“Human-assisted reproduction should be subject to moral, ethical, and legal oversight, simply because it concerns the very origins of human life….”
Rt Hon Bill English

Given the failure rate of IVF we would have to wonder if IVF is merely a cover for embryonic research with desperate would be parents the unwitting players in the game.

What we generally hear is the argument for the hard and emotive cases and the “hope” offered for cures that will flow from embryonic stem cell research. “What is being sought is a general permission for human embryos to be used destructively in experiments. While this general legislative permission to use embryos destructively is the real agenda, its promoters rarely, if ever, publicly refer to it.” The Australian company Stem Cell Sciences wants to clone human embryos to extract stem cell, although the Executive Director of the company, Dr Peter Mountford, indicated a broader interest in the creation of defective cloned human embryos for pharmaceutical testing.

Lab tests show that stem cells from a mouse will multiply naturally in a laboratory dish. Separate experiments have turned these cell growths into both eggs and sperm. Fertilising either normal sperm with artificial eggs or normal eggs with artificial sperm will make a healthy baby. This could mean that two men could become biological parents of their own children, and one man could “self fertilise” to produce his own children.

In NZ, 1/3 of IVF treatments are for lesbian couples. The news of the new techniques was welcomed by Edward Bennett of Auckland’s Pride Centre. Dr Peek of Fertility Associates said the first step in the new technique would be cloning, with all its risks of abnormalities. IVF carries a high risk of certain abnormalities.

The supply of human eggs is seen as a tremendous benefit.

“If human eggs and sperm created this way are healthy – and it’s a big ‘if’ – the implications for reproductive technology and regenerative medicine would be immense. Most immediately, a cheap, limitless supply of human eggs would greatly accelerate research in key fields such as infertility and therapeutic cloning.”

“Generally there is an acceptance that just because something is technically, physically and medically possible, that does not make it right,” said Hon Joy McLauchlan during the second reading of the HART Bill. Let us bear this in mind when considering some of the results of this amazing technology.

Scientists in the USA have created hybrid human “she-males”, mixing male and female cells in the same embryo, outraging fertility experts and anti-abortionists. The work was done during research they believe could lead to better treatments or cures for single gene disorders.

The same types of arguments are put forward by Fertility Associates in NZ.

“Fertility Associates has been undertaking embryo testing on donated imperfect embryos, one of three IVF clinic given ethical approval last year to investigate the viability of offering it here. But on Tuesday, the National Ethics Committee on Assisted Human Reproduction (NECAHR) will be asked to go a step further, letting the clinic destroy viable embryos left over from IVF for research and offering genetic screening to patients. Under the controversial procedure, three-to-five day old embryos are checked by scientists for genetic mutations or chromosome abnormalities. The ideal embryos are then either inseminated fresh, of frozen for future use, and couples can choose to keep or dispose of the rest.” (emphasis added).

The disregard for the humanity of the child in its embryonic state is further apparent when we consider the “discard rates”. “A third of couples discarded the embryos that were not of the right sex, with 22% donating them to research and a third storing them.”

The Australian Bill dealing with Assisted Reproductive Technologies identified the following categories for the use of excess embryos:

  • For the derivation of stem cells;
  • For examining the effectiveness of new culture media used in ART practice; (the medium gets more value than a human life!)
  • For better understanding embryonic development and fertilisation;
  • To train clinicians in micro-surgical ART techniques;
  • To examine gene expression patterns of developing embryos;
  • For improving ART techniques
  • Toxicology studies on live embryos; and
  • Testing new drugs on humans rather than animals.

We know from hard experience that this type of legislation will initially offer tough parameters that will be eroded by subsequent amendments. Legislation that permits only certain acts and prohibits others is toothless unless there is the will and resources to enforce it.

Notwithstanding these practicalities, we maintain that it is the first and primary role of any good government to uphold and protect the value of life.

In contrast consider the words of Mohandas K Gandhi: I can retain neither respect nor affection for a Government which has been moving from wrong to wrong in order to defend its immorality.

Fr Anthony Fisher, OP expresses his conclusions of the IVF programmes in this way:

I will just flag here two other specifically pro-life worries that I have concerning IVF. First is the hidden agenda. Why are IVF scientists so fascinated with human embryos, especially when there are more efficient andf effective ways of dealing with infertility? The psychology and sociology of the scientist is complex and I will not explore it here; but I suspect that a principal driving force is the twentieth century dream of the perfect contraceptive. And for “contraceptive” we should read “contragestive”; RU486 is only the first on the scene of a whole range of do-it -yourself abortifacients which are likely to come into the market in the next generation. A principal source of our information about how to stop embryos implanting in the womb and how to get wombs to reject them will be supposedly pro-baby IVF research. Without pretending that all infertility is associated with sexually transmitted disease, surgical sterilisation, contraception and abortion, we must face fact that a great deal of what goes on by way of the new reproductive technologies is an attempt to deal with harms we have done to ourselves, harms only possible in a society which fails to respect human life and the human body as it should.

So what do we do with the ’000s of spare embryos?
In Britain and Australia there has been huge public debate over what should happen to the tens of thousands of embryos that have been put into storage and have reached the end of the statutory time limit. When considering this question we need to give prime consideration to the fact that we are making decisions that will seriously affect the life of fellow humans. With this in mind we need then to consider the laws of natural justice, which dictate that it is morally wrong to take an innocent human life, along with the laws concerning homicide which stem from natural justice.

We also need to seriously question why the “spare embryos” are frozen when it is known that only about 2 per cent of these when thawed are sufficiently viable to produce a live birth. The freezing process affects the layer surrounding the embryo and can cause the blastocyst to crack, in fact freezing will kill 50% of the embryos.

Dr John Fleming writes on the destruction of embryos:

“It has been argued that there is not “a sufficient moral difference between”, on the one hand allowing surplus frozen embryos to thaw and succumb, and on the other hand destroying these surplus embryos for the benefit of scientific research which might” advance life-saving and life-enhancing therapies”.

Since the embryos are going to die anyway, it is said, we may as well make use of them.

“The profound ethical difference between killing and letting die has been, and still is an essential component of our legal and moral understanding of the way we deal with each other. It is difficult to understand why people who can see this clearly for most human beings apparently fail to see it where embryonic human beings are concerned.

“If a human being has a terminal illness we do not permit other people to kill that human being for research purposes, no matter how vital that research may be, or what utopian cures such research may promise. The legal (and ethical) distinction between allowing a person to die of their disease when we can no long [sic] arrest its inexorable progress, and killing that person, is accounted for in the crime of homicide or murder. If you kill another human being, even if the motive is one of “scientific research” or for “the benefit of humanity”, you will be arrested and charged with murder.”