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Genetics continued....


The 'In Vitro Fertilisation', or IVF Programme, despite its extremely low success rate of about 1 treatment in 10, has offered the chance of a child to thousands of infertile couples since the birth of the first test tube baby Louise Brown in 1978. IVF involves the mixing of the husband's sperm with the wife's egg in a test tube or culture dish, in the hope that one or more viable embryos will be produced which can then be inserted into the woman's womb. If the treatment is successful, these embryos will implant in the womb lining and continue to develop.

Although the idea that a child could be conceived outside the human body was initially felt to be controversial, most Christians now would have few problems with the idea of IVF in itself. The major ethical problem the programme poses is that it requires the fertilising of more than one egg and therefore the production of more embryos than can be used in treatment. (Only three may be implanted into the mother's womb).

Those embryos not required are frozen for later use, used for research or allowed to die. (this is the donors' choice in British law, so Christians going through IVF will want to discuss this particular issue with their doctor).

One additional issue to be taken into account is the tendency of some medical practitioners to want to terminate any 'imperfect' foetus - embryos are often screened for genetic abnormalities before implantation, but this regrettably is true of naturally conceived children as well.

'Donor insemination' (DI) is generally of value when the husband's sperm is the cause of the infertility problem. Another man's sperm (usually taken anonymously but after careful research from a sperm bank) is used instead to fertilise the egg. This poses additional ethical difficulties.

    1. DI can be used by women who wish to have a child outside of an orthodox family; single or gay for instance.

    2. As with adoptive children, it may be difficult for the child that his/her biological father is not the man who they have always considered to be their father.

    3. Children born with the aid of DI need to check that they are not marrying someone with whom they may have a close genetic relationship. (This is made possible by the retention of a confidential central register).

    4. The issues of child support in the event of a family breakdown have yet to be resolved satisfactorily in law (since the husband would not be the child's father).

    5. Egg donation is also a possibility, and the embryo is grown in the mother's womb but it is medically far more complex and rarer.

Many Christians may however have a conscientious objection to the use of a third party's sperm or egg as being an intrusion into the marriage relationship, and as such be regarded as unethical.

Index to the topic

Reproductive Technologies
Genetic Engineering

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