The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The next big dust up

Abortion is currently the most fevered issue in American life, sometimes even surpassing questions of national security and defense, the economy, international terrorism and the like.

Just as abortion has divided our nation, assisted reproductive technology (ART) could do the same, especially as it becomes better known and more widely practiced in America.

ART offers women — heterosexual, lesbian, single or married — a method to become pregnant through a complex procedure involving anonymous donor sperm. A recent Religion News Service story indicated that 30,000 to 60,000 donor-conceived children are born each year in the U.S. As the technology improves, that number will grow.

When conception is not possible or is unsuccessful, adoption still remains the path most often chosen as a way of becoming parents. But ART is much different from adoption because women use their own eggs, which are fertilized with the donors’ sperm. A woman has the knowledge that the child she gave birth to is biologically hers, even though neither she nor the youngster will ever know the anonymous sperm donor. ART supporters claim that such children can be more secure than adopted youngsters because they at least know the identity of their biological mother.

Not surprisingly, the increasing use of ART has created sharp differences both within and between religious communities. Many theologically conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews oppose ART with the same fervor that they view abortions.

ART opponents, including Vatican officials, argue it is an unnatural process that creates children who know nothing about their biological father. It’s a situation, they claim, that leads to unstable families, traumatized youngsters and other serious problems.

If it’s a choice between a child’s “dignity” and the woman’s “right” to bear a child, the religious conservatives come down against the want-to-be mother. They further argue that the procedure can encourage “designer babies” with sperm chosen because of such factors as race, ethnicity, and even hair and eye coloring.

Yet other Christians and Jews approve of ART because it can provide people with the greatest gift of all: a living child in situations where such a gift has been unattainable. ART religious supporters frequently quote the biblical injunction to “be fruitful and multiply,” always noting that the text doesn’t specify precisely how this commandment is to be fulfilled or with whom.

It’s important that clergy of all faiths learn how ART actually affects people. Simply questioning or assailing the motives of individuals who choose to use ART is a futile exercise. Instead, rabbis, priests and ministers need to plumb the depths of their souls and the teachings of their spiritual traditions before dismissing the potential good ART can achieve for loving, caring people who want to experience the gift of life by becoming a parent.

I was a member of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law for more than 20 years and had a unique vantage point to witness the rapid changes in medical technology. Being on the task force taught me the importance of applying deeply held religious teachings to modern bioethical questions. I came to see that some long-held traditional beliefs must be updated or reinterpreted in the face of 21st-century medical advances.

Amid all the debates and questions, this much is certain: Assisted reproductive technology will only accelerate in the future. Get used to it.


Patricia Kennedy

Patricia Kennedy

Posted at 12:52 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/21/2012

I have come to a point in my life where I see the Bible as a collection of stories reavealing the myriad ways humans can and have encountered God.  With each encounter we get a glimpse of the nature of God, but I am convinced we can never know God's mind because we are not God. And that is comforting.  I don't have to know all the answers because God is in charge.  I believe I will meet my maker someday who will reveal to me in what positive and negative ways my life has impacted others and the world. The intentions of my inmost heart will also be revealed and laid bare before Jesus.  It is not for any of us to judge others.  The more we try to make rules and laws to make sure no one displeases God, the more we miss the point. Jesus boiled the entire Bible down to two simple principles: Love God.  Love Others.  Who am I to decide how that should look for others?  Only God can know the mind and heart of each of us.  

Patty A. Smith

Patty A. Smith

Posted at 2:54 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/21/2012

Lori Spangler

Lori Spangler

Posted at 1:50 am (U.S. Eastern) 8/22/2012

Sorry for any confusion on my part. I do not see either post so bear with me if this is as yet a third post. Thank you Patricia...I just noticed there were two different posters.

Note: Lori Spangler edited this post at 2:02 am on 8/22/2012.

Keith Gatling

Keith Gatling

Posted at 7:08 am (U.S. Eastern) 8/28/2012

Funny that this talks about how the child at least knows one biological parent...a while back I listened to a piece on NPR (www.npr.org) about the first generation to have grown up from anonymous sperm donations, and many of the people intereviewed had at one point or another asked the question "Where is my father, and why did he abandon me?"

None of us, 30 years ago, saw this coming. Perhaps we were naive, or perhaps we were so focused on "solving" one "problem" that we didn't see the new one that we might be creating.

To be sure, not all children of anonymous donors feel the need to find their fathers, just as not all adoptees feel the need to find their biological parents; but knowing what we do now about the serious miscalculation we made should make us just a little more cautious here, and think about the needs of the potential child as well as the desires of the potential mother.

And perhaps part of the answer here comes not from the Bible, but from the prophet Jagger, who once famously said "You can't always get what you want..."

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February issue


Embracing diversity