Southern Baptist resolution on IVF meant to help navigate ethical considerations in reproductive technologies, scholar says

By CDI Staff |
Laboratory IVF
Unsplash/Louis Reed

The recent Southern Baptist Convention held in Indianapolis, IN adopted a resolution addressing the dignity of the human embryo and the ethical implications of widely used reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). The resolution, directed primarily at pastors, ministry leaders, and couples, urges careful deliberation before engaging in reproductive technologies, a topic that has long been debated within the Southern Baptist community and the broader pro-life movement.

The discourse surrounding the resolution, however, has been marred by sensationalized headlines and misinterpretations, detracting from its core message, according to a recent opinion article by Jason Thacker that was published by the Baptist Press.

Thacker, an assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and senior fellow and director of the research institute at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, argues that at its heart, the resolution acknowledges the profound struggles of infertility faced by numerous couples and affirms the sanctity of human life regardless of its developmental stage or origin.

He notes that, "Infertility is a widespread medical condition affecting approximately one in six couples globally, a deeply personal diagnosis that touches many within our churches."

The resolution empathetically stands with couples experiencing infertility, recognizing their God-given desire for children while urging them to consider the ethical dimensions of assisted reproductive technologies. It underscores the importance of seeking hope, grace, and wisdom from God amidst the trials of infertility.

The resolution states, "we grieve alongside couples who have been diagnosed with infertility or are currently struggling to conceive, affirm their godly desire for children, and encourage them to consider the ethical implications of assisted reproductive technologies as they look to God for hope, grace, and wisdom amid suffering."

Children are celebrated as blessings and integral to God's design for families and marriage (Psalm 127:3). Regardless of the circumstances of their conception, including those involving IVF, all children are to be cherished, honored, and protected. Many Christian couples have turned to these technologies out of a sincere longing for children, yet the ethical challenges they pose must not be overlooked, Thacker says.

The inherent dignity and worth of every human life, from conception onward, must guide discussions surrounding reproductive technologies, especially considering the emotional complexities faced by families dealing with infertility.

Thacker highlights the crucial question that lies amid these considerations: Are reproductive technologies pursued merely for the sake of having children by any means necessary? This ethical dilemma challenges pro-life advocates and policymakers alike to scrutinize the boundaries of reproductive practices in light of their commitment to upholding human dignity, particularly in its earliest stages of development, he argues.

"IVF is not a morally neutral tool; its conventional practices raise significant ethical concerns for pro-life families seeking to expand. In traditional IVF procedures, embryos are generated outside the natural context of the human body, often subjected to testing, sorting, and cryopreservation in inadequately regulated conditions. Many of these embryos face potential destruction or even worse, exploitation through experimentation. The risks involved in embryo transfer and cryopreservation underscore the ethical complexities faced by couples striving to uphold the dignity of all human life," Thacker points out.

Critics may question the emphasis on artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs) such as IVF, particularly given current political climates and electoral cycles. However, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms that ethical truths should not be subject to political expediency. The practices inherent in ARTs often diverge from principles rooted in the sanctity of all human life, irrespective of its developmental stage or geographical location, according to Thacker.

"The Christian ethic of human dignity hinges on the belief that human life begins at fertilization, a truth supported both biblically and scientifically. These embryos are not mere property but human beings, even if they are imperceptible to the naked eye. It is a challenge for pro-life advocates to reconcile this belief with prevailing cultural attitudes that have, for nearly five decades, devalued human life at its earliest stages," he says.

While some may argue against the personhood of embryos due to their differing characteristics from postnatal human beings, the pro-life movement maintains that human dignity is not contingent on achievements or physical traits but on being created in the image of God, the imago Dei. Upholding the value and dignity of children and families remains paramount, even when these values are unpopular or politically disadvantageous.

According to Thacker, the Southern Baptist Convention's resolution serves as a poignant reminder of the ethical considerations surrounding reproductive technologies. By advocating for thoughtful reflection and adherence to ethical principles, it seeks to navigate the complexities of infertility and assisted reproduction in a manner that honors the sanctity of human life from its earliest beginnings.