What to Consider Before Using Reproductive Technologies

The inability to have a child is a true burden. Would-be parents often ask both God and themselves why their innate desire to have children cannot be fulfilled. This kind of self-examination reflects how deeply emotional and traumatic infertility can be. Sometimes a couple may even keep the situation secretive to avoid embarrassing themselves in front of family and friends.

Sadly, this response only heightens the pain endured by many couples experiencing infertility. In the United States, 15 percent of couples cannot have children after one year of sexual relations. As a result, clinics specializing in aiding the reproductive process have sprung up all over the country. Couples spend many thousands of dollars to increase their chances of having a child.

There are several reproductive technologies currently in use, including fertility drugs, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), use of a surrogate mother, gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Although these technologies differ from each other, they all raise certain ethical issues that should concern anyone considering them.

Care of Multiple Embryos

A crucial issue in reproductive technologies is the safety of the embryos, whether they are inside a mother’s body or in a laboratory. Because human life begins at conception, all embryos should be treated with the utmost care. For example:

  1. A couple using IVF should decide ahead of time how many embryos to implant and attempt to create only that number of embryos. If more than the ideal number of embyros are created, the extras may be implanted with the others or frozen (to be implanted later)—whichever option poses less risk to the lives of the mother and embryos. No embryos should ever be discarded.
  2. Only a limited number of embryos should be implanted following in vitro fertilization. Such an approach will decrease the chance that too many embryos will implant, thereby risking the lives of all the embryos and/or the mother.
  3. A couple considering fertility drugs should research the options carefully. Some drugs may cause multiple eggs to mature rather than merely putting the body back into a normal, healthy, fertile state. Potentially harmful multiple pregnancies can result. One drug, clomiphene citrate, does not carry the risk of multiple pregnancies that some of the other fertility drugs now available do. Also, the multiple pregnancy risk can be minimized with the use of ultrasound to monitor the maturing egg(s). With monitoring, multiple simultaneous pregnancies can be avoided.
  4. Selective reduction (abortion of some implanted, developing embryos so the others have a better chance to survive) is not an ethical option. However, selective reduction should not be necessary if an appropriate number of embryos are implanted in the first place.
  5. A couple should only consider implantation procedures whose percentage of success is equal to or greater than that of unassisted natural implantation. Otherwise, embryos are being placed at greater risk than is normally the case in human reproduction.

Use of Donor Eggs/Sperm

For a variety of reasons, it is not advisable to use donor eggs or sperm in any reproductive technologies:

  1. Who are the parents? Are they the ones whose genetic material (sperm and egg) combine to form the child or the people who raise the child? This question might be a simple one for the parents caring for the child, but how simple is that question from the viewpoint of the child? Sometimes, legal battles even result between the sets of parents involved in the child’s life.
  2. Should children know that one or both of his or her (rearing) parents did not provide the egg or sperm that brought them into being? Should children have access to the donor(s) (genetic parents)? Should genetic parents have visitation rights?
  3. A distinctive imbalance may be introduced into a marriage where donor eggs or sperm are used in place of one parents eggs or sperm. There is the possibility of resentment from the partner whose eggs or sperm were not used. (“You take care of her! She’s your child.”) Accusations of unfaithfulness can result because, in a real, genetic sense, one of the spouses has had a child with another person. Emotional attachment to the “mystery person” can also develop in the spouse who genetically had the child with the donor.
  4. These and other difficulties flow from violating the “one flesh” model of marriage in Scripture, in which children are literally to be the result of the two married parents (and their eggs and sperm) becoming “one flesh.”

Surrogate Motherhood

The most common form of surrogacy involves inseminating the surrogate with the husband’s sperm—generally because the wife cannot carry a child through pregnancy. Such an arrangement should be avoided because a donor egg is involved, as explained above. Even when a donor egg is not involved—e.g., when the husband’s sperm and wife’s egg are joined in vitro—the bonding problems discussed below generally make such an agreement unwise. Particularly problematic are commercial arrangements in which surrogates receive payment for producing a child beyond expenses they incur. Like the selling of organs, such arrangements wrongly commercialize the body. In fact, financial contracts essentially entail the purchasing of the baby and imply an unacceptable form of human ownership. Less problematic are altruistic surrogacies, such as rescue surrogacies, where a woman acts to save an embryo that would otherwise be destroyed.


Whenever donor eggs/sperm or a surrogate are used, the question of bonding can affect all parties involved. Bonds can develop between child and genetic parent(s), between surrogate mother and child, and between the genetic parents. The risk that inappropriate bonds will be created through the reproductive process is very real and can cause many problems. On many occasions, surrogate mothers have sued the genetic parents for custody after the baby was born or for the right to abort a malformed fetus, even though the genetic parents wanted the child to live.

