An Ethical Response To IVF

The Alabama Supreme Court’s holding that the state’s wrongful death statute applies to embryos conceived via the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process has led to a poorly thought-out response by many elected officials and candidates, including those who identify as pro-life. Their zeal not to be tagged with an unpopular “anti-IVF” label has led many leaders to over-correct to a posture of completely embracing this unaccountable industry.

In recent years, many families have chosen IVF in the face of heartbreaking challenges with their fertility. We do not lose sight of this profoundly human motivation for children and families. Nonetheless, our acknowledgment of good motives cannot obscure the grave moral concerns inherent to IVF.

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, wish to enunciate and promote the following principles regarding IVF:

Humanity and Dignity of Embryos:

Every human being, from the point of conception, is a member of the human family with value and dignity. Every new human organism, from the instant of egg-sperm fusion, is an unrepeatable member of the human species with characteristics never before seen and never to be seen again. There is no rational dividing line in human development between valuable and non-valuable humans: any division based on mental or physical development involves drawing artificial and ableist lines without any justification. Factors often invoked to justify abortion, such as the burdens an unplanned or unwilled pregnancy places on mothers, do not apply in the context of IVF. In this case, medical professionals create embryos via conscious, deliberate decisions without physical burdens on anyone. Many leading ethicists, philosophers, and theologians rightly opposed embryo-destructive stem cell research for these very reasons in the 1990s and 2000s, and these concerns should carry the same weight in our discussions of how to treat embryos conceived in IVF today.

The Problems of “Wastage”:

Industry standard IVF processes in America create far more embryos than will be implanted or come to term. While neither fertility clinics nor government agencies keep concrete figures for tracking this question, the number of embryos created in America could number, conservatively, around 4 million per year. Yet current data estimates just 97,000 of these babies are born annually, leaving hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of embryos at the mercy of the IVF industry. Clinics often destroy these embryos when parents stop paying the monthly freezer-storage costs. Without intervention, these children face intentional destruction, unintentional death, or indefinite detention.

The IVF Industry:

IVF clinics are highly lucrative businesses that operate with a profit motive. Given the massive moral stakes implicated by IVF, we cannot allow the industry to continue business as usual without regard to ethical concerns. The state of Louisiana and countries like Germany, Italy, France, Poland, New Zealand, and Australia have put laws in place to protect against the creation and intentional destruction of “excess” embryos, in part by limiting how many embryos can be transferred or created at one time. Creating more embryos than “needed” provides some ease-of-use factors for IVF doctors and allows embryos to be held in storage “just in case.” Practitioners often entice parents to create multiple embryos out of a desire to select the “best” embryo based on their preferred sex or other genetic traits. These eugenic practices have no place in a civilized society. An ethically consistent approach to IVF must include an insistence upon these kinds of safeguards as a bare minimum. Further, federal research, insurance systems, and other interested parties should put more of an emphasis on fertility health treatment programs that can help couples with infertility without resorting to IVF.

The Commodification of Children and Women:

The desire for children is a natural one, and the heartbreak of infertility is devastating. Nonetheless, the standard operating procedures of IVF clinics come at the expense of a child’s well-being and often abusively instrumentalize third parties. The practice of surrogacy, in which a woman receives financial compensation to gestate a baby that she will not raise and over whom she has no rights, is a wrongful commodification of women’s bodies. This practice has gained notoriety after several prominent celebrities have utilized IVF and hired surrogates rather than bear their own children. Tragically, some of the same perverse incentives inherent in black-market organ sales can also arise in the context of surrogacy. A woman facing economic or social constraints may be convinced to sell her womb or her ovum and to bear the non-negligible health risks attendant to such an intervention. Furthermore, the selection of sperm and eggs is often openly and crassly eugenic: “donations” from Harvard graduates and supermodels fetch a higher price than those of a less desired intellectual, physical, or even racial profile. Finally, using IVF for same-sex adoptive parents cruelly deprives a child of either their female mother or their male father, despite increasing social science data indicating that both are incredibly important for healthy childhood development.

We cannot ignore the plight of our embryonic brothers and sisters for the sake of applause from the IVF industry. Artificial reproductive technologies are fraught with broad and profound ethical concerns, and we must not sacrifice the moral high ground based on polling data, social media posts, or short-term campaign strategies. We hope all persons of goodwill can join us in upholding the dignity of human life from its very beginning, no matter where these precious human persons temporarily reside.

To see a full list of signatories, which includes New York Families Foundation, please visit CaliforniaFamily.org.

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