FOR COUPLES AND COUNSELORS
Infertility And The Christian
Infertility is a problem which many Christian couples face. In fact, 10-15 percent of all married couples in the United States and the United Kingdom are affected.1 The cause of infertility is as likely to be with the husband as with the wife, but often the causes are unknown.2 One author has written some time ago in his book on biblical ethics and reproductive technologies, “One gets the sense that the womb is still the ‘secret place’ … to which only God ultimately has access” (Ps. 139:15).1
The Pain of Infertility
Infertility has always brought pain. Hannah prayed for a child year after year in the temple – weeping, unable to eat, grieving, bitter in soul, and regarding herself as “afflicted” (1 Sam. 1:2-11). Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children or else I die” (Gen. 30:1-2). Isaac entreated the Lord because he and Rebekah were infertile, yet she did not conceive until about 20 years after they were married (Gen. 25:20-26). One has written that childlessness “violates every instinct God has placed in a woman.”3 For many women being fulfilled includes the experiences of conceiving, childbearing and bonding with a newborn. Men likewise can feel diminished by not being able to impregnate their wives. It is very hard for someone who has not had difficulty in having a child to comprehend how emotionally difficult it is.4
Anyone who counsels an infertile couple must be sympathetic and not accuse them of not praying or of not trusting God when they consider medically-assisted reproduction. Instead, the counselor should explain to the couple the moral/ethical problems with these techniques and encourage them to consider the options of adoption or foster parenting.
The opening chapters of Genesis indicate that God created the family and the normal sexual means of producing children. But if this does not work, can the couple consider medical assistance? Since God gave man dominion over creation (Gen. 1:26), subject to moral considerations, scientific and technological means may be used by Christians in treating infertility.
Most infertile couples usually need only simple remedies such as drugs to regularize the production of eggs; but a small percent need more drastic intervention.2 One possible intervention is the use of so-called “fertility drugs” which cause many eggs to be released at one time, thus increasing the chances of pregnancy. Sometimes multiple pregnancies result and multiple pregnancies can pose moral problems because the womb is not designed to carry large numbers of babies to term. Consequently, the usual medical recommendation is that some of the fetuses be aborted so that the others can be born as healthy children. The dilemma in not aborting lies in the fact that miscarriage often results, and then all the fetuses die; or the babies are born so prematurely that they are likely to be severely handicapped. Because of this problem, fertility drugs might not be the best option for a Christian couple.
Another very expensive procedure, known as in vitro fertilization may be considered by infertile couples. In this procedure, a woman’s eggs are fertilized by her husband’s sperm in laboratory glassware and the resulting embryos, known as “test tube babies” are implanted in her womb. The moral problem for the Christian is that, to increase the chances of success, physicians harvest and fertilize many eggs and implant many embryos; the “excess” embryos are then commonly discarded and the “excess” fetuses aborted. Since discarding embryos is the moral equivalent of abortion, Christians should not consent to the harvesting or fertilizing of more than three or four eggs.
Third Party Collaborative Reproduction
When the husband’s sperm is defective or absent, or the wife cannot produce eggs or carry a pregnancy to term, physicians may recommend the help of a third party to donate sperm, eggs, or even to bear the child. Christians ought to hesitate to use such procedures as the resemblances to fornication and adultery are much too great. Some might use the Old Testament to provide examples for third-party assisted reproduction. However, in the Old Testament, the man who donated the sperm became a husband (Gen. 38:8-10; Dt. 25:5-10) or was engaged in immoral behavior (Gen. 38:13-26) or incest (Gen. 19:30-38). Sarah (Gen. 16:2) and Rachel (Gen. 30:1-4) did give their maids to their husbands to father children for them, but the maids became wives and part of the family. Though practiced in some countries today, polygamy is not an acceptable option for Christians even if the goal is to have children.
Adoption Or Foster Care
In spite of the high-tech treatments for infertility, nearly three out of four couples seeking assisted reproduction still go home to an empty crib2 – even after having spent tens of thousands of dollars. They are tempted to keep trying because it is most difficult to accept the fact that they are unable to have their own biological children. Instead they should consider adoption or foster care.
God can use adoption to solve two separate problems simultaneously: that of an unmarried woman with an unplanned pregnancy, and that of a couple grieving over their infertility.5 However, adoption is expensive, difficult to qualify for, and a lengthy process because the list of couples waiting to adopt a “normal” baby is astronomical.3,4 More available are children who are “unwanted” because of age, handicaps, behavior problems, or race. People who will take such children either as adoptive or foster parents are truly serving the Lord, for only Christians are “equipped to fully address the needs of these children.”6
Foster parenting is an alternative to adoption. Many children are available because their parents are unable, unwilling, or unfit to fulfill their parental duties.6 As a result, foster children may have serious problems. They need Christ, and only a Christian couple who shows Christ-like love and patience can introduce them to Him. A couple who has the capacity for loving and caring for children should consider providing foster care. In one article on this subject, a foster care provider assured readers that “the rewards are tremendous.”6
Scripture provides examples of both foster care and adoption – Manaen who had been “brought up with King Herod” (Acts 13:1), and Moses who became Pharaoh’s daughter’s “son” (Ex. 2:10). Why did God want these boys raised in royal households? In the case of Moses, we know that God miraculously arranged for him to be adopted into the royal family where he would be “educated in all the learning of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22). God undoubtedly wanted them to have the advantages of leadership training to help them later in doing the work He had in mind for them.
Childless couples can be assured of two things: that God will use the advantages given by them to a foster or adopted child, and that raising such children in a Christian home is an important service for the Lord.
In counseling childless couples, we need to keep in mind that their infertility causes them real and deep pain, and we should refrain from offering pious platitudes such as “just trust God” or “God has a different plan for you.” Such comments will appear callous and unfeeling.
Couples who remain childless after much effort should seriously consider becoming adoptive or foster parents. They should thoughtfully consider any reluctance they may have to raising an unrelated child? Only when couples have dealt with their emotional commitment to having their own natural child will they be ready to pursue adoption or foster parenting. When they do this, they will then be ready to accept the special blessing that God has in mind for them.
1. Rae, Scott; Brave New Families: Biblical Ethics and Reproductive Technologies; Baker Books, 1960. This excellent book, written from a pro-life Christian viewpoint, provides a detailed discussion of the title topic.
2. Newsweek (Sept. 4, 1995) p. 38. This report provides a clear discussion of the assisted reproduction techniques.
3. Assembly Bulletin (Sept. ’98) p. 10, 615 Stone Hill Road, Conestoga, PA 17516. This article discusses adoption and presents the personal experiences of Christian adoptive parents. 4. CNN, Talk-Back (Apr. 29, ’98).
5. Lifetimes (Summer ’98) p. 2, 9 N. Third St., Lewisburg, PA, 17837.
6. Assembly Bulletin (May ’98) p. 10. This article discusses foster-parenting and includes the personal experiences of a number of Christian foster parents.
By Alan Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.