Financial Implications

Undergoing reproductive treatments is very costly. In vitro fertilization costs between $10,000 and $20,000. Surrogacy can cost between $20,000 and $40,000. And these treatments do not guarantee that a child will result. In fact, clinics average only 20 percent to 40 percent live birth success rates. However, these success rates are most likely this high due to the implantation of multiple embryos and selective abortion. Following ethical guidelines that protect human life from conception would likely make the percentage much lower.


One serious consideration is the prudence of seeking to have a child with reproductive technologies when the costs and risks are so great. There are two primary concerns:

  1. The money could go towards meeting another great need. It can be difficult to imagine anything more important than the creation of life. However, we also have a responsibility to be concerned about those people already in the world today. There are people in many parts of the world without adequate medical care. For example, it costs just pennies per person to inoculate them against many of the world’s greatest killers.
  2. Adopting a child is often an option for people to consider. It is difficult to adopt in some countries, but international adoption is gaining popularity because of the number of orphaned children and speed with which the adoption process can often be completed. There are many children in the world in need of a home. In Cambodia, many children have been orphaned through years of war. In China where the government allows parents to have only one child, many female babies are left with orphanages by parents who want a boy. In Bulgaria, a reported average of 90 percent of the many children in orphanages will become criminals unless they are adopted. Those who are able should investigate the possibility of international adoption before ruling it out.

Many people experience a very natural urge to be parents. Some are seeking to satisfy this urge using reproductive technologies without fully understanding all their implications. Before using technological methods of reproduction, it is wise to study in-depth the available options, understand the ethical issues involved, and above all, seek the will of God before moving ahead.

  • Charlie

    While these are all factors to be considered, it might be helpful to note that the procedures this author considers to be inadvisable are not necessarily sinful or wrong. I would hate to think that warm hearted, God fearing couples who have carefully considered these reproductive technologies and their implications would read this article and be discouraged because they arrived at different conclusions about what is wise and prudent in their situation.

    • Charlie

      You know, that comment came across a lot more negative and critical than I intended it to. I should have been more clear, I’m thankful for Mr. McConchie’s article and I’m glad it’s posted here. I hope folks who are struggling with infertility will read it and seriously consider his advice.

  • Tricia

    I’m a little taken aback by the tone in this article. I do believe that any fertility treatment is not something to be entered into lightly, however many of the statements in this article come across quite harsh. It appears as if the author does not believe there is any other viable opinion than what he presents here. I would have loved to see some Biblical references to support the various statements in this article.
    While I’m sure that many would agree that the money used for fertility treatments can be used for other things, I don’t think that anyone should feel socially irresponsible if they choose to pursue fertility treatments. There should, as with any decision, be a great deal of prayer and sought counsel from respected believers before making such a decision. We should be very careful, though, before casting judgement on anyone for choosing this route. There are a great many factors that go into such a decision and each case is unique.
    One last thing I need to point out is that clomiphene citrate does in fact carry the risk of multiple pregnancies. The results are very much dependent on the woman and her hormone levels as well as the dosage taken. Any use of fertility drugs should be closely monitored by a physician.

    • allison

      I so agree with you! I posted a couple of comments on facebook about how this article comes across misleading. Someone from the Gospel Coalition Blog responded with a his different perspective. But there are no scripture references and not at all grace motivated. Doesn’t seem like what I usually read from here.

  • Brian

    This article seems a bit out of place in its tone to other GC articles. I would like to see a counter-point discussion from someone who seems more “open” to reproductive technologies. I think some of the cautions advised here are very important to consider, but the overall tone is rigid and pragmatic. Please follow this article up with others GC. Don’t let this be your only attempt to reconcile this difficult topic.

    • Katie

      Brian, I had the same thoughts about the tone of the article until I read the note at the end…
      “This article was previously published on the website of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.”
      That explains it. It wasn’t originally written as a GC blog post.

  • sara

    I’ve also heard the idea of saving embryos that were discarded after others’ ivf by having them implanted – an interesting and much less expensive way to adopt. I would think that the risks mentioned in the article would be the same as in adoption or taking responsibility for stepchildren, both of which are clearly called for in scripture. The idea that “these are your children, not mine” seems to stem from a deeper misunderstanding of parenting and adoption, and is not a necessary outcome of ivf.

  • Matt

    Many of these arguments could be used against adoption too. Are we going to tell people not to adopt because of those same possible issues?

  • Rebecca

    I think Christians often times don’t think through the ethical complications of IVF. My husband and I experienced infertility and weren’t comfortable at all with IVF so we drew the line for us earlier than that. It’s different for every couple but we are so thankful that we aren’t struggling with what to do with “leftover” embryos. Embryo adoption is a wonderful option but it’s still such a complicated one.
    I would like to take issue with the international adoption advice given in this article. International adoption is becoming increasingly more difficult as UNICEF and others wage a war on adoption. So it’s not an easy solution. Newborns aren’t available for adoption internationally do parents need to be prepared to parent children with a background prior to them. And just one last thing—Cambodia is not an option for international adoption.
    Visit adoption.state.gov for the latest on intercountry adoption.

