Robert Edwards, left, Louise Joy Brown (original IVF baby), right, holding her son Cameron, and at center left is her mother, Lesley Brown
Earlier this week the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Robert Edwards. He is one of the principle architects of the controversial In Vitro Fertilzation (IVF) procedure. Back in 1978 when the first IVF child was going to be born many suspected that there would be some substantial birth defects associate with this new ‘procedure’.
In a recent NY Times editorial Robin Marantz Henig catalogs the public pulse surrounding the baby’s birth:
When Mrs. Brown checked into Oldham General Hospital, outside Manchester, to give birth, she did so under an assumed name. Still, reporters sneaked past security dressed as plumbers and priests in hopes of getting a glimpse of her.
Meanwhile, criticism of the pregnancy grew increasingly extreme. Religious groups denounced the two scientists as madmen who were trying to play God. Medical ethicists declared that in vitro fertilization was the first step on a slippery slope toward aberrations like artificial wombs and baby farms.
The writer then bottles the historic concern over these scientific procedures and brings them to the lab to test them against the data from history. Were these concerns valid? Did people over react?
Well, yes and no.
Doubtless many people have been helped by the developement of IVF. Countless people who previously could not have children have now been able to enjoy a family.
But there is also a valid concern over what has become a mass production of human embryos. The factory-like production of embryos leads to millions of embryos being frozen or worse yet, destroyed. Instead of ‘creating’ an embryo for implant or even adoption agencies are stocking their wharehouses. Sadly, they are too often destroyed or disregarded.
There is also the aspect of separating the natural aspect of sexual union from the process of procreation. I understand that the technology has helped many. However, at the same time it has become something of a preference for those who do not find themselves lining up with the traditional family model (Gay, Lesbian, unmarried, etc.).
Christians should be thinking through these things in light of a biblical worldview. We are not to be people who just jump at technology or scientific advance just because it is available. Man may do a lot of things, but this does not mean that we should do everything. There are some legitimate boundries for us to think through as Christians.
In contrast Marantz Henig writes:
Science fiction is filled with dystopian stories in which the public blindly accepts destructive technologies. But in vitro fertilization offers a more optimistic model. As we continue to develop new ways of improving upon nature, the slope may be slippery, but that’s no reason to avoid taking the first step.
IVF has become so mainstream today that many of us know people who have benefited from the technology. We celebrate the life and goodness of God in giving the life. But at the same time we have to think about the countless embryos that are now frozen or have been destroyed. In my view this is more than slippery; it is disturbing.