest in the preservation of human life? We destroy human life without a second thought to the moral law of God or even if we think of the law we modify it to suit our purposes. It so easy to say that human life does not begin at conception, thus making it no sin to kill the embryo. Thousands of embryos are sold to research facilities for experiments then discarded, or frozen which all result in the death of the embryo and breaking of the moral law of God. There are no limits to the morality of man. We argue that the embryo is not a person so therefore we owe it no protection, but would you demolish a building if you were not certain that people are inside?

Killing an embryo is not morally different from killing a child or adult. Are we to continue descending deeper into the abyss of humanism, where unwanted embryos are discarded or experimented upon, by the new breed of medicine men that dispenses life or death for a fee? Or are we to return to the Christian values of the dignity of man and the sanctity of human life?

We are certainly not justified to produce one human being at the expense of many others, and this is where humanism is leading us.

The illustrations below show human life from the fertilisation stage to the 12-week stage.

  Life at fertilisation.

   Life at the two-cell stage.

  Life at the four-cell stage.

  Life at the eight-cell stage.

   Life at the Morula stage.

   Life at five weeks.

  Life at fourteen weeks.