    • adoption advocate

      International adoptions is becoming more difficult in some countries, but not all. No solution is an easy solution, but remember that there is eternal significance in adopting. It’s not about ME.

      • Rebecca

        I fully understand what you are saying. I have 4 children of my own all of whom were adopted internationally. What I took issue with was this sentence “international adoption is gaining popularity because of the number of orphaned children and speed with which the adoption process can often be completed.” I think international adoption is gaining in popularity thanks to the focus the church has put on the fatherless around the world and this is a blessing! But to say the speed at which the process can be completed is misleading. And international adoptions are declining. I would say a speedy adoption is the exception but it’s all relative right? And I think many families enter into adoptions unprepared and with romantic notions of what it means to bring home a child. I just don’t want it to be an automatic next step for families who have exhausted fertility options. Lots of education, research, reading the hard stuff and prayer is essential before you decide to enter into a child’s life who has no say over his/her future.

  • adoption advocate

    Isn’t there a difference between paying thousands to use technology to fill a void as opposed to paying thousands to take in an orphan? It breaks my heart that it has become so common for the church to just accept that it’s always OK for infertile couples to spend thousands so they can have a child of their own while there are 100+ million orphans in the world today. Let’s all remember that this life isn’t about ME. Think of the eternal implications.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting article. I have various friends who have gone through surrogacy, in vetro and various medications in order to have children. One couple have dedicated the past 15 years of their life to conceiving a child. While I understand their desire for children, I would never consider the majority of reproductive technologies as an option.

    After seeing the orphanages of Africa and Eastern Europe and reading the profiles of adoptable children in America, I believe there are is a reason some cannot have children and that is to love, nurture, protect & disciple the children that need parents rather than spending thousands on medical procedures to create one of their own. The orphans of this world might not be the “right” genetics, gender, skin color, age or health but each is a soul, already existing and precious to God so they must be precious to us as His hands and feet.

    Biblically, life begins at conception. I would never freeze a living being at my convenience. I would never use another man’s sperm or another woman’s egg or womb to produce a child – that crosses over the physical bounds of marriage. The enormous multiple births resulting from many fertility drugs or large in vetro pregnancies place the mother and children in peril. I would never willingly go through a procedure that could result in premature births, cerebral palsy, blindness, and other health problems for my child. Also, while producing these technologies, how many human lives were lost?

    While there is nothing directly speaking about modern fertility treatments in the Bible, there are mandrakes (to boost fertility, Genesis 30) and maidservants/concubines (Gen 16, 26, II Sam, I Kings, I Chron. etc.) – their use in aiding the production of children always seems to be depicted in the light of ignoring God’s plan and seeking to do something about their situation on their own. This never turns out well then or now.

    I realize this sounds harsh and I’m sorry it does. I could be told that I don’t know how it feels to want children but I do know what it feels like to want something badly and not get it. God works through that for our good and sanctification. It would be amazing to see this money and effort placed towards caring for the estimated 143 million orphans on this planet and spreading the Gospel.

    So, that’s my two cents.

    • Beth

      Agreed. If a couple cannot have biological children, then there are many, many children in the world who need a family. If international adoption is not an option due to price, then adopting out of foster care is a great option. The orphans here need families too. For anyone wanting to adopt internationally, the Ukraine does not charge exorbitant amounts of money to adopt.

  • Anonymous

    Re donor material: I remember when my first husband wanted to go this route when he was found sterile. This was even before Jesus was my Lord, but innately I sensed how very selfish this was and knew it was very unloving to a future child. I imagined either lying to him about his conception or telling him, imagining his lifelong grief of being a ‘product’. I realize this is my opinion.

  • Jeff

    I find this article misleading and disappointing. Not least because he mentions artificial insemination (AKA IUI) in the list of reproductive technologies at the beginning, but fails to note that it carries NONE of the drawbacks he mentions. What about “fertility drugs” as he mentions them with no specification? Is the entire pharmacological genre equally dangerous in his mind? He is painting with way too broad a brush in discussing the complex topic of reproductive technologies.

    I think it’s a shame that this was published on the otherwise helpful GC blog.

  • Dadphil

    15 years ago we found out we were unable to have children, and decided to adopt…three beautiful children…what an amazing blessing they are to us and to each other.

    A couple of years ago we thought we would like to have a fourth child, but because we already have 3 children, adoption seemed to be such an unlikely option. So we decided to investigate IVF.

    Technology was now advanced to the point that it was now possible to overcome the medical issues and possibly be able to conceive and have children genetically related to us.

