The Church’s Teaching on In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

While I was away, one of the news items of note was a ruling made by the Alabama Supreme Court. This has caused quite a stir within our society, and I have no desire to jump into that fray. However, this is an opportunity for us all to reflect upon the Church’s teaching that human life begins at conception – made in the image and likeness of God and endowed with all the dignity that implies – and what this actually means for us who are striving to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ Himself, in teaching us that to love Him means to keep His commandments, offers us the following words: “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do what I say? Whosoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them … is like a man which built a house, and dug deep, and laid the foundation on a rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded upon the rock.” (Luke 6:46-48) So, we who call Jesus Christ ‘Lord’ must keep the teachings of Christ as given to us by not only His Old & New Testaments, but by His guiding of the Church through the Holy Spirit, by which He writes His law upon our hearts and establishes us in the Faith.

Obviously, we have no scriptural witness concerning the use of modern medical technology to extract eggs from a female and semen from a male, fertilize them in vitro (lit. “within a glass” test-tube/petri dish), and then implant them in a uterus. Yet, as in every age, the Church draws upon the depths of her scriptural, conciliar, and patristic tradition to address the issues facing those who seek to be faithful to the “Lord and Master of [our] life” (Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian). Accordingly, though IVF has only been in use since 1979, the Church has indeed addressed its use. While the Church grieves with those who suffer from the infirmity of infertility, and encourages

such couples to seek medical treatment, not all such medical treatments are morally acceptable for the Christian. The Church clearly teaches that human life begins at conception, and even an extrauterine child – an embryo in a test-tube – is a human being who must be treated as one of the Creator’s beloved children, made in His image and likeness. Therefore, any treatments for infertility which result in the inhumane cryogenic storage or purposeful destruction of a fertilized embryo – a human child – is not morally acceptable from the Orthodox Christian point of view, especially in that we see the destruction of this human life as equivalent to abortion (a form of murder). While IVF can theoretically be practiced in a morally acceptable way – when fewer eggs are inseminated and then all of these human embryos are implanted in the uterus, with the hope that they continue to develop – this is not the current practice of the IVF industry.

In other words, the opinion of the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is in keeping with the teachings of the Church: “(1) God made every person in His image; (2) each person therefore has a value that far exceeds the ability of human beings to calculate; and (3) human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself.” While the Church rejoices in the birth of every child, we condemn any efforts to conceive a child in which evil is perpetrated. Just as we rejoice in the birth of a child – a human life beloved by God – born by rape, we likewise rejoice in any children born by in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Yet, just as we see rape as mortally sinful (sinful unto death, leading away from God, who is life), so too do we see any treatments for infertility which are death-dealing, such as IVF as it is usually practiced, as mortally sinful. To seek life by means of the dealing of death is one of the greatest and most absurd forms of hypocrisy for the Christian.

One of the dearest people in my life was born through IVF, and there may be others – including dear ones of our parish – whom I do not know about. I rejoice in all such persons, and sincerely thank our God that they are on this earth. Such persons, beloved by God, should remember what Christ taught the Prophet Ezekiel: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.” (Ez. 18:20) In other words, those who are conceived by IVF are not guilty for the actions of their parents, nor should they feel any guilt for the manner of their conception. As for any reading this who may have participated in IVF treatments, I encourage you to come to confession, repenting before the Lord and remembering that the Lord God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn from his way and live (Ez. 18:23). No matter what we have done, either by knowledge or in ignorance, Christ always welcomes us back by repentance, cleansing us of our iniquities and restoring us whole and entire: welcoming us back as citizens in His kingdom and as partakers of His divine life, if only we amend our life and turn back to Him. If any still have embryos in cryogenic storage, I would encourage you to offer them up for embryo adoption, as a way to effect your repentance, rather than leaving these human persons in cryogenic prison to be destroyed or experimented on. Likewise, I would encourage those temped to use IVF to rescue these children through embryo

adoption. I do not write these words in order to condemn anyone, but to fulfill my duty to teach the portion of Christ’s flock which has been entrusted to me by our archbishop, and to call each and every one of us back to Christ by means of our repentance. May God bless us, and keep us all in His way which leads to life: to Christ Himself.

On the following pages are excerpts from three documents. 1) the pertinent section of the OCA Synod of Bishops’ Affirmations, “On Marriage, Family, Sexuality and the Sanctity of Life”, made in 1992; 2) the pertinent section the OCA’s parish ministry resource on the Orthodox Christian perspective on issues of medical bioethics, written to help our faithful better understand the 1992 Synodal Affirmations; and 3) the pertinent section of the “Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church”, one of the best resources any local Church has put together in response to the various issues of our day.

Further Resources on this Subject:

The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church Article XII. Problems of Bioethics, Section 4 Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, August 2000 Official English Translation (text in bold is from the original)

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