How would you counsel a couple curious about IVF?

February 2, 2018

Imagine you're a pastor of a church, and a young, godly couple in your congregation comes to you after a prolonged season of infertility seeking your counsel on whether to pursue IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). What counsel would you offer them? Here’s how I would approach it:

First, I would thank them for their confidence in the wisdom of Scripture and their desire to seek counsel from their pastor. Couples often experience a false sense of shame over infertility and fail to let others help them as they struggle with that diagnosis. I would also applaud them for wanting to share their lives with a child whom they would rear in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, committing themselves to the ministry and hope of raising another generation of Christians.  

Second, I would want to know what they thought about the responsibility of parenthood and the moral status of unborn human life. Do they see children as a “do-it-yourself” project or as an awe-filled gift accomplished through a one-flesh union and to be stewarded for the glory of the Lord? Would they consider themselves pro-life? That is, do they believe that every human life should be celebrated and protected from conception onward? If their view is sound, we can move to a few questions about their experience of infertility.  If not, we would need to camp here for a bit to be sure they understood that at fertilization at least one genetically unique human being made in God’s image came into the world. After fertilization, twinning could still occur, so it could actually be the case that more than one genetically unique human being might be conceived. And I would underscore the fact that unborn human beings are persons made in God’s image.

Next, I would ask for more details about their diagnosis. “Infertility” is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected intercourse. Have they, in fact, been diagnosed as infertile, or have they assumed infertility because they have not been able to conceive when they thought they might?  Has their physician diagnosed a reason for the infertility? Is it a problem with ovulation? Is it due to low motility sperm?  

After they describe their understanding of the diagnosis, I would ask them how they are processing what they have learned? How do they feel about the diagnosis of infertility? Then I would listen. I would be listening for important clues. Does the wife feel a sense of inferiority because she’s not able to have a child? Does the husband feel he’s less of a man because he can’t be a father? Do they blame their infertility on past sexual promiscuity or other behaviors? Does one of them subtly blame the other for their problems conceiving? Do they feel they are being punished by God through their infertility?  

So, among other things, I would be listening to hear where they think their heavenly Father is in all of this? Do they have a healthy, biblical view of God’s love for his own children? Do they have a robust view of God’s sovereign kindness and providential grace? Do they believe that God uses all things, even trials, to conform us to the image of Christ? Do they have confidence that, whatever the outcome, God is good and has their eternal best interest in view?

If I thought their theological perspectives were biblically sound, then I would ask what they know about in vitro fertilization (IVF).  What have they been told about the process? What have they been told about the success rate? Did they know that for women under 35 years of age IVF is only successful about 30 percent of the time and that often the success rate is much lower?  What have they been told about how the husband’s sperm would be collected? Did they know, for instance, that in most clinics men are exposed to pornography in order to collect their sperm?  

Did they know that more embryos are generated than are transferred to the wife’s uterus (usually 10-12)? Did they know that typically not all the embryos are likely to survive? Most specialists will only transfer two embryos during one cycle. Are they aware that the additional embryos would be frozen and that some of those will die in the thawing process? If they understood these facts, I would ask if they thought it was wise to put these unborn human beings at risk of dying? If, as often happens, a dozen eggs are fertilized in vitro, how are we to justify putting many or all of them at risk of dying during the effort to get pregnant? If one is pro-life, this is a profound question.

Therefore, I would try to persuade them to avoid IVF. I would then return to the beginning of the conversation and applaud them again for wanting to bring another godly generation into the world. I would suggest that they consider adoption. They might choose to adopt a frozen embryo another couple has placed for adoption, or they might work with an agency to adopt a child who has already been born. Doing so does not put any other children’s lives at risk, born or unborn, and is a graciously redemptive act in our broken world.

I would remind them that our loving Father is not “out to get them.” This trial is not meant to harm them, but to help them cultivate trust and confidence in the Lord’s gracious providence. If they think and act biblically and faithfully, the Holy Spirit will bring their desires into conformity with God’s will. His way is the way of life and peace.

Before we departed, I would pray with them and let them know I want to walk with them through their infertility. And I would set a near date to check back with them to see where they are in the process of thinking and praying through their decision.

Editor’s Note: This article is a part of a monthly series sponsored by the Research Institute written by its Research Fellows that focuses on difficult ethical issues facing Christians in the local church.

C. Ben Mitchell

Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., is a research fellow of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the Ethics Committee of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. In 2020, he served as a member of the NIH Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board. Mitchell served as a trustee … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24