    But, soon after hearing that, we heard a radio program talking about embryo adoption, and realised that as well as there being millions of orphaned children in the world, there are also hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of little babies (at embryo stage of their life), frozen, and with no possibility of continuing their life….many just waiting to be destroyed or used in research (shudder).

    So, do we go through IVF and conceive ourselves, or rescue an already-conceived baby that desperately needs rescuing. For us, it was an easy decision.

    We soon met a Christian couple who had gone through IVF and had 3 little ones (frozen). The genetic mother tragically had medical complications and was unable to carry them to birth and was now desperate to know what she/they could do.

    Long-story-short. We adopted all three little ones. Very sadly, two didn’t survive the thaw process, but one little girl did survive and was born only a few weeks ago.

    All four of my children are very much loved, and equally loved. God has granted four miracles in our lives and we are so very, very grateful.

  • amie

    just you know, international adoption coast around 25,000 to 40,000. waiting time is longer than IVF treatments and you have to pay these agencies with big money, agency fees are not set neither. some state, insurance covers for IVF treatments, so coast way less than adoption… some of my friend did IVF just because it was cover by insurance or coast less than adoption.

  • Anonymous

    amie – Well, if money and expediency are your top priorities…

    And Dadphil – What an amazing story. We have considered adopting a snowflake baby. It is a tragedy thinking how many are simply frozen & waiting. Horrifying, really.

    • Dadphil

      Yes, yes, yes…keep thinking about it. An incredible miracle. You could contact Nighlight Christian Adoptions…and talk it through with them. Our new little girl is amazing, & to think she almost didn’t get to live. Our Lord is wonderful.

  • Samuel

    Albert Mohler has a good article on IVF and other artificial reproductive technologies here.

    All forms of ART raise serious moral issues. Consider this on frozen embryo’s from the Vatican’s document DIGNITAS PERSONAE:

    “Cryopreservation is incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos; it presupposes their production in vitro; it exposes them to the serious risk of death or physical harm, since a high percentage does not survive the process of freezing and thawing; it deprives them at least temporarily of maternal reception and gestation; it places them in a situation in which they are susceptible to further offense and manipulation.
    The majority of embryos that are not used remain “orphans”. Their parents do not ask for them and at times all trace of the parents is lost. This is why there are thousands upon thousands of frozen embryos in almost all countries where in vitro fertilization takes place.”

    Regarding using donor egg/sperm, how does that differ from fornication/adultery? The fact that no conjugal act between unmarried persons has taken place does not alter the reality that children are being conceived using the gametes of couples who are not spouses. I would suggest that saying using donor egg/sperm is “not adviseable” is a serious understatement.

    • Dadphil

      Samuel. I agree that freezing the little ones is a major, major issue. And you are correct…there are thousands upon thousands already there. Lets encourage Christian couples to adopt and bring them to birth…in a home that will love and nurture them.

    • Kara

      Thank you Samuel for what you said in the last paragraph. One thing other people are forgetting about is the process men need to use to contribute their sperm for these procedures. With women their eggs can usually be taken through a needle and they do not need to commit sexual sin to do this. But for most men it requires some type of masturbation to get their “sample” to be used. If you are truly a Christian and believe God’s word in regards to fornication and sexual sin, then you have to know that masturbation, for ANY reason would be wrong, and I don’t think God would lead you into sin to give you a child. I have found recently that pregnancy may be difficult for me due to complications from endometriosis, and my husband and I have already talked about the fact that if God does not bless us with our own children naturally, then we will be adopting if it’s His will, because I know it’s not His will for us to conceive in a manner that would not be consistent with His Word. Now if there are procedures that are used that do not require a man to do this, and that have no moral/ethical implications (freezing extra embyryos that will be destroyed later) then maybe that does not contradict His will. It’s something I would urge couples to dedicate to prayer and make sure God has convicted them of the right thing to do. As a woman, protecting my husband from sin is far more important, and it can lead to God blessing us richly with an adopted child who needs a Godly home.

  • Funkdubius

    Where is the gospel? What about the selfish nature of a parent who is saying such things as “she’s your kid” and all that! God loves us even when we are sons and daughters of the deceitful one! Even when we are hating Him, He is loving us and calling us to Him. No matter who or what the child’s origin is, he/she is worthy of our love! It is almost as though the author is condoning this kind of behaviour!

    I am very disappointed in this article! Although I must thank you for pointing out that embryo’s should not be destroyed, and mentioning that parents should control how many embryos are being implanted, and that none, under any circumstances should be destroyed.

    Although, I question where the gospel is in this article, and wonder if it belongs in such a forum as the gospel coalition. Seems as though its more of mr. McChonchie’s opinion.

  • J Cruz

    Just an honest question. A friend of mine made this point.

    If Human life really does start at conception, and embryos are human persons, why is it that embryos can be freeze to use later? A baby certainly cannot be freeze in order to come back to being live later.

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