Infertility can be defined as the inability to become pregnant after 12 months or more of unprotected intercourse1. There are several treatments available to help infertile couples to have children, including in-vitro fertilization (IVF)2, artificial insemination by donor (AID)3, artificial insemination by husband (AIH)4 and surrogacy5.
In IVF, ovum are withdrawn from the woman and fertilized with the man’s semen outside the womb under laboratory conditions. To increase the chance of being able to extract multiple eggs at one time from the woman, fertility medications are prescribed. The eggs are then retrieved through a minor surgical procedure using ultrasound and a hollow needle. The eggs are then fertilized in a dish with sperm, which is obtained by ejaculation, and once the embryo has developed to the eight-cell stage around 48-72 hours after the retrieval6, it is then replaced in the womb.
Surrogacy, or ‘womb-leasing’7, is often used when a woman cannot become pregnant. In the case of partial, or traditional, surrogacy, the egg and sperm of the surrogate mother and intended father are fertilized by IVF and then placed into the surrogate mother’s womb. The surrogate mother bears the child for the intended mother and father and hands the baby over after birth. Gestational or full surrogacy is similar. However, in this case, the egg comes from the intended mother, and a baby conceived by this method, will not have any biological connection to the surrogate mother.
Artificial insemination (AI) is a technique which places sperm into the female genital tract8. AID is the process by which sperm is donated by an anonymous man and is then put into the mother by mechanical means. A catheter is inserted into the woman’s womb to deposit the sperm sample directly into the uterus. AIH, also known as homologous insemination9, is a similar process, whereby the husband’s sperm is inserted into his wife by the same means.
Explain Christian attitudes, and the attitudes of one other religion, to these treatments.
All Christian Churches have teachings on the nature of human life. However, in terms of treatments to help infertile couples have children, there are different attitudes.
Catholics believe that life should only be created within a marriage and artificial insemination by donor (AID) is therefore condemned because it involves a third party in the marriage, violating the sanctity of marriage – this has been coined “mechanical adultery”10. AID is therefore unaccepted by Catholics because of the teachings in Exodus11. Artificial insemination by husband (AIH) however is accepted if the husband’s semen is produced as a product of sexual intercourse, and not masturbation because Genesis12 teaches that this is a sin. Using semen that is a product of sexual intercourse preserves the marriage act and is therefore acceptable.
In addition to their beliefs about the marriage union and artificial insemination, Catholics also believe that the demands of science cannot have priority over humans because of their beliefs in the sanctity of life as well as human rights issues. They believe that life begins at conception, as shown in Jeremiah13, and that we should not kill, as taught in Exodus14. This means that they therefore believe that embryos should not be manipulated, frozen or left to die.
Like Catholics, Protestants believe that humans have a unique status in creation because of their beliefs in the sanctity of life and their belief that humans are made in the image of God as said in Genesis15. Protestants therefore also believe that humans must not be manipulated. Following this, although Protestants permit research on embryos, there are strict criteria that the research must meet; the researcher must have license, the embryos must not be older than 14 days old, and the embryos should not be created purely for scientific research16.
Protestants believe that it is natural for couples to want to produce and raise children and that they should because of teachings such as that in Genesis17. They therefore allow AIH, as they feel that intercourse and procreation can be separate. They also allow IVF in cases of infertility and inheritable disorders.
Furthermore, Protestants also accept that the need and desire for an heir can lead to a third party being involved, as shown in Genesis18 when Rachel invites Joseph to take her slave Bilah, and as a result of this they allow AID, although there are regulations for this such as that donors must not sell their sperm or father more than ten children. The child must also have access to information about the donor when they reach 18 years of age.
However, Protestants do not allow surrogacy as they believe that “it violates the dignity of motherhood that a woman should be paid for bearing a child”19 and believe that the surrogate mother may be unwilling to give the baby up because she may have bonded with the child.
Muslims believe that a married couple with children is the ideal because of their beliefs in the family unit, such as children being a gift from God upon which Muslims will be judged by God at the end of the world. Islam also teaches that Muslim parents are the ones who produce the next generation through sex within marriage, which is encouraged so that children can be brought into the world, and teach children in the society what is right, as recognized in the Hadith20.
As a result, Muslims accept in-vitro fertilization and AIH because they recognize that infertile couples may need medical help to have children. However, Islam prohibits AID because Muslims feel that AID can be considered adultery, which is forbidden because of teachings such as Surah 1721 and Surah 2422. This is due to the fact that a third party is involved in the process of the creation of life.
Surrogacy is also forbidden because of this and the Islamic view on motherhood which is that mothers deserve the most respect and care, as seen in the Hadith23. In addition, polygamy removes the need for surrogacy in Islam as polygamy is allowed by the Qur’an24.
Explain why religious people may have a problem with transplant surgery.
There are several reasons why religious people may have a problem with organ transplant surgery. These reasons revolve mostly around the religious beliefs in the sanctity of life and life as the creation of and a gift from God.
Christianity teaches that life is created by God and therefore essentially belongs to God. Christians therefore believe that humans do not have the right to do what they want with human life and to take it away. This is supported by teachings such as that in Exodus25 which forbids killing. Due to these teachings, Christians may have a problem with transplant surgery because most organ transplants require the organs to be kept alive with blood and oxygen flowing through them until they are removed from the body, at which point life is terminated.
In addition to this, Christians believe that because life is a gift from God, it is sacred and therefore to be treated as holy and valued and preserved. As a result, Christianity teaches that the body is a temple and that as stewards of God’s creation, we should treat our bodies with respect, refraining from whatever is harmful to them. In support of this perspective is the teaching in 1 Corinthians26 and because of this, Christians may believe that organ transplants are impermissible because they harm the body of the donor and do not preserve it. Furthermore, organ transplants often exploit the poor because rich people will pay for their organs, and Christians are against this because of catechisms which teach that the rich should not exploit the poor27.
Islam, like Christianity, teaches that life comes from God, belongs to God and is sacred; Muslims believe that we have been trusted by God with our bodies, as seen in the Qur’an28. It is therefore wrong to sell, give or donate any organs from our bodies which are essentially God’s because the organs of a human body are sacred and so should not be tampered with, meaning that to take benefit from any part of a human is unlawful (haram). Muslims believe this because of teachings in the Hadith29 and of the Imam Nawawi30 who explained this particular Hadith.
Some religions accept organ transplants if no life is terminated intentionally, however, in Islam, a human body is sacred even after death and organ transplants even after death, according to teachings such as that in the Hadith31, are therefore against the Muslim beliefs. Furthermore, it is haram in Islam for an individual to inflict harm upon himself or others, as taught by Ibn Najaym al-Ashbah32. This means that it would be unlawful for a person to donate a part of their body because it would be harmful to themselves and because of this, the mutilation and deformation of a body, muthla, (what organ transplant is sometimes seen as,) is forbidden in the Shariah, supported by the Hadith33.