In Vitro Fertilization


In the annals of the right-to-life movement, the tension over abortion has always made sense to me: obviously, it troubles lots of people beyond just devout right-to-lifers. Embryonic stem-cell research, less so, but I can understand how you get there by extending the logic. If you extend it even further, you get to in vitro fertilization. And that's never seemed to raise much pushback, at least that I can recall. And I don't think I'm just missing something:

In her campaign against IVF, Lahl has found herself with little company among evangelicals. Despite her efforts, most of her coreligionists view IVF as acceptable for couples in need of a doctor’s help to start a family, even as they may fight to stop abortion or embryonic stem cell research. But beneath that broad consensus lies a wide range of often conflicting positions on how science should and shouldn’t be allowed to affect conception.

I wondered if it was a strictly theological issue or a political one: opposing in vitro fertilization from a right-to-life standpoint is a more difficult hill to climb since, process aside, creating life is the whole point. Perhaps it's just a matter of getting to consensus (never easy in Protestant circles, for obvious reasons):

Without a central authority like the Vatican, evangelical thinkers parse the IVF issue in various ways. Some oppose using donor eggs or donor sperm or surrogates to conceive. At Focus on the Family, Earll says that she and her colleagues believe IVF is acceptable but advise against ”third party” involvement. (Not only because of the potential for ”exploitation” and ”commercialization” of reproductive processes, but also for the potential problems for a marriage.) But Land of the Southern Baptist Convention is more circumspect. ”I’m not sure we would say that even outside donors are beyond the pale.”

Land does, however, object to the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to determine which embryos will be most viable and healthy. And he objects to the use of cryopreservation–freezing embryos for use later.

Lots of angels, lots of pins: it's hard to build a platform when you're still parsing "pre-implantation genetic diagnosis."

But perhaps things are changing. Newt Gingrich actually took a stab at IVF ethics in his futile presidential campaign:

Gingrich added that he would also create a commission to study the ethics of in vitro fertilization, which has involved the creation of hundreds of thousands of excess embryos stored or discarded by fertility clinics.

And now, much to my surprise, there's an active protest against a proposed IVF clinic in Naperville:

A local doctor, Randy Morris, wants the clinic to provide medications, insemination, in-vitro fertilization and surgical procedures. Some residents are concerned about some of those services, saying they devalue and objectify the sanctity of human life.

Which, interestingly enough, gets lumped in with Planned Parenthood:

[Naperville city councilman Bob] Feesler says he’s concerned about potential protests, similar to those at the Planned Parenthood facility in Aurora.

It simply wouldn't occur to me that an IVF clinic would be the target of protests in the same way that Planned Parenthood is, but the world moves awful fast for me. Via Eric Zorn, the Sun-Times's Mark Brown has a moving column about the protests, written in part because the issue is very personal to him. It's both a personal and a political story and well worth reading, but this part jumped out at me:

If Naperville officials were to approve the zoning for the fertility clinic, he warned, they would be consenting to a “worldview in which a child is not procreated, but manufactured” and “not so much born as decanted.”

Decanted? [Update: Good catch from Anna Tarkov: "decanted" is a reference to Brave New World ("Bottle of mine, it's you I've always wanted! Bottle of mine, why was I ever decanted?")]

Again, it's hard to say whether the traction the anti-IVF contingent has gotten in Naperville is just the case of pols jumping at the sound of a few scattered protestors, or tremors of an actual anti-IVF consensus. I'm very interested to see where it goes, however.


Photograph: Wikimedia Commons