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Test-Tube babies? It's time we ask why!

Increasing numbers of babies are being born as a result of test-tube technology.
But why has the real cause of infertility been overlooked?


EVERYONE can understand the desire of the childless couple to have a child of their own.

No one can fault that desire. It is legitimate. In fact, it is that very legitimacy that has spurred development of test-tube baby technology.

As the number of startling accomplishments in the field of artificially induced reproduction grows, so does a raging controversy. Advocates, under the banner of humane considerations, urge accelerated research and experimentation.

Critics claim that whatever good may be accomplished is far outweighed by the dangers of humans "playing God." "Where will it all stop?" they ask, charging that tampering with the beginnings of life is opening a Pandora's box that will lead to frightening consequences.

The debate is proving to be much more than a mere tempest in a test tube. It is coming to involve scientists, laymen, right-to-life organizations, theologians, feminist groups, moralists, law-makers and many others.

How did this controversy get started anyway? If there is a better solution to the problem faced by infertile couples, what is it?


Test-tube Technology

Test-tube babies, as they are popularly called, are the results of a number of different procedures. Actually, test-tube technology applied in the reproductive process is nothing new. Its oldest form is artificial insemination. Long ago artificial insemination was employed in animal breeding. Eventually the process came to be used to impregnate women with sperm from their husbands. The next innovation was impregnating women with sperm from males other than their husbands. This is now commonly referred to as AID (Artificial Insemination by Donor).

A donor is usually a medical student or other individual whose background may be screened to one degree or another. Sometimes the identity of the donor is known. Most often it is kept confidential. The sperm is used as soon as it is donated, or it may be frozen and stored for later use in a sperm bank.

Not all such banks are alike. In the United States just recently the birth of an anonymous baby was announced. What distinguished the event was that the child was "fathered" by sperm from an unnamed Nobel Prize winner through the auspices of a sperm bank that specializes in frozen sperm from Nobel Prize winners and other gifted individuals. Theoretically the child thus conceived stands a good chance of being above average in ability.

Technicians involved in the artificial insemination process generally try to match characteristics of donors and receivers. But accidents occur. There are cases such as that of Henry and Kathryn L., both from long lines of blond-haired, blue-eyed stock, who now have a difficult time explaining to acquaintances the dark hair and brown eyes of their new son!

That may be only a temporary problem for the parents. But what about the problems the children conceived by AID may eventually face? What is the extent of psychological and social problems, of legal complications they may confront in life, never being able to know who their real fathers are? There is even a remote possibility that two individuals, without knowing they were begotten by sperm from the same father, may grow up, meet and marry each other.

The reason for having recourse to AID has usually been the inability of a husband to father a child, at least to father a healthy child. Now, however, an additional motive is increasingly becoming a factor. Single women — even lesbians — are demanding their rights to bear children of their own through artificial insemination.

Furthermore, there are women who desire children, but who are unable — or unwilling — to bear children themselves. Some women who are capable of childbearing are therefore "renting out" their wombs for others. These surrogate mothers, usually for a fee, bear children and then surrender their rights to them. Ordinarily the process used is artificial insemination with sperm collected from the husband of an interested couple or from some other donor. An alternate method now being worked on is to transplant a fertilized egg from one woman into the womb of another — a surrogate. Some go so far as to suggest that an adaptation of such a procedure will help make certain abortion obsolete, since unwanted embryos, instead of being aborted, will merely be transplanted, allowed to develop and, after birth, be offered for adoption.

The conventional justification for surrogate motherhood is that it is a way to provide children for many childless couples. But it is also expected that increasing numbers of single women, who do not themselves want to be pregnant, will seek to have an artificially inseminated surrogate bear children for them. Likewise, single men and homosexuals are beginning to demand their "rights'" to have children through the services of surrogates.

In these arrangements and procedures, people are essentially thinking long and hard about themselves — about their desires, their needs, their convenience. But how much consideration is given to the welfare of the children?


Where Does the World Go From Here?

In 1978 test-tube technology took its first giant leap as the attention of the whole world was briefly focused on a dramatic event in England. It was the first recorded birth of a baby conceived outside of a woman's uterus. Specifically, in a laboratory dish. During this year atone, a scant four years later, up to 100 such births are expected in various parts of the world.

The technique, called in vitro fertilization, calls for the removal of a ripe human egg from a woman's ovary. The egg, barely visible without the aid of a microscope, is placed in a petri dish or test tube. Sperm from the husband is added to the dish. If all goes well, one of the sperm cells fertilizes the egg. The developing embryo is allowed to grow in nutrient solution for about 48 hours, then it is transferred to the mother's womb in the hope that it will develop as a normal fetus.

A variation of the procedure, already mentioned, would have the embryo placed in a rented womb. Or, if plans for the not too distant future come to pass, an artificial womb! The apparent nearness of such a prospect recalls what Aldous Huxley described more than a generation ago in his Brave New World. He portrayed an age when babies would be engineered; routinely conceived in test-tubes from selected sperm and ova, incubated and "'born'" in laboratories. In that world there would no longer be a connection between sexual love and intercourse and reproduction. The family unit would become questionable in the minds of these prognosticators. The world is making rapid strides toward such a humanly devised society.

