There are over two million infertile couples in the UK (one in seven) and infertility can carry real stigma. Infertility can result from defects in the production, release or transport of egg or sperm and successful treatment depends on accurate diagnosis. The range of treatments and their speed of development is bewildering, and not all couples need IVF: other common treatments include artificial insemination (AI), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT).
In IVF (in vitro fertilisation), sperm and eggs are brought together in a petri dish, and resulting embryos are then transferred into the womb. There is a high failure rate (75-85% per cycle overall) and the treatment costs of £2,500 per cycle will exhaust the resources of many of the couples who are unable to get NHS treatment. As highlighted just last week a couple is likely to have spent something of the order of £15,000 for the three cycles it is likely to have taken should they be fortunate enough to become pregnant. IVF heartbreak is real.
Some IVF programmes involve the production of spare embryos, which are then used for research, disposed of, or frozen for future use. Freezing compromises embryo survival and there is a high chance that frozen embryos will never be used. Other programmes involve screening out embryos or fetuses with congenital disease either before implantation or later in pregnancy.
The other key question to consider is whether the use of donated eggs or sperm somehow violates the marriage relationship. Clearly using donor gametes does not involve sex outside marriage nor the cheating nor lust aspects of an adulterous relationship.
So my own guidance is that prospective parents considering IVF should carefully count the economic and emotional cost and seek treatments that both respect the human embryo and also honour the marriage bond.
Some infertile Christian couples will go on to conceive, either naturally or with ethical infertility treatment, after a period of waiting. But this does not happen for all, and God in his wisdom has left some couples childless despite good treatment and patient prayer. Perhaps this is to ensure that there are couples with a strong desire to be parents, who can either adopt children, serve others’ children in some way or be freed up for some other special purpose which God has for them.
These comments are based on a longer article in Nucleus, which can be accessed here
Those wanting a more in depth review of the issues can’t do much better than Fertility and Faithby Brendan McCarthy (IVP, 1997, ISBN: 0851111807)