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Question 91

Hi Father, apologies if this sounds a bit strange but how does the church view egg/sperm donation? Thanks in advance.


Answer to Question 91.


Not strange at all. The rapid development of biomedical technologies has given great possibilities to couples to have children using the In Vitro Fertilization technique, in other words “Test tube babies”.  The method has become a cause of great concern for the Church especially the use of this method without moral and ethical limits. Let’s look at IVF. The woman is given fertility drugs to increase the number of ovum (eggs) produced. Some of these drugs are said to be highly dangerous and can cause cancer. The eggs are taken out of the woman and fertilized in a dish with the sperm given by the husband. The fertilized eggs, which for us Christians are now human beings, are then implanted into the womb of the woman and hopefully will reach full term.

The procedure sounds simple so what is the problem? The problem lies in the fact that many eggs are fertilized but only three can at any time be implanted into the womb. What happens to the other fertilized eggs, the other human beings? They are sometimes kept in cold storage to be used at a later date, sometimes they are given for adoption by other childless couples – this would be similar to a usual adoption and recognized as such by the legal courts and the Church, or they are donated for stem cell research. Stem cells are a particular kind of cells, they are unspecialized (blank) cells that can divide over and over for very long periods of time which can become all 210 different kinds of human tissue. Researchers hope that someday these cells could provide cures for all kinds of serious diseases, even repairing vital organs. We have stem cells throughout our bodies, but they are most abundant in human embryos.

To get embryonic stem cells, however, requires killing those human beings. The Church sees this as another form of abortion and therefore murder. It should be said the Church is not opposed to research, but the task of research, the efforts to cure disease, should not be at the expense of human life. People contemplating IVF should speak with their spiritual adviser before going ahead with the procedure. It should be remembered at all times that the eggs taken from the mother belong to her and not to the doctors. She can demand that no more than the number of babies she is willing to carry should be fertilized. In other words if only one baby is desired then only one egg must be fertilized, if two then two eggs fertilized. This might reduce the success rate but at least the parents will not be guilty of murdering their own children.

IVF should only be contemplated in marriage and only with the use of the couple’s own egg and sperm. Using a donor egg or sperm is viewed by the Church as an intrusion of a third person into the sacred marital relationship and rejects it as a form of adultery not ethically appropriate. There is also the problem of not knowing the biological father’s or mother’s other children who would be the baby’s brothers and sisters. And if the biological father or mother often donate sperm or eggs, how many brothers and sisters are out there in the world who might one day fall in love with each other and marry? It would seem consistent, though, to hold that, so long as the sperm and ovum are those of the husband and wife, and the wife carried the child to term, such procedures would not in themselves be objectionable. However the use of donor material undermines the foundations of family relationships, since it presupposes that a child has, in addition to the «social» parents, the so-called biological ones.