Growing up, I was often surprised that other people did not have as many grandparents as I did. While everyone I knew had four, I had more than double that at nine total. This is because my father and birth mother divorced, and they were themselves the products of blended homes. So to talk about my family tree, I would end up confusing people because I would switch from speaking about my “mother” to my “birth mother” (leading some to think I was adopted). I didn’t know any different, and that was just how my family tree looked. I’m sure it is the same for many people.
What is IVG?
This is a reality that will become even more common in the coming years, but not because of a rise in divorce rates. It’s because of new technology that makes it possible for a child to have two, three, four, or any number of parents. This technology, in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), goes beyond merely assisting couples in reproduction and actually circumvents the very biological processes necessary for fertilization. Thus, while certain artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs) can, in some ways, reinforce the biological reality of sexual complementarity and childbearing, IVG necessarily opens up the floodgates for a complete reinterpretation of sex, family structures, and parenting.
Before looking at IVG, I should state clearly that most ARTs arise out of a deep desire for children that is godly and honorable. Also, in many cases, individuals turn to these technologies because of the reality that they have been unable to conceive by natural methods or because of a series of miscarriages. This is something that my wife and I discussed at length prior to our marriage because of a series of health concerns which she feared would prevent her from conceiving. Thinking about this topic is different than speaking to someone who is struggling with the thought that they are unable to do the very thing that they desire most in this world. The longing for children is a good and holy desire. It is one of the most devastating effects of sin on our bodies that it is not always possible to fulfill that desire.
Additionally, there is an entire generation of young men and women who were conceived through IVF. So this is not just a discussion of theoretical concepts, but of the very lives of people that we know, whether that is the child down the street, a friend, or a family member. These are not partial people who possess only a half-dignity because of the manner in which they were conceived. They are full image-bearers. Any discussion of ARTs should bear in mind that this has direct practical application on people’s lives.
With those caveats about ARTs generally, I would argue that IVG is a different kind of technology and thus is a unique threat to family structure and stability.
In vitro gametogensis is the process of creating gametes (sex cells) from other human cells, usually stem cells. The process of sex cell creation occurs in the reproductive organs of men and women, with either a sperm cell or egg produced. However, IVG allows individuals to take any cell from any portion of the body—skin, muscle, organ—and through a series of processes create a gamete. Thus, a single individual—or two men, or two women, or four individuals—could have both a sperm and egg produced which could then be fertilized. The possibilities are literally endless for the ways in which this technology could be employed to create children. Thus, my conundrum about the number of grandparents could be easily multiplied so that a future child has three or four biological parents.
IVG’s threat to the family
This technology represents a unique threat to the family structure because it destroys the very complementarity of sexuality in a way that no other ART has done. Andrew T. Walker and Matthew Anderson do an excellent job of laying out the ethical concerns of other ARTs in their article on IVF, but these technologies at least recognize the complementarity of the sexes and seek to artificially reproduce it. IVF takes the normal combination of the sex cells of men and women and combines them outside the uterus before implanting them. But implicit in this action is the creational reality that it takes a man and woman to produce a child, so even when employed by same-sex couples, there is a need for an outside donor or surrogate to carry the child.
However, this is not the case with IVG. It is not two individuals who are participating in the conception of a child, but one or any number of people. Thus, the very structure of heterosexual reproduction, and by extension the definition of the family, is threatened by this new technology. Debora Sparr admits as much in her article on IVG by saying that this method could “dismantle completely the reproductive structures of heterosexuality.” On one level, it is impossible to do this because even the combined cells must be transformed into male and female sex cells. But practically, the truth of a man and woman coming together in the sexual union is totally destroyed.
Again, I want to affirm that the desire for children is good and holy. But, like all such desires, God has created a structure for the proper fulfillment of that desire. IVG not only circumvents but entirely subverts the creational ordinance for men and women to come together and multiply (Gen. 1:28). Though this technology is possible only in mice at the moment, history has shown that humanity has a tendency to surge forward without thinking about the ethical considerations, leading to situations such as one donor who had fathered over 200 children.
Christians should be the first to urge the surrounding culture to understand that just because something is scientifically possible does not make it good. Just because we can create life does not mean that we are capable of assuming such godlike power with any true measure. And that does not even begin to get at the scientific problems that could arise from meddling with genetics in this way.
As I recounted in my story, divorce, another threat to family stability, caused me to be confused about my grandparents. And this technology opens the door for even more confusion. Christians should reject this ART, not out of a fear of the future or a luddite rejection of technological innovation, but because it threatens family structure and subverts God’s design and ordering of the cosmos.