Albert Mohler

Where did I come from? – it’s no longer a simple question

Albert Mohler
By Albert Mohler
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January 3, 2011 (AlbertMohler.com) - At some point, anticipated and even feared by some parents, every child asks the inevitable question: “Where did I come from?” That question is endemic to humanity. The question of our own biological origins is eventually inescapable. Our existence requires an explanation, and the question takes bold form. The answer used to be easy.

That is, the answer was easy in terms of biology. In some form, the answer took the shape of a story about two people, one male and one female, who came together and made a baby. Mommy and Daddy made a baby. That story was both true and universal. For most of human history, there was no alternative account. The answer given by parents in 1960 was the same as that given in 1060 or in any previous year.

All that changed with the biological revolution and the emergence of new reproductive technologies. The development of In Vitro Fertilization technologies [IVF] came only after human beings grew accustomed to reproductive control through The Pill. If medical technologies could be harnessed to avoid pregnancy, surely new technologies could allow couples to have long-wanted children who had not come by natural means.

The public was assured that the use of these technologies would not bring about a moral revolution, since the availability of these new technologies would be limited to married couples. But, of course, this was a false promise, and it should have been seen as such from the start. The Pill was at first prescribed only for married couples, but the plain fact is that a far greater demand for contraceptives existed among the non-married. By the early 1970s, The Pill was available to all.

The same story applied to the use of IVF, as well. If there were thousands of potential users among married couples, these were vastly outnumbered by non-married persons and non-heterosexual couples. The development of IVF and the revolutions made possible by egg and sperm donation and surrogate motherhood made parenthood, though redefined, now available to virtually any adult and any couple.

This revolution is portrayed movingly in the January 2, 2011 cover story of The New York Times Magazine. In “Meet the Twiblings,” Melanie Thernstrom provides an account of how she and her husband became parents to babies Violet and Kieran, who appear adorably on the cover of the magazine. The cover text also contains this teaser: “How four women (and one man) conspired to make two babies.”

As Thernstrom acknowledges, this is a complicated story. The two babies were born five days apart. They shared a common egg donor (obtained commercially) and a common sperm donor (Thernstrom’s husband, Michael). But they were carried by two different surrogate mothers. Genetically they are siblings, but they emerged from two different wombs. They were born five days apart, but they are not really twins. Thernstrom calls them “twiblings.”

She writes movingly of her efforts, with Michael, to have a child. After six IVF rounds and clear medical advice, the Thernstroms moved to develop a new plan, but the plan required a great deal of thinking. The pull of the new reproductive technologies was clear, as was the revolution these technologies represent. She writes, “Reproductive technology fills an important — and growing — need. Gay couples are increasingly choosing to have families. Eight percent of women between 40 and 44 identify themselves as involuntarily childless or hoping to become pregnant, according to a Pew report. Most women in that age bracket will be able to become pregnant only by using donor eggs.”

Melanie and Michael wanted siblings of about the same age to grow up as companions. IVF twins were more dangerous, so Michael came up with the idea of using two surrogates to deliver two babies at about the same time.

Thernstrom’s account of the complexities of the decision-making process is fascinating, but what many readers may miss is the basic fact that virtually all of these decisions were absolutely unknown to previous generations of humanity. Would they choose an egg donor who looked like Melanie? The Thernstrom’s were more interested in personality attributes, even if these are hard to define in genetic terms. They eventually chose a donor with a “delightful” personality.

They also chose the surrogate mothers with care. Melanie noted that moral concerns about surrogacy came from both liberals and conservatives, if on different grounds. She chose two women who, made pregnant with the embryos created by the donor eggs and Michael’s sperm, carried the Thernstrom’s reproductive hopes, as well.

Melanie and Michael referred to these babies as “drafts.” In her words, they did this “to remind ourselves that they were notes toward the children we wanted, but if they died, they were just beginnings like all the embryos had been, and we would start again.”

Kieran was born first, with Violet arriving five days later. Both are adorable and healthy. The roles of the surrogate mothers did not end with the births, however, for the Thernstroms — against the prevailing advice — chose to maintain a relationship with the surrogates and the egg donor.

Interestingly, Melanie Thernstrom seems to see the complexity of these births as somewhat advantageous. “I wanted to avoid what I think of as the claustrophobia of the nuclear family,” she explains. She refers to the web of relationships required by this process as “a kind of extended family.”

She also acknowledges the ambiguities created by these new technologies. “Third-party reproduction creates all kinds of relationships for which there are not yet terms,” she explained. “For example, there is no word to describe the relationship between our children and the carriers’ children, but it feels to me that they are, somehow, related. They are gestational siblings; they don’t share a mother, father or genes, but they were carried in the same body and they learned its fathomless chemical language.”

