We live in an age when infertility has become a mass phenomenon. At the same time, the interference of biomedical technologies in the process of creating human life is increasingly present, which threatens the spiritual and physical health of the person, and at the same time destroys traditional family relationships, which are the foundations of every community. The ideology of so-called “reproductive rights” creates a relationship towards human life as a kind of product, which can be chosen just like in a supermarket. This issue is being discussed in Serbia as well, and special types of “reproductive assistance” are being offered. These days, our people are being offered “anonymous cells” from abroad, and anyone who protests against the unethical nature of such actions is declared a “hater” and a “fascist” by government leaders such as Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and former defense minister Dragan Šutanovac.
What does Orthodox Christianity teach on this issue, as the foundation of our national existence?
When young people get married in the Orthodox Church, prayers are read to them so they would be blessed with offspring. That is why in the “Fundamentals of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church” it is clearly stated that spouses who cannot have children should understand this as a special appeal and, by mutual agreement, adopt a child.
The Russian Orthodox Church also emphasizes this: “Manipulations related to the donation of reproductive cells violate the integrity of the person and the exclusivity of marital relations, allowing a third party to interfere in them.” In addition, such a practice reinforces irresponsible fatherhood or motherhood, because they are openly freed from any obligation to those who are the “flesh of the flesh” of anonymous donors. The use of donor material undermines the foundations of family relations because it implies that, in addition to “social” parents, the child has also the so-called “biological” parents. “Surrogacy,” i.e. introducing a fertilized ovum into a woman who, after birth, returns the child to the “intended parents,” is unnatural and morally impermissible, even in those cases where it is carried out on a non-commercial basis. This method presupposes the destruction of the deep emotional and spiritual closeness that is established between the child and the mother during pregnancy. “Surrogate motherhood” traumatizes both the woman who carries the child and whose maternal feelings are trampled on, as well as the child herself, who may later experience a crisis of self-awareness.” From the Orthodox point of view, other forms of so-called artificial reproduction are also morally unacceptable, including in vitro fertilization, which include the preparation, conservation and deliberate destruction of “superfluous” embryos. It is precisely on the understanding that even embryos possess human dignity that the moral assessment of abortion, which the Church condemns, is based (v. 12. 2).
Fertilization of unmarried women using donated reproductive cells or the realization of the “reproductive rights” of unmarried men, as well as persons with the so-called “non-standard sexual orientation,” deprives the future child of the right to have both a father and a mother. The use of reproductive means outside the context of a God-blessed family represents a form of blasphemy, in the name of the so-called “human rights”.
That’s what the Russian Church says.
Metropolitan Nikolai Hadzinikolau: Artificial insemination from the Orthodox perspective
The entire ethical view of assisted reproduction methods starts from four basic problems:
1) Human conception with the help of modern techniques is asexual, in the sense that such conception has nothing of the sanctity, safety and security provided by marital intimate physical intercourse. A person can already not be born physiologically, that is, according to the laws of physiology that are innate to him, but can be artificially “produced”.
Conception without sexuality deprives the moment of a person’s physical and mental beginning of the atmosphere of intense conjugal love and the fullness of their mental and physical union. The law of God determines that every human being is born from the eruption of love, and not from the mechanical union of reproductive cells (gametes).
Modern technology is already leading us to accept the logic of conjugal physical relations without reproduction and reproduction without physical relations.
The presence of technology takes the beginning of life out of the sacred space of the mother’s body and places it in the cold atmosphere of the laboratory. It deprives it of the mystery of the unknown moment of the beginning of life, replacing the natural mystery with a precisely determined moment of beginning. It deprives a person of the uniqueness of the presence of the spouse and replaces their presence with the presence of the medical staff. In the sacred moment of man’s beginning, the two parents are not together, or even present. The child is “produced” by doctors and medical technicians. He is not “seasoned” by his parents. In addition, the genetic material may not be from his parents. A third party, the “donor”, can intervene among them.
An extraordinary creature, man, as the pinnacle of God’s creation, is no longer exceptional in any way. Man can find himself in a situation where he renounces one… beginning to which God Himself, in the language of His nature, gives consent. However, when the married couple unites with each other, they can withdraw, or make an effort to start a unique event, to create a beginning that has no end: the beginning of a new, unrepeatable icon of God.
2) Unlike embryos and sperm, egg cells are very difficult to freeze. Therefore, common practice recommends the extraction of a large number of eggs, and their fertilization leads to the creation of the problem of too many frozen embryos.
