Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Church and IVF

As I have said in the past, murkiness on this topic leads to real world "shopping" for the answer couples want. I know people who have gone from priest to priest looking for a clergyman who will give them the "go" for what they want to do. Our technological abilities continue to outstrip our ability to articulate moral guidelines and boundaries on bio-ethical topics. It is issues such as this that the Church should come together on and find some agreement because, in the absence of a clear decisions, we no longer provide a compass or map to our people. Instead, we give unclear hand gesture-level directions more akin to how to get to the local Target than real guidance anyone can rely on.

(ROC) - Pastoral necessity has forced a conversation within the Church on the permissibility of modern biotechnology and practices, as well as the examination of other issues on bioethics, believes the metropolitan of Volokolamsk Hilarion.

In speaking on the Church and the World TV programme about the draft document entitled ‘The Ethical Dilemmas of Intro Viral Fertilization’, which is to be presented at the Church’s Inter-conciliar Presence, His Eminence noted: “This is a document for discussion, and it states that within the Russian Orthodox Church there exist differing viewpoints on this issue. There are those who believe that IVF is wrong under any circumstances. There is the point of view (which the document reflects) that under certain circumstances intro viral fertilization is quite possible.”

Among those conditions are, so His Eminence stated, the ban on the killing of ‘excess’ embryos or their cryopreservation to be used as donor gametes. I might also add the indeterminate "cold storage"of embryos so that they rest in limbo for years or even decades.

“The document came into being within the Inter-conciliar Presence at the commission for theology and theological education, which I head. The subject of bioethics runs like a thread through the commission: we take one bioethical issue after another, discuss it and then prepare draft documents,” said metropolitan Hilarion.

He said that it was a very sensitive and complex question as to where to establish the boundaries in the sphere of biotechnology.

Describing how this issue is discussed at the Inter-conciliar Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church, His Eminence noted: “I have to admit that for us this is a very difficult issue because, for example, how can I – a church minister and a monk – have anything realistically to say on giving birth to children, on donor cells and so on? Of course, one may learn a thing or two from the literature on the topic, but in order to give competent answers we have to turn to experts in the field. We have invited such experts and they participate in the discussions at the preparatory stages. Moreover, we invite our own priests and lay people who are specialists in this area.”

At the same time the bishop emphasized that the discussion of these topics “is in no way caused by the desire to create a theoretical basis for a definite practice, but by a lively and relevant pastoral necessity.”

Reminding viewers that even among the members of the commission there was no unanimous viewpoint on the issue of IVF, the bishop noted: “We prepared this document and expounded within it the existing viewpoints, and now the Church is faced with the task of determining whether IVF is permissible under certain conditions or whether it is impermissible no matter what the circumstances.”


  1. It strikes me that any practical ethical/moral agreement in this area (sex, reproduction with/without technology, etc.) would have to rest on more precision in theological anthropology than the Church has ever displayed. I am thinking of certain early Fathers (St. Grogory ofNyssa, St. Augustine, etc.) who were quite suspicious of the sexual binary and sexual being (to say nothing of reproduction) or even St. Paul "if you burn". They each had their differing reasons and even "metaphysics" of the what/how of sexual ontology and how it fit into the Christian narrative of salvation, but they were not in agreement.

    Indeed I think it could be argued that despite the sexual binary and marriage (even "natural" marriage) being fundamental archetypal backdrop to Christianity and all of Scripture, the Church has (like St. Paul) in essence punted on anything other than a rough and veiled outline on what the reality of sexual binary, reproduction, and "one flesh" ontology really means. To mystically and eschatologicaly affirm the morality/meaning of something is not to define limits in a pragmatic moral sort of way.

  2. One more thought: As I understand it (I have never made a deep dive of it) the RC's are much more precise in this area, but this rests on their strong Augustinian anthropology which also leads to the necessity of Mary being free of original sin and all the other consequences of Augustinian anthropology and assertions about our *nature*. What is the practical consequence of their more precise internal agreement? None that I can see, at least in western euro/NA their people seem no more convinced by it than just about any other area of traditional Christian belief/doctrine.

  3. I expected more from Met. Hilarion, who I admire very much. How this issue is not cut and dry is beyond me.

  4. Mike, it is not cut and dried because of the deep emotions and and strong self-will. There can be a lot of pathos. If you have a couple before you who desired a child more than anything, how easy would it be to say no particularly when lay obedience is actually quite rare.

  5. "Among the admissible means of medical aid may be an artificial insemination by the husband’s germ cells, since it does not violate the integrity of the marital union and does not differ basically from the natural conception and takes place in the context of marital relations."

    From THE-BASIS-OF-THE-SOCIAL-CONCEPT of the Russian Orthodox Church

    What they are considering seems to be in line of the official position from year 2000.

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  7. Anti-abortion groups encourage "Snowflake Adoption", the adoption of frozen embryos that are otherwise unwanted or abandoned. Is this practice unethical?

    A few years ago, there was a baby girl born that had been a frozen embryo for 24 years. Her parents adopted her as a frozen embryo. She was medically placed in her adopted mother's womb, and she was carried to birth. If we believe that life begins at conception, then the church should have no problem with accepting IVF, especially when unwanted or abandoned embryos are adopted. This young girl is certainly no less a person because she was conceived by IVF.

    While the practice of IVF seems ethically questionable, the destruction or abandoning of frozen embryos can't be ethical.

    1. Certainly is logical what you present.

    2. Joseph, I commend the people who are adopting but the original parents abandoned their child. There is a big hole in your logic. The only way to get around that hole is if the parents perhaps assisted by the Church to place the children with adoptive parents.