Furthermore:

There is also no word to describe our children’s relationship with each other. Our children were born five days apart — a fact that cannot be easily explained. When people press me about their status (“But are they really twins?”), the answer gets long. The word “twins” usually refers to siblings who shared a womb. But to call them just “siblings” instead of “twins” also raises questions because full genetic siblings are ordinarily at least nine months apart. And our children could be considered the same age because they were conceived at the same time (in the lab) and the embryos were transferred at the same time. If the person continues to quibble about whether they really qualify as twins (as, surprisingly, people often do), instead of asking why it matters, I announce airily that they are “twiblings.”

Barely a week before, pop icon Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, “had” a baby boy. The Guardian [London] explained that the baby came “with the help of an anonymous Californian surrogate and a separate egg donor.” The birth of the baby boy, named Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, created something of a stir in the British press, but the main issue of concern seemed to be the fact that Elton John is 62 and David Furnish is 48. The issue of homosexuality was so politically incorrect that age appeared to be the only factor of interest. Zoe Williams of The Guardian went so far as to proclaim that the whole event added up to the fact that “homophobia is dying.”

It is as if we are now living on a new planet — one in which all the natural boundaries of sex and reproduction have been left behind. The technologies of reproduction are redefining sex, marriage, relationships, family, and the human story. Humanity is rushing headlong into a world in which the answer to the question, “Where did I come from?,” can be endlessly complicated. We have no adequate categories for explaining the relationship of little Kieran and Violet and all those who “conspired” to bring them to be. We read the birth announcement of Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, and we know that the most important moral questions are already off-limits.

An entire industry now operates with a global reach, offering these reproductive technologies to virtually anyone with the cash to pay. You can count on reproductive technologies expanding as a growth industry.

The theological and moral implications of all this are endless and urgent, but the technologies rush ahead. For Christians, the most urgent issue is the total separation of natural marriage from the process of human reproduction that is made possible by these technologies. The moral complexities surrounding Kieran and Violet Thernstrom and their “extended family” are vexing. We naturally sympathize with a married couple who so desperately desires a child, but the discussion of the life choices that lead so many couples of advanced age to desire to have children now, rather than earlier, are culturally off-limits.

And the birth of Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John to an aging pop singer and his same-sex partner is just a sign of things to come. The question, “Where did I come from?,” may well emerge as one of the most haunting questions of our times.

This article reprinted with permission from AlbertMohler.com

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Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
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Vatican pressing forward with reform of US feminist nuns: Cardinal Müller

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says the Vatican is pressing forward with plans to reform the U.S.-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In an interview published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal said that the reform of the LCWR, which was undertaken after an assessment of the group found serious doctrinal problems, will be carried out with the goal of helping them "rediscover their identity.”

“Congregations have no more vocations and risk dying out," Müller said. "We have first of all tried to reduce hostility and tensions, partly thanks to Bishop Sartain whom we sent to negotiate with them; he is a very gentle man. We wish to stress that we are not misogynists, we are not women gobblers! Of course we have a different concept of religious life but we hope to help them rediscover their identity.”

Moreover, the cardinal said that problems specific to the LCWR are not a reflection of all the women religious in the US.

"We need to bear in mind that they do not represent all US nuns, but just a group of nuns who form part of an association,” Müller said.

“We have received many distressed letters from other nuns belonging to the same congregations, who are suffering a great deal because of the direction in which the LCWR is steering their mission.”

Cardinal Müller's remarks confirmed the assertion he and the Holy See’s delegate to the LCWR, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, made in an address to LCWR officials in Rome on April 30, that the theological drift the feminist nuns are taking constitutes a radical departure from the foundational theological concepts of Catholicism.

The Holy See “believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church,” Müller said in the address.

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“The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration,” he stated.

The LCWR has openly defied the mandate of reform intended to bring their organization into line with basic Catholic doctrine on the nature of God, the Church, and sexual morality.

Among the CDF’s directives, to which LCWR has strenuously objected, is the requirement that “speakers and presenters at major programs” be approved by Archbishop Sartain. This, Müller has explained, was decided in order to “avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church.”

The LCWR has invited speakers to their Annual Assembly such as New Age guru Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Sr. Laurie Brink, who is particularly noted for flagrantly denying the Divinity of Christ and telling the sisters that to maintain their “prophetic” place in society they need to “go beyond” the Church and even “go beyond Jesus.”

In one of the first public statements of his pontificate, Pope Francis affirmed that the investigation and reform of the LCWR must continue.

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Brian Fisher

Birth mothers: real heroes of the pro-life movement

Brian Fisher
By Brian Fisher
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What does it mean to be brave? Is it the doctor who dedicates himself to improving the health of a third-world nation? Is it the woman who faces her third round of chemotherapy to fight the progression of cancer? Is it the teacher who forgoes the comforts of a suburban school to reach minorities in the inner city? All of these are examples of bravery demonstrated in exceedingly challenging circumstances. And our society longs for stories of bravery to inspire us and fill us with hope.