The immediate consequence of IVF is the creation of “supernumerary embryos”. The Church rejects this term because it cannot even accept the very possibility of the existence of redundant people, whose fate is determined by third parties. Every human being–and consequently also the embryo–possesses the uniqueness of the personality, the sacredness of the inimitability of the icon of God and the necessity of communion with it.
The unfortunately named “supernumerary embryos” are kept in a frozen state, or for some future use by the natural parents, for the purpose of donation to other “parents”, for the sake of conducting experiments, or to serve in laboratories for the development of certain organs in case of the need for transplantation, or, eventually, to be destroyed. The Church, of course, should not bless any of this. Each embryo represents an icon of God that should be given the opportunity to conform to Him.
Embryo freezing, however, is also linked to other intractable problems. For example, how long is it permissible to keep embryos in a frozen state and what will happen in the event that, due to divorce, death, or some other reason, the parents do not claim them? Is it better to destroy them, or give them to another couple? And who is competent to choose the lesser of these two evils?
3) The fact that fertilization takes place outside the mother’s body and in the absence of the parents creates unlimited possibilities of choosing unnatural and ethically questionable fertilizations, along with all the problems that are closely related to it. Thus, for the first time, ideas about donating sperm and embryos, enabling reproduction to a third woman, which is practically possible, have appeared on the scene. Something like this can lead to the weakening, or even questioning, of the parent-child relationship, or to an unequal relationship between the parents and the child, or even to the interference of the mother, who only carries the fetus, in the relationship of the genetic parents with the child, leading to the creation of brothers and sisters who do not know each other, to the danger of incest out of ignorance, etc. Any form of insemination with a donated gamete essentially causes the degradation of the essence of motherhood and fatherhood and represents the insertion of a third person into the sacred process of human birth–and consequently into the Sacrament of Marriage.
In cases where, in order to increase the probability of success, the introduction of a larger number of embryos is carried out, multiple pregnancies often occur. If in such cases, in order to achieve a successful pregnancy, the doctors propose “embryo reduction by making a selection”, this is essentially the destruction of living embryos, which is ethically unacceptable in any case.
The possibility of another woman (borrowed, rented, or surrogate mother) carrying the pregnancy may have a positive side in that the pregnancy begins in love, but since the development of the bond with the embryo during pregnancy is essential and an inseparable part, not only of motherhood, but also of embryonic development, the continuation of the pregnancy in the body of the borrowed mother and the development of a new mother-child relationship causes injustice to the genetic parents, the termination of that relationship causes injustice to the borrowed mother, but all of this above all causes injustice to the child. Such situations fundamentally shake the unity of the family and represent a deviation from the natural path.
When only one of the parents biologically participates in the birth of the child, it is a case similar to adoption, which differs in that one of the parents is the natural parent, and the other assumes the role of father or mother. The case of embryo donation appears to be similar to classic adoption. It differs in that classic adoption is something that comes out of love and should be viewed with love, while pregnancy with the help of a donated embryo is something unnatural that we ourselves cause for egoistic reasons.
In vitro fertilization gives the possibility of giving birth to unmarried mothers as well. This must certainly be rejected, on the one hand, because it leads to encouraging the birth of children out of wedlock, and on the other hand, it causes injustice to the child because his development is already being planned without a father.
In the same category, based on the same logic, we could classify cases of fertilization with the sperm of a dying spouse, or pregnancy with the help of a frozen embryo from a deceased husband.
The same applies to artificially inducing the birth of children in elderly women. Conceptions of this kind are based on the mother’s self-loving desire to have a child, although the prerequisites to be with him during development are limited by nature itself. That child will bring joy to its parents by its birth, but it will only have very limited opportunities to rejoice in the physical presence, and no opportunities to rejoice in the full strength of its parents. Natural laws determine the parameters of human development. Giving birth to very old mothers represents an egoistic short-sighted desire and does injustice to the newborn child.
Artificial insemination also gives homosexual couples the opportunity to have children, which represents not only a natural anomaly, but also an ethical perversion with reliably disastrous psychological consequences for the child and unpredictable consequences for society.
Microinsemination is a method that improves the success of artificial insemination, but further limits the role of natural selection – which often has a protective role – since the fertilization of the egg cell does not take place in the seminal fluid with many spermatozoa, but fertilization is carried out by only one, preselected spermatozoon.
The fact that for now we cannot determine in advance possible genetic anomalies on spermatozoa–the selection of which is naturally made according to biological criteria–has the effect of replacing nature in the responsibility of creating genetically pathological embryos, and this is one more reason for ethical reservations about microfertilization.
Likewise, the transition from the idea of donation to the practice of buying and selling, which is so easy and essentially uncontrollable, creates the danger of a complete degradation of the sacredness of childbirth. It would turn into an economic exchange, and love would turn into a contract.
