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Reader Responses, IVF Edition- Issue #61

As I noted on Wednesday, the discussion on IVF prompted a considerable number of responses. Here are
The Path Before Us
Reader Responses, IVF Edition- Issue #61
By Matthew Lee Anderson • Issue #61 • View online
As I noted on Wednesday, the discussion on IVF prompted a considerable number of responses. Here are a few more from readers, and a few thoughts in response.

I would love to see your argument that Gen. 1:28 isn’t a command. I think it would be incredibly helpful for me and those like me who, in defending an opposition to IVF, have found the understanding of the verse as a command an incredibly difficult argument to overcome. 
The argument that it isn’t a command seems to run aground on the grammar of the verse, before it can even get going. It’s a string of imperatives, which seems to indicate that there is a real obligation to procreate. I yield the point.
Only I think it proves less than is thought. For one, the command is universal: it is ordered toward the species, rather than the individual. (Contributing to the society of friendship that demarcates the human species is the reason Augustine gives for procreating, as I read him. Aquinas is unambiguous on this point.) What’s obligatory for humans to do in their capacity as humans is not obligatory for every individual to do. Nor does Scripture present it that way.
But more to the point, the rest of the Old Testament seems to treat population growth and fertility almost exclusively in terms of blessing and curses–as Jamie Viands’ excellent treatment points out. While there is indisputably an interest in perpetuating the population, and a deep commitment to having children throughout the Old Testament, I’m not yet persuaded that it takes the form of command that many Christians (and Jews) have read it through. The command, on my understanding, is to stand ready for the blessing of children, and to not act in ways that would contradict their formation or flourishing. But those are both distinct from commands to use our reproductive capacities in procreative manners.

I think for a very broad, general audience the much bigger question that actually underlies the acceptance of IVF is the acceptance of birth control. You alluded to this topic briefly in the article, but this seems to me the more important way to change people’s view on the issue. It seems to me that unless you can also convince someone that birth control undermines the fundamental, normative connection between sex and procreation, then it will be hard to convince someone that IVF is unacceptable. The issues seem highly inter-related to me, and the widespread acceptance of birth control by most Christians is the ground upon which is laid the acceptance of IVF by the smaller percentage who struggle with infertility enough to pursue that path. The large number of people who aren’t married or aren’t infertile probably haven’t given much thought to the legitimacy of IVF, but at least all married Christians have made a choice (even an unthinking choice) with regards to the use of birth control, which is the default norm in our culture. Since birth control is a more pervasive practice, it’s hard to argue against IVF without making a clear and convincing argument against birth control as well.
This is all probably true. And yet, it is worth pointing out the asymmetries in how both IVF and contraception separate sex and conception. Contraception separates sex from conception–while IVF separates conception from sex. The “from” in each case works slightly differently. In the case of contraception, questions of marriage and its unity arise to the foreground. With respect to life, the question is one of contradicting it or killing it. But in IVF, questions of marriage recede to the background, and the question of life is one of the just treatment and creation of embryos, and our understanding of the contents of the human person that are altered in light of separating conception from sexual union. So while contraception almost certainly forms our imaginations in ways that allow for the acceptance of IVF, they do have distinctive features that make addressing them separately valuable.
We absolutely need research scientists who are committed to finding cures for infertility that do not involve IVF. I wish I knew someone in that field that I could support.
I’m convinced this is one of the ‘hidden costs’ of treating IVF as licit: it actually impedes research into infertility and its causes, and slows the development of therapies that might address unexplained infertility. This is particularly the case in male-related infertility, which is responsible for some 40% of cases (and, as such, is a source of infertility that is very clearly not linked to prior contraception use). I’d wager we know extremely little about how sperm are formed, and the current state of surgical options is very limited. Those limits might be an intrinsic feature of the male reproductive system, and its delicacy and fragility: but when IVF is an option, fewer people are going to risk being subjects for experimental treatments and surgeries, because there’s a more “efficient” way to bring life into the world. If you think IVF is licit, that’s all fine: but then it seems like the glut of embryos currently frozen is closer to an inevitable byproduct of the practice, or even a structural condition of it.
I am convinced more than ever that evangelicalism’s resources, commitments, and authorities are simply too paltry to ground this (presumably correct) moral-theological teaching [against IVF]—both in theory and, especially, in practice. It isn’t that the position isn’t biblical; it’s that sola scriptura hermeneutics will always underdetermine theological interpretation of Scripture on thorny, technological, highly modern questions such as this one. There is no dispositive case (on such terms) because there is nothing remotely like a proof text or texts.
Maybe. But one serious advantage to thinking through the question within the framework of 'sola scriptura’ is that it forces a kind of creativity in how we read Scripture. That is, suppose we start from the postulate that Scripture lays out a certain understanding of creation and its order, and we then begin to hunt through Scripture for reasons or indications as to why God might have been interested in creating the world in such a way that sex and conception are inextricably linked. Such an approach might generate new readings of Scripture that would help clarify why IVF is morally bad. Retreating to 'natural law’ arguments might buttress the case–but it might also short-circuit the hermeneutical process. And I think forcing us to reflect on Scripture in such a way is something that an evangelical ethic can provide as a distinctive or emphatic witness.
These apparently tangential issues of sexuality should not be left unclear. People who have already found their moral backbone in opposing sodomy and fornication are either uninformed or become jellyfish-spined creatures again when it’s not as clear from Scripture that a practice is wrong.
It’s true. The generous reading is that there is real ambivalence in Scripture on the issue; the cynical reading is that we’d rather not risk offending those who are within our pews. In a political context, this unwillingness to be consistent is manifest–and damning.
On Unrelated Matters
The Incels Getting Extreme Plastic Surgery to Become ‘Chads’
The Penultimate Word
“As truly as God loves us we may love Him in return. It is quite incomprehensible, but we may do it. Let us therefore do it: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” The tiniest movement in the freedom which we are given is better than the most elaborate deliberations whether or not it is permitted or practicable. But the fact that we have the freedom for this movement is a miracle which we can rightly value only as we grasp it. It is no less a miracle than the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ or His bodily resurrection from the dead. Only if we measure it by the miracle of Epiphany, which is its basis and original, can we comprehend the mystery by which the act of love is surrounded as the love of man for God.” – Karl Barth
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