As someone who works day in and day out with those on the front lines of helping rescue babies from abortion, I’m no stranger to stories of bravery. I see courage every day in the eyes of the men and women who sacrifice their time and energy to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. I see it every time a young mom — despite being pressured by her parents or significant other to get an abortion — chooses LIFE. And perhaps more profoundly than in any other situation, I see it when an expectant mom with no relational support, job, or income chooses to place her baby for adoption rather than abort her son or daughter.

This was Nicky’s situation.

When Nicky found herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, her life was already in shambles. During her 26 years, Nicky had already given birth to and surrendered sole custody of a little girl, committed several felonies, lived in her car, lost several jobs, and barely subsisted on minimum wage. So when she met up with an old boyfriend, Brandon, Nicky believed she was being given a second chance at happiness. “Our first year together was beautiful. We were getting to know each other and deciding if we would stay together forever.” Unfortunately, a positive pregnancy test result changed everything.

“When I told him I was pregnant, Brandon sat down on the bed, looked me in the eyes, and told me to ‘get an abortion’.” Nicky says those three little words changed everything for her. “I became depressed living with someone who wanted his child ‘dealt with.’”  Like thousands of women every day, Nicky began searching online for information on abortion, hoping her boyfriend would eventually change his mind. Through our strategic marketing methods, Online for Life was able to guide Nicky to a life-affirming pregnancy center where she received grace-filled counsel. “The woman I sat with was beyond wonderful. She helped me to just breathe and ask God what to do….And so I did.”

Nicky left the pregnancy center that day with a new resolve to choose life for her child, even though she still wasn’t sure how she’d financially support a child. “I was alone with just $10 in my pocket…and without any type of plan for what I was going to do.” So Nicky relied on the support of the staff she met at the life-affirming pregnancy center. With their help and through a chain of fortunate events, Nicky was put in contact with the couple who would eventually become her daughter’s adoptive parents.

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After meeting this couple face to face and coming to terms with her own desperate situation, Nicky conceded that the best thing for her unborn child would be to place her in someone else’s loving home. She told Brandon about her plans and he agreed that adoption would give their child the best chance at a happy and secure future. He even returned home to help Nicky prepare for the birth of their child. “The weeks leading up to my delivery were filled with a mixture of laughter, tears, protectiveness and sadness,” Nicky recalls. But one sentiment continued to be shared with her. “Brave…so brave.” That’s what everyone from the life-affirming pregnancy center to the adoption agency to the birthing center kept calling Nicky. “The nurses kept coming up to me and telling me they were honored to care for and treat someone like me.” After several weeks of preparation, Nicky finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and she made the dreams of a couple from the other side of the country come true.

Nicky’s adoption story continues to be riddled with a strange combination of pain and joy. “I cry every day, but I know my baby, who came out of a very bad time, ended up being loved by people from across the country.” When asked what message she’d like to share with the world about her decision to give up her child for adoption, Nicky responds, The voice of the mother who gives up a baby for adoption isn’t heard. We need to change that.”

To learn more about Online for Life and how we’re helping to make stories like Nicky and her daughter’s story a possibility, please visit OnlineforLife.org.

Author, speaker, and business leader Brian Fisher is the President and Co-Founder of Online for Life, a transparent, metric-oriented, compassion-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to helping rescue babies and their families from abortion through technology and grace.

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New York farmers stop hosting weddings after $13,000 fine for declining lesbian ceremony

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By Dustin Siggins

New York farmers Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were ordered last week to pay $13,000 for not hosting a same-sex "wedding," say they are closing that part of their operation.

"Going forward, the Giffords have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their farm, other than the ones already under contract," said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyer James Trainor. ADF represented the Giffords in their legal fight against New York's non-discrimination law.

Last week, the Giffords were ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the state of New York and $3,000 in damages to a lesbian couple, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, who approached them in 2012 about hosting their "wedding." The Giffords, who are Roman Catholic, said their religious convictions would not let them host the ceremony, but that McCarthy and Erwin could hold their reception on their property.

Unbeknownst to the Giffords, the lesbian couple recorded the two-to-three minute conversation. After declining to hold the reception on the Giffords' farm, on which they live and rent property, the lesbian couple decided to make a formal complaint to the state's Division of Human Rights.

Eventually, Judge Migdalia Pares ruled that the Giffords' farm, Liberty Ridge Farm, constitutes a public accommodation because space is rented on the grounds and fees are collected from the public. The Giffords argued that because they live on the property with their children, they should be exempt from the state law, but Pares said that this does not mean their business is private.

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Trainor told TheBlaze that the Giffords' decision to end wedding ceremonies at Liberty Ridge “will hurt their business in the short run," but that was preferable to violating their religious beliefs.

“The Giffords serve all people with respect and care. They have hired homosexual employees and have hosted events for same-sex couples,” he said.

However, "since the state of New York has essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions," Trainor explained to LifeSiteNews. "No American should be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their faith, but that’s exactly the choice the state of New York has forced upon the Giffords."

"They will continue to host wedding receptions," said Trainor.

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