Certain techniques already in use are disturbing in themselves. It has been discovered, for example, that giving a woman fertility drugs increases the number of available eggs. More than one egg can thus be placed into a petri dish, bettering the chances of successful in vitro fertilization. If more than one embryo results, the presumed "fittest" can be placed in the mother's womb. The surplus embryos — those less "fit," or those of an undesired sex or other characteristic — can be destroyed.

The prospect has caused cries of alarm from many quarters where such a practice is likened to abortion. What right, pro-lifers ask, do laboratory workers have to decide who shall live and who shall die?

Louder cries yet, though, are uttered when it is realized that the surplus embryos can also be kept for observation and experimentation! After all, critics ask, what is to prevent someone from attempting to allow the development of a surplus embryo in a laboratory for days, weeks — even as long as possible up to the full term?

Let's face it, scientists are human beings. They are driven by curiosity or they wouldn't be in the field of science.

The frightening possibilities even go beyond ordinary human reproduction. One way of "testing" the viability of human sperm is to inject it into the eggs of hamsters and allow the results to grow to the eight cell stage before being disposed of. Eventually, it is feared, someone will surely wonder what happens after the eight cell stage.

Another subject has fired imaginations. It is the subject of cloning — the asexual production of a genetically identical organism from a single cell.

Cloning has already been successfully carried out in lower life forms and recently in mice. There is an immense biological gap between mice and men, it is true. Nevertheless, Dr. Robert Snowden, director of Population Studies at Exeter University, is concerned enough to demand legislation preventing test-tube technology from being used to clone people.

"With new techniques, a single female egg can be split into four separate cells," Reuters quotes Dr. Snowden. "Each one can be split again and the division continued. This means that from one human egg it is now possible to produce a whole regiment of genetically identical people. It would be like producing an army of ants."

Combine this technology with the advances in genetic engineering and what many describe as a more awesome genie yet is let out of the test tube- In genetic engineering, genes can be altered, thus manipulating and determining the physical characteristics of the resulting organism — an organism that could then be copied an innumerable number of times.


The Cause, Not the Effect

Most of the efforts of humankind to better its condition are directed to treating effects instead of causes. This is true with regard to criminology, medicine, dentistry, pollution abatement, alcohol and drug abuse, geopolitics — you name it. And it is true with regard to infertile couples who wish to have children. Artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization, cloning or any other technique aimed at artificially inducing reproduction, is an effort to treat the effect rather than the cause of a problem.

Few seek to know what is the cause of infertility in the first place. When God created the first human couple, Adam and Eve, he "blessed them, and . . . said unto them. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth . . ." (Gen. 1:28).

Notice two things: 1) Naturally being able to have children is a blessing from God. It is spoken of as such often in the Scriptures (Gen. 9:1, Ps. 127:3-5, 128:3-4). Either a couple has that blessing or the couple does not. 2) There was no fertility problem with Adam and Eve.

Then what caused reproductive problems in human beings?

We begin to see the answer in the third chapter of Genesis- Adam and Eve were given a choice, symbolized by two trees in the garden in Eden. They could choose either the way of life based on God's laws (the tree of life) or the opposite way, based on human reason and disobedience to God (the tree of the knowledge — by experience — of good and evil).

Adam and Eve chose the way of disobedience — of sin. Humanity has followed that way ever since.

One of the immediate consequences, according to the Bible, of choosing the way of sin was that childbearing was rendered more difficult (verse 16)!

Adam and Eve were still fertile. They were still able to have children. To that extent they were still blessed. But the point is that sin so soon in history brought about an adverse effect on the reproductive process, as it ultimately did on every facet of life.

As generations continued to live in transgression of God's spiritual and physical laws, the sad results became more and more evident: confused, unhappy lives, anxiety, suspicions, hatred. And on the physical level, sickness, degeneration, a host of infirmities and defects — including additional reproductive problems.

Later in history God set the choice of obedience or disobedience before a whole nation that he had selected to perform a special service — the nation of ancient Israel. God listed one of the curses for their choosing the wrong way:

"Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body" (Deut. 28:18). Yes, malformed children, miscarriages, inability to conceive — these would be a part of the bitter harvest of sin.

On the other hand, God held out one of the blessings he would give, "And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your body . . ." (verse 11, RSV).

God is able to do this because he is the Giver of life. Psalm 113:9 declares: "He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children." Needless to say, God is able also to give, through divine healing, a sterile man the ability to father children.

Some may laugh at that suggestion- They would not be the first to take it lightly. The Bible records the case of the patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah. They were past the age where they could expect to have children. "Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women" (Gen. 18:11, RSV).

Very real physical facts rendered childbirth impossible. Nevertheless, God told them they would have a child. "So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After T have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?' The Lord said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh, and say, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the Lord?' " (verses 12-14).

Is anything too difficult for God? "'Yes!" modern science replies all too often, as it goes about trying to contrive alternate remedies to problems- The cause of reproductive difficulties — and any other physical defect — is that physical sin has been committed somewhere along the line either by the afflicted individuals themselves or by others. Sickness, infirmities, bodily disorders are the penalty of broken laws. That is the cause.

The solution is not to try to get around those penalties by some scientific, artificially contrived means. That is treating the effect-The solution is to have sin forgiven and the penalty removed. That is the way it will be done in the world tomorrow. And that is the way humanity should be doing it today.