In Britain, it was recently decided that leftover embryos in IVF clinics may be genetically edited. This means that human beings will make research projects of embryos conceived for the purpose of creating a baby but rejected as excess, because the parents achieved their goals for having children without using all the embryos created in the course of “treating” their infertility. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/zxnwweu
This story raises a lot of questions. The author of the story discusses some of them, but others were ignored:
- What manner of changes to the DNA of the embryos would be allowed?
- Are these changes something every mother would want for her living child?
- Will the embryo survive the experience?
- What is the value to the human race?
- Can it be shown that the value to the human race transcends the value of a single human life?
- Would any person voluntarily agree to die in order for science to know such things?
- If the leftovers are simply discarded, which is to say that they are killed and thrown away like trash, who gets to decide that this is the plan? Do parents have the right? Does the community have the right? Does some other level of the government have the right?
- Is a leftover embryo simply “tissue” that should be made available for research? Or is it a living human being who has all the rights of any other human being at any age?
However, the story never touches on the question that concerns me. I don’t wonder what to do with IVF leftovers. I wonder what sort of arrogance produces IVF leftovers.
In the biblical view that human life begins at conception, all these possible concerns and any others that more brilliant minds might raise are transcended by the question of the value of human life. If an embryo is the first cell in the life of a human being, what human dare arrogate to himself the responsibility for casually and thoughtlessly allowing this human to be created? If an embryo is the first cell in the life of a human being, what human has the right to say that this new life is suddenly not valuable but instead is extra, unnecessary, too worthless to be protected and nourished?
The question of why there are IVF leftovers is the same question we need to ask of people who believe that if casual sex results in an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy the answer to the problem is abortion. An IVF leftover is precisely the target for the Plan B abortifacient solution to careless sex. If not for embryos, Plan B would be unnecessary. The whole purpose of Plan B is to prevent the embryo from implanting. It is astonishing when you consider that on one side of town a woman who had too many margaritas and spent a night of wild consensual sex with a complete stranger will buy Plan B to prevent any possibility that this sexual misadventure produces a baby, while on the other side of town, a couple is mortgaging their house and their future to pay for IVF treatments and follow-up medical watchdog care to assure that an embryo created in a petri dish, injected from the outside world into a mother’s womb, will have a fighting chance of implanting and maturing and being born naturally after forty weeks. And if the mother is so fortunate as to become pregnant, and if the embryos she paid so dearly to create ultimately do produce the result she wants—2.4 children—then this mother will either donate or discard the “leftover” embryos as if she and the father have no further responsibility for them.
This is not the world God had in mind when he created humans as sexual beings. Children were never to be casually and thoughtlessly and irresponsibly created. Children were meant to be seen as simultaneously God’s gift and a lifelong responsibility. The prohibition of sex outside marriage was not established as a way of hurting people who yearn for sexual fulfillment or feel deep loneliness. That prohibition was a profound statement about the value of human life. Every human being is so valuable in the eyes of God, even as an embryo, that God did not intend for people to create embryos as if sex were a game. God created human beings with such potential for moral strength that human beings can and do abstain from sex outside marriage when they make up their minds to do so.
God puts extremely high value on people. First, he himself touches each person at the moment of creation. One pastor says it is appropriate to say that each of us has an imprinted, no-itch label, that says, “Hand made by God.”
Second, God loves and values each person so much that he sent his own Son to die to redeem us from sin’s enslavement to Satan. He doesn’t prohibit sex outside marriage to harm anyone. The prohibition is a protection for the value of each person and the sanctity of each family. God wants every baby born to loving, responsible parents who want that child. He doesn’t want a baby born to two children who could barely find their way around the back seat of a Chevy while under the influence of illegal liquor or drugs, two children who are far too immature to take on the responsibility of a child. This is not God’s doing. It is Satan’s doing. Those children do not wind up in the back seat, because it is the inevitable rite of passage from puberty to adulthood; they wind up there, because Satan constantly whispers while every television screen blares the mantra, “Sex is not controllable, and you should be protected from the consequences at no cost to yourself.” The cultural mantra acts as if the monetary cost of raising a child were the only cost of frivolous sex. Frivolous, thoughtless sex mars both body and soul of all participants in ways people utterly disregard when they act as if destruction and disposal of unwanted embryos and fetuses were the only problem they need to solve.
Finally, God actually values each person so much that he calls each person to an important service. Sometimes we humans have great difficulty comprehending the service a mute baby or a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s renders in God’s kingdom, but the fact is that no human being is without value in God’s eyes. God loves and treasures each one, and God has service for each one to perform.
IVF leftovers? You might as well think the same way about babies born with cleft palates or anencephalic babies. You might as well think the same way about the high school star quarterback or the young woman with Down syndrome who packs bags at the grocery store. You might as well think the same way about who gets the heart of an accident victim or who will need to die in order to free up beds in nursing homes for younger patients. If the unwanted embryos created for supposedly loving parents can become leftovers, any human being could be a leftover.
The problem with the leftover embryos at IVF clinics is not what to do with them. The problem is how to stop creating embryos without regard for their God-given value as human beings. Humans must stop acting as if the moment of conception were a mere human challenge, not the mighty creative power of God at work.