4) Performing the union of gametes, that is, conception, outside the mother’s body, opens up enormous possibilities for interventions and treatments before implantation (embryos), which can irreparably change the human form in both the biological and social sense, which is dangerously uncontrollable. The impossibility of establishing control mechanisms, in conjunction with the great possibilities of genetic interventions, may prove disastrous for humanity.
From all this, it can be concluded that modern techniques of in vitro fertilization have ethical and spiritual dimensions, and such that require the Church to be well informed, wise and cautious.
It all starts with a pre-implantation examination. When that examination implies an intervention for the purpose of treatment or prevention, and then implantation, then it is in accordance with the classical medical approach. But such cases are, on the one hand, very few so far, and on the other, they do not exclude all other consequences of in vitro fertilization. Moreover, when the tests are positive (that is, when the existence of genetic deformities is determined), the parents’ decision to terminate the pregnancy is almost certain.
Moreover, such an examination could lead to the possibility of selection (gender, hair color, or eyes, etc.), or even to the destruction of embryos with undesirable characteristics, and consequently will serve the eugenic principles of life.
Reproduction by cloning abolishes the physiological process of conception. In essence, it degrades the male gender (because it abolishes his participation and role in reproduction), hurts the participation of the mother (because it does not introduce her genetic material), disrupts the balance between the sexes, because it emphasizes egoism in the foreground and represents “blasphemy” rather than achievement.
All these techniques, if not always clearly eugenic in expression, are eugenic in understanding. They fail to remove the danger of disability, but usually remove the disabled person. If the disease is not separated from the patient, the only way to face it seems to be the death of the patient in the most helpless and sensitive phase of his life. Destruction of the deformed embryo appears as the only proposed “therapy”.
5) There is another, fifth, focal point of the problem. It is hidden in the fact that the new techniques of assisted reproduction, with the economic benefit of doctors, clinics and companies (e.g. the high price of gonadotropin is probably one of the main reasons that the egg cell, instead of during the natural cycle, is taken after it has been previously artificially, with hormonal preparations, caused to ovulate) often confuse the pure desire of parents to have children. For this reason, it would be good if these techniques were not resorted to hastily, or under the influence of psychological pressure from persons who probably have material benefits from it.
Also, these techniques are widely applied, without us, of course, being able to know in advance the possible psychological problems of the embryos conceived in this way. The psychological needs of the parents are taken into account, but not the likely negative psychological consequences for the children. This represents an underestimation of the value of embryonic life. Orphans, children who are adopted, children of divorced parents, usually have problems of adaptation and psychological balance and harmony. Another disadvantageous factor in the careless acceptance of in vitro fertilization is the possibility that various applications of in vitro fertilization, especially when it involves fertilization with foreign or donated gametes, create people with insurmountable complications in the formation of personality (in the psychological sense) and with congenital, or acquired, psychological instability.
This is immediately followed by the question of the psychological effect of the fact that, as genetic technologies advance, children could be able to learn how they were conceived, or whether they come from a donated sperm or egg.
It is very likely that such a child will face a serious identity crisis, and then the crisis of socialization, which is very serious, especially if he learns that he is not the carrier of the genetic characteristics of his parents and does not know his genetic parents, or realizes that the degree of his kinship with both parents is different, or that he has two or three potential mothers, etc. Problems of this type increase in intensity in the event that family peace and unity are broken, and legal entanglements ensues. Problems of a psychological nature can also occur in parents, especially in the case of conception with donated sperm, because kinship rights and relationships are undefined, or because of failure in the case of repeated attempts at artificial insemination.
Similar problems arise in the sphere of law. It is not enough to enact appropriate laws or regulations, to regulate to the smallest detail the problems that may arise from case to case, both because science and technology are moving at a much faster pace than any legal prediction and because the various forms of problems of this kind they cannot be predicted in time and solved successfully./…/
Along with that, the impossibility to legally determine precisely what is the hereditary right and biological perspective of the embryo before implantation in the event of the death of its parents, or the difficulty to determine the jurisdiction and rights over the frozen embryos in the event of a divorce, are indicators of the complexity and severity of the mentioned problems, which ultimately end with the destruction of the embryo.
Since the main cause of the conflict of interests between the parents and the embryos in assisted reproduction is that the embryos cannot assert their rights, or express their will, the probability of legalizing injustice is so great that it requires extreme caution.”
That’s what Metropolitan Nikolay says. It would be high time that the Serbian Orthodox Church took a clear position on this issue, based on Holy Tradition.