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Defending Octo-Mom and the Trouble with In Vitro Fertilization and Birth Control

February 15, 2009
In Christian circles there are certain choices which most of us agree are morally wrong:

1. Human cloning
2. Abortion
3. The morning-after pill
4. Embryonic stem-cell research

Why are these practices objectionable to Christians? Based on two principles:

1. Life begins at conception (i.e. Fertilization)
Science clearly teaches us that life begins at fertilization, NOT implantation. After fertilization, the human embryo has it’s own unique genetic code and metabolism, distinct from the egg and the sperm.

2. If in doubt, err on the side of protecting innocent human life. (if you disagree with these two principles, then the rest of the arguments in this note won’t be very persuasive to you)

If we are to extend the logic of these two principles, how should we respond to the following, more accepted practices?:

1. In Vitro Fertilization

Most in vitro fertilization procedures produceexcess human embryos. According to our definition, these embryos are unique fully-human individuals, whether they are implanted or not. What will we do with these? Freeze them indefinitely? Donate them to science? Hope that they will be adopted? (Snow-flake babies)

Are we creating babies with no plan of how they can live to term?

After in vitro fertilization is completed, I believe the only acceptable choice is to eventually transfer all of the embryos.

This is where I come to the controversial defense of Octo-mom Nadya Suleman. She had six embryos left over from a previous treatment, and didn’t want them destroyed. Here’s what she said about having all her embryos transferred:

“I couldn’t live with the fact that if I had never used them, I – I’ll be 70 years old and regret the fact that I didn’t allow these little embryos to live, or give them an opportunity to grow…I believe all children are – are blessings from God. And to allocate that rule to a doctor – to – to dispose of a life is uncomprehensible to me…I wanted them all transferred…those are my children…”

Defending Nadya Suleman? I know I sound a bit crazy, so let me be clear: 1) I think it is selfish to willfully become a single mother of 14 children. 2) I think it is unethical for doctors to provide IVF to single women. 3) In this particular case, I think Suleman has suffered many years from major psychological and emotional distress.

However, once she fertilized those 6 embryos, I think she correctly identified them as children—not clumps of cells, not “extras” condemned to an eternal freezer, not left-overs to be donated for science. Regardless of how they are conceived every child is precious and worth protecting. Unique. Complete. Humans.

2. Hormonal Birth-Control

The reason that many Christians object to emergency contraception (Plan B or “the morning-after pill”) is that it can cause a very early abortion by blocking implantation of a conceived human embryo. This is known as the “abortifacient effect”.

What many Christians don’t realize is that this same abortifacient effect is possible in many other forms of hormonal birth control: the shot, the patch, nuva-ring, IUD’s and the pill, (especially low-dose, progesterone-only pills).

Hormonal birth control works first by preventing ovulation, then by blocking sperm. If these two methods fail and an embryo is conceived, the drug may work in a third abortifacient way: changing the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation.

There are a different opinions within the Christian community about the likelihood of the abortifacient effect in each form of birth control, but I would argue that it is important to at least understand the science for ourselves, pray for discernment, and then make decisions on if and how we will apply the life principles:

1) Life begins at conception

2) Err on the side of life.

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