What is IVF?
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a medical procedure for helping some infertile couples. The first 'test tube baby' was Louise Brown, born in 1978. Around 6,000 babies a year are now born using IVF. In IVF a woman's ovaries are stimulated to produce multiple eggs. Each egg is fertilised with sperm producing several fertilised embryos. Some are placed in the mother's womb, while others are frozen for possible later use. Those that are not used later are usually destroyed. In some cases donor sperm or eggs are used, or a surrogate mother who carries the baby for the couple. IVF is expensive, about £2000 per attempt, and is only available on the NHS only after other treatments have been tried. Only 15 per cent of attempts are successful. For couples desperate to have children, the discovery that they cannot do so naturally can be a devastating blow. They may feel that having children is part of their purpose in life. It may be something that they have always wished for. Mothers who cannot have children can suffer depression and great sadness in their lives. For Christians there are moral questions about what happens to the embryos that are not used, and questions about how this progress might affect marriage.
Arguments for and against IVF
Christians are divided on the issue of IVF, with some deeply opposed and others in favour in some circumstances. For instance, in 1984, the Anglican Church stated that the use of embryos up until 14 days is acceptable and so IVF is permissible. On the other hand, the Catholic Church is opposed to IVF
Alternatives to IVF
There are other forms of fertility treatment which do not involve the separation of reproduction from the loving act of sex, and which do not lead to destruction of embryos. There are fertility drugs and other methods which can help couples conceive, although not all couples conceive in these other ways. For some Christians, technological possibilities may not always offer the best way forward.