This article looks at the ethics of reproduction. The author discusses contraception, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization.

Source: Reformed Herald, 2006. 3 pages.

Ethics Regarding Reproduction

In a technologically-advanced age we not only benefit from new treatments, we are also faced with new questions. Reproduction is one area about which our parents and grandparents could not have imagined today’s questions. In this lesson we will consider four reproductive treatments. The first regards the prevention of conception. The last three deal with couples who are unable to conceive children.

We start with some biblical principles...

What Does the Bible Say about Reproduction?🔗

The following biblical principles are important to keep in mind for this lesson.

First, the Bible makes it clear that reproduction is intended by God for use within the context of marriage only (Genesis 1:24, 1 Corinthians 7:2-9, Hebrews 13:4). Although we read in the Bible about a time when men took more than one wife (e.g. Abraham), it is clear from the beginning that God intended marriage as an exclusive relationship – one man and one woman (Matthew 19:3-5). Anyone or anything that inserts itself into that relationship between one man and one woman in marriage violates God’s basic design for marriage.

Second, sexual intimacy is to be a reflection of the more comprehensive emotional and spiritual intimacy that exists between partners in marriage – a dynamic which is typically missed by our culture’s base portrayals of sexual activity. Genesis 1:24 is not only about sexual intimacy, it is about the establishment of a relationship (marriage) within which sexual intimacy may be practiced without fear or embarrassment.

Third, among the purposes for marriage, is reproduction (Genesis 1:28). Our marriage form states, The purpose of marriage is the enrichment of the lives of those who enter into this union, the propagation of the race, and the extension of Christ’s Church to the glory of the covenant of God.” It should be the desire of all who enter into the marriage relationship to pursue all three purposes.

We could summarize these three biblical principles this way: the exclusivity of marriage, the fundamental intimacy of marriage, and the purpose of marriage. Any practice that violates any of these three principles is biblically unallowable.

Is Contraception Allowable?🔗

Questions about contraception are not new. About 2000 years before Christ, Egyptian woman are said to have used a mixture including alligator dung in an attempted to prevent pregnancy. But in America questions about contraception became more pressing about 1960 when the first oral contraception, Enovid-10 (the “pill”), was introduced to the U.S. market.

The Roman Catholic Church has consistently maintained that contraception is contrary to Christian ethics. It teaches that contraception is historically among a group of acts it is has identified as sexual sins (including abortion, infanticide, and unmarried cohabitation) and therefore remains a sin irregardless of biblical argument. To then use or approve of contraception is to reject the church itself.

Interestingly, in spite of the church’s official position, more than 75% of Roman Catholics are content to use contraception themselves or say that its use is not wrong.

What are we to say? Since our standard is not the proclamation of the church but the Scriptures it is vital that we seek to apply them to this ethical difficulty.

In condemning contraception some Protestants have argued from Onan’s sin, found in Genesis 38:9, to the general principle that all contraception is wrong. However, in comparison with Deuteronomy 25:5-10, it is more likely that Onan’s sin was one of selfishness or pride rather than anything specifically contraceptive. Onan understood that the child born would not be considered his own and on that basis refused to impregnate his brother’s wife.

In addition to Genesis 38:9, it is also argued by some that Genesis 1:28 would urge couples to have many children. Practically, it is argued, such an understanding would lead to larger churches and greater cultural influence.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with having many children, it appears the argument from Genesis 1:28 is overstated. There is no limit inherit to this argument and leads to questions like ... Should couples have as many children as they possibly can, as quickly as they can? Are they being disobedient if they do not? It does not appear that either of these questions can be answered in the affirmative based on the Bible.

Additionally, it is sometimes argued that the use of birth control puts the couple in the place of God – determining when and how many children are born (i.e. “Let things happen as God wants them.”) There is a theological flaw inherent in this argument. Namely, that God’s all encompassing sovereignty takes away our ability to act responsibly. Many who would argue against contraception on the basis of God’s sovereignty do recognize the importance of responsible behavior in other areas of life (e.g. exercising, eating low-fat foods, wearing a seat belt, etc.). It may be argued, then, that the use of contraception is simply another case of responsible behavior.

While it is possible that contraception can be misused (such as a couple that decides children are messy, take too much time and money, etc.) the idea itself is not forbidden. The more important question is about the allowable means of that control. Those which are allowable simply prevent conception. Those which are not allowable cause the fertilized egg to be rejected by the body. The most notable of those which fall into this latter category is RU-486 (the morning after pill).

Is Artificial Insemination Allowable?🔗

Artificial insemination has also been rejected by Roman Catholics. Protestants have argued that it is allowable under certain conditions.

The primary condition is that the sperm must come from the husband, not an outside-of-the-marriage donor. To use the sperm of a man from outside the marriage would violate our first biblical principle.

Otherwise it seems that what occurs by way of artificial insemination is simply a medically assisted form of the way children are ordinarily conceived. It may seem unnatural. And there is no question that artificial insemination is not typical. But there appears to be nothing biblically objectionable about the practice as long as the husband in the marriage is the sperm donor.

Is in Vitro Fertilization Allowable?🔗

In distinction to artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization requires the egg to be fertilized outside of the mother and then the embryo to be transferred back into the mother’s body. Even though the life of the child conceived appears to begin in a somewhat artificial manner, it would be good to remember that many children are born in equally artificial, although more familiar, manners (i.e. caesarean section).

That said, there are four conditions that must be met in order for this technique to be consistent with the three biblical principles of section one.

First, the embryo must originate from the wife and her husband. Or to say it differently, the fertilization must occur within marriage. The Bible is opposed to the inclusion of a third party (e.g. donated egg or sperm).

Second, the embryo must be implanted within his mother. If this is her child, she must carry him and give birth to him. The womb is more than an incubator, it is an integral part of the making of a child. The womb is the place where mother carry their children (Psalm 139:13). To introduce a surrogate is to raise questions about whose child is carried to term.

Third, without exception, all embryos must be implanted. Since life does begin at conception, to use the better embryos and dispose of the lesser ones implies abortion at the very earliest stages of life.

Finally, the embryos should be implanted as soon as possible. The time in which the embryo is absent from his mother increases the possibility that the embryos will not be used or that they will be used for other purposes.

Theoretically, if all four of these conditions were met, it would seem that in vitro fertilization would be biblically allowed. However, at present the third condition can not be met. The process of in vitro fertilization involves the selection and implanting of what appears to be the stronger embryos and the rejection and disposal of those that appear less desirable. That disposal is equivalent to breaking the sixth commandment.

Is Surrogate Motherhood Allowable?🔗

It should be apparent the Bible does not allow the practice of surrogate motherhood. It violates biblical principle one (the exclusive design of marriage) and principle two (the intimacy of marriage).

Questions for Reflection:🔗

  1. Is a marriage without children less than complete? Does the answer to this question change if the marriage partners are physically unable to conceive a child?

  2. What are some forms of contraception that are or are not allowable?

  3. Are there dangers inherent in discussing matters of sexuality with our children? Are we commanded to do initiate such conversations?

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