      Just because something can be done and some people benefit by it does not make it right. Precisely because people are people from the moment of conception. No Joseph your "logic" is faulty. It appears to be a variation of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

  8. Michel Bauman, would you have these frozen embryos destroyed? Interestingly, most all fertility clinics refuse to destroy frozen embryos because they recognize that its fundamentally unethical to do so. Ironically, while the abortion clinics have no ethical problem destroying embryos, most fertility clinics can't bring themselves to do it. So the frozen embryos pile up in liquid nitrogen tanks, sometimes for decades. It's estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of these waiting to be claimed or adopted. These are essentially modern orphanages, and this is the problematic situation that IVF has created. Should the church abandon these frozen embryos because they are tainted by the "evils of IVF"?

    The redemptive nature of the church is to take bad situations and try to find the best possible outcome. Conception is often a mistake, but human life is never a mistake. Human life is always a bulls-eye.

    1. Joseph, aside from the fact there was NOTHING in what I said that indicates I want 5o destroy life as your ad hominem preemptive would have folks believe. I would not do the procedure. Long before I was Orthodox I abhorred it. Too much human self will. But given that it will happen, some sort of rescue is called for.

      If you mean that babies are frequently conceived in all types of sin that is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.

      By allowing and encouraging IVF, the Church would be encouraging sin. Heaven forbid.

      Those Orthodox couples who consider IVF should be encouraged to adopt an already frozen embryo instead of making more.

    2. Michael, yes, I agree that anyone considering IVF should be encouraged to adopt a frozen embryo instead of making more. Yet on a certain level, this itself constitutes an acceptance of the medical technology of IVF rather than an outright rejection of it. An outright rejection of IVF would abandon thousands of unclaimed frozen embryos, possibly ending in their destruction. How can that possibly be ethical?

      Undoubtedly there are many folks who would never consider adopting a frozen embryo because they believe IVF is wrong. Yet this mentality itself is a further denigration of the frozen embryos. The Church can at least affirm these embryo's value, that human life and the Image of God is present in them, and that these are worthy of adoption.

      As for the parents who have chosen to go ahead with IVF in hopes of having their own genetic baby, is this always wrong? Here again, the church can at least affirm that every embryo conceived in a laboratory is still a human life, made in the Image of God, and it's a sin to abandon them or have them destroyed. There's an overwhelming spiritual risk involved in IVF for the biological parents and the medical staff. Put in that context, frozen embryo adoption is much more viable spiritually than having one's own babies through IVF.

  9. "...By allowing and encouraging IVF, the Church would be encouraging sin..."

    This a good a statement of an *instinctual* rejection of IVF as a technology. I say instinctual for several reasons:

    1) The Church does allow or disallow anything, unless it happens to be a part of or the same as the state. Clearly Orthodoxy is not in that position in western civilization and is not going to be anytime soon.

    2) There is a conflation of several aspects of this issue in it - the technological, the moral, the practical. Such a statement sees the complexity of IVF in a Christian context and sort of throws up its hands saying "I see no clear path to *purity* in this so it iss best to not have anything to do with it at all".

    3) I think lurking behind it for most who would agree is a RC/Augustinian pessimistic conception of human nature, sex/reproduction, and how how sin relates the two together.

    Met. Hilarion and the Russian Church to their credit are suffering the ambiguity (and that takes work) and looking to reason/theologize beyond the instinctual.

  10. “The cost of IVF with donor eggs in Russia ranges between €3,800 and €7,000. However, it is important to remember that the prices that clinics share with the public may not always include all additional services.”

  11. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1023237/russia-monthly-minimum-wage/

  12. “ There are 501,023 orphans and children living apart from their parents in Russia today, and a similar number of children under the age of 17 with special educational needs and disabilities. Only 18,354 people are meanwhile registered with the Child Protection Services as potential adoptive parents. Families receive a one-off payment of 100,000 (£1200) roubles for adopting a child with a disability, and 14,000 roubles (£165) for a non–disabled child; and then they get a monthly 7200 roubles (£85) for a child under twelve, with an additional 3000 roubles for each additional child. Adoptive families are also entitled to a 30% discount on their utility bills, free local public transport and other financial assistance.”



  13. Catholic must know Dogma > Ripped from your soul.

    If you're at all interested in knowing ... the Catholic Dogma ... that we *must believe* to
    get to Heaven, and which you have *never* seen ...

    I list it on my website > > www.Gods-Catholic-Dogma.com

    And no ... the anti-Christ vatican-2 heretic cult (founded in 1965) is not the Catholic Church (founded in 33 A.D.).

    Currently ... you are outside the Catholic Church and so ... have no chance of getting to Heaven.

    Physical participation in a heretic cult (vatican-2, lutheran, evangelical, etc) ... automatically excommunicates you from the Catholic Church (that is, Christianity) >

    Mandatory ... Abjuration of heresy to enter the Catholic Church >

    Dogma that one must Abjure to leave the vatican-2 heretic cult and enter the Catholic Church >

    The BIBLE says ... 15 TIMES ... it is not the authority on Faith,
    the BIBLE says the Church in it's Dogma and Doctrine ... is the authority on Faith and the definition of the Catholic Faith ... www.Gods-Catholic-Dogma.com/section_6.html

    The Catholic God knows ... what we think and believe ...

    Catholic writing of Romans 1:21 >
    "They ... became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened."

    Catholic Faith (pre-fulfillment) writing of Deuteronomy 31:21 >
    "For I know their thoughts, and what they are about to do this day."

    Catholic Faith (pre-fulfillment) writing of Job 21:27 >
    "Surely I know your thoughts, and your unjust judgments against Me."

    Regards - Victoria