Ethics and Infertility

Katy Doran and Chaney Mullins

If you have followed the stories of reproductive technology since Louise Brown’s birth in 1978, you’ve likely heard the up-sides of the procedure that brought about her creation, in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The common rhetoric is as old as IVF: Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) bring about new life and thus are good and innately pro-life. People are often surprised then to hear that I’m against donor conception, as I’m a result of it. They ask, “You do realize if ARTs didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be alive?”

The problems raised by ARTs are too often brushed under the rug. Through these practices, it is evident that the humans involved, both those created and those “donating,” are continually stripped of their dignity by the industry financing them. While the sentiment is understandable and even admirable to create children through these methods, very little is publicly known about the details of assisted reproductive technologies.

First and foremost, ARTs involve procreation outside of the nuptial embrace. ART practices include: egg donation – extracting eggs from one woman to fertilize and put in another; sperm donation – artificially inseminating a woman (with something like a turkey baster); and surrogacy – carrying a child for another woman (whether that child is biologically related to the carrying woman, the commissioning woman, or neither). All of these practices but artificial insemination require IVF, creating embryos in a lab and inserting them into a woman’s uterus.

Couples and doctors alike herald ARTs as the new age of infertility “treatment” because they are viewed as giving people “their own” children. While it is certainly normal for men and women to desire their natural children, the optimistic language of such supposed medical miracles hides the darker realities of such procedures. After all, by its nature, a medical treatment helps the body out of dysfunction so that it can advance past illness. Rather than simply improving reproductive health, ART methods instead introduce new factors into the childbearing equation: labs, the separation of new humans from their biological parents, and the destruction of embryos. They also offer new customization choices for the adult parties: What traits should this child possess? Would we like a male or female? Can such commodification – and disconnection – between parent and child really be considered pro-life?

Pro-life advocates are often motivated by two primary concerns: the value of human life itself, and a deep concern for the health, well-being, and future of the mother. These same concerns – for women and babies – should motivate the way we regard infertility and value all people involved. After all, it is unjustifiable to harm one person for the sake of another’s desire. For example, here’s a basic question to ask regarding egg donation: Is it good for this particular woman to induce herself with hormones to super-ovulate? It’s not, and very little research has been done for the sake of egg donors. So to follow: If it’s not healthy, and if it is her egg, then why not merely ask her to be a traditional surrogate, where she could be artificially inseminated and carry the child?

The answers to these questions are self-evident: The woman would more likely want to keep the baby if she became a traditional surrogate, which the commissioning parents would not like, since they are paying her for her “service” (read: child). And thus, despite harmful (sometimes deadly) consequences, egg donation is becoming the norm when an otherwise fertile woman is out of the picture.

Or how about asking, Will the child know the health history of the donor beyond the moment of gamete extraction? What about if the child wants a relationship? Doesn’t the entire life of the “donor” (mother or father) matter to the child, particularly with the development of mental illness? Is his or her say less valuable than those of the natural mother and father, and is that child not as much human in his or her own right?

More generally, are these practices healthy and good for our society?

Childbearing is not such a supreme good that it supersedes ethical questions. Embryos are tiny, premature humans, yet commonly enough they are created in a lab and implanted by multiples (which bears its own health risks for both mother and children). Those who are not used are considered “leftover” beings: frozen, thawed, experimented on, and discarded. Even in our anti-sexism world, some are selected on the basis of their sex. Further, as humans we have an innate need to know people within our biological family. Yet with the ARTs come many of the effects common to slavery: a disconnection from one’s heritage and culture, commodification of traits, and third parties buying and selling babies (or what will become them). Children are left with half-or-no relations among those who are raising them. It is one reason of many why the donor-conceived individuals should not simply be told to “be glad they exist.”

The details of ART methods further illumine their degrading nature. In surrogacy and egg donation, women are reduced to breeders, paid for the use of their bodies and tender, creative flesh. Surrogates, gamete donors, and even commissioning parents are preyed upon for their economic vulnerability. Viewing objectionable or pornographic material is used in the process of sperm donation.

In sperm donation, a woman elevates her desire for children over their need to connect with their father. Through egg donation, sperm donation and surrogacy, children are intentionally separated from their heritage, culture, health history and behavioral traits, all vital to their unique identity and development as humans. And through in-vitro fertilization, even if the embryo is biologically related to both parents, its existence can only be owed to a process that killed several embryos along the way – often his or her full biological siblings.

And here is our point: While these practices try so very hard to undermine it, the dignity of every human person used in the process of artificial conception and born from these practices is unquestionable. The pro-life movement understands at its heart that a culture of life must recognize the humanness of us all, regardless of the means of our birth, conception, or past choices regarding the two.

The pro-life message must also recognize when circumstances aren’t ideal for all. This is the case with ARTs, where the pain of infertility is exploited, and in the process, separates families and uses humans as machines. Many donor-conceived people and donors themselves post to as a source of healing, for, “Anonymity in reproduction hides the truth, but anonymity in story-telling helps reveal the truth.”

Infertility is a deep, painful, and all-too-common burden. It is inalienable to all of nature that each species procreates, carrying not just genetics but their livelihood to their children. But the solution is not these artificial means. They are unethical and increasingly outdated by new developments in women’s and men’s reproductive health.

More advanced technologies are allowing us to discover that something as simple as a hormonal deficiency, or a lack of Vitamin D (an over-the-counter supplement), may inhibit fertility. NaProTechnology is immensely cheaper than IVF and non-invasive – it teaches a woman to know her own body. If we are truly pro-life and pro-woman, why do we still celebrate IVF and the ART methods of creating children, when there are simpler, proven methods to educate and cure infertility naturally? The pro-life movement isn’t just about the ethics of saving babies – but also about how we create them.


Chaney Mullins was a spring 2015 fellow and now serves as Development Coordinator for Divine Mercy Care, the non-profit supporting the nation's largest pro-life OB/GYN. She is also a special projects writer for Concerned Women for America and is on the board of healing center international.

Katy Doran is a donor-conceived advocate who found out about her conception as a college senior. She speaks on issues within the infertility industry alongside Matt, her full brother, who created to help estranged families connect. A spring 2014 fellow, Katy currently lives and works in New Jersey for CanaVox, an organization that forms reading groups and cheers for life.