What Should We Do with Our Frozen Embryos?
Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Dr. Moore is the author of several books, including Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel and The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home. A native Mississippian, he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.
- 2013 Apr 17
Dear Dr. Moore,
I know you don’t believe in in vitro fertilization, but my wife and I found it was a good solution to our infertility problem. We created multiple embryos, and carried two to term. We cannot afford any other children, so another round of pregnancies is not an option. Our quiver’s full. My conscience is bothering me a little, though, since we banked a number of other fertilized embryos, just in case the first round didn’t take. Do we have any responsibility for these embryos?
A Stressed Dad
Your quiver’s fuller than you think.
You’re right that there are complex ethical questions regarding IVF, and I’d be happy to have that discussion later. Once IVF has been done, though, the issues are simple, even if the consequences are complex.
In a Christian vision of reality there is no such thing as an “almost person,” which is what we think with the abstraction of “fertilized embryos.” Someone is either a human person, and therefore my neighbor, or not. You do not have “frozen embryos.” You have children, frozen in this cruelly clinical world of suspended animation.
It is one thing to decide you can’t afford to have children, before you conceive children, just as it is one thing to decide you can’t afford to marry, before you marry. You’re married though, and you’ve conceived children. You have an obligation to them. The one who does not care for his own household is, the Apostle Paul says, “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
This doesn’t mean your game-plan is easy. There’s a cross to take up here. The path from frozen storage to birth is difficult, whether through bearing those children or making an adoption plan for them into loving families. But these are not things; these are persons, worthy of love and respect and sacrifice.
I’d advise you to meet with some respected spiritual advisers, to look at your situation and come up with a map to take responsibility for your children. The first step is to start thinking of them that way, not as your “embryos” or a project to be managed, but as your children, your neighbors, and the “least of these,” who bear the image of our Lord Jesus.
Your conscience might seem to be a nuisance to you; it does to all of us sometimes. But a nagging conscience can be a sign of grace. It might be that what you are hearing is a happy foretaste of obedience to Christ, as you hear his voice saying, “I was frozen and you remembered me.”