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  • Director’s Dicta: Embryos, IVF, and Means/Ends Confusion
  • Director’s Dicta: Embryos, IVF, and Means/Ends Confusion

    Posted in ,
    March 4, 2024

    “Lies that Live” – Part 4

    By Dr. Jeffery J Ventrella

    “As you did it to one of the least of these”[1]

    A recent state Supreme Court ruling has generated outcry, praise, and confusion.  The Alabama high court adjudicated whether its wrongful death statute applied to frozen human embryos.[2]  In other words could the parents of those unborn children bring a claim if those embryos were destroyed (= died) via the negligent or intentional actions of another?  The destroyed embryos came to be via In-vitro fertilization (“IVF”).  The actual ruling, however, did not evaluate, let alone outlaw, that technique despite irresponsible intimations by the press and political pundits.[3]

    The nearly hysterical outcry was nevertheless immediate with “the-sky-is-falling” sorts of bloviating.  And naturally, political pundits, even on the supposedly conservative side, were quick to distance themselves from the ruling, robustly affirming the technique of IVF. The rationale expressed by former President Trump is typical – and confuses means and ends:

    “Under my leadership, the Republican Party will always support the creation of strong, thriving, healthy American families. We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder!”[4]

    Creating strong, thriving, and healthy American families is admirable and necessary given America’s declining birth rate.[5]  But that’s actually beside the point.  The worldview point is which mechanism should be used, or HOW, to create those families.  Is anything really permitted so long as the outcome produces “strong, thriving, healthy American families?”  To conclude so is to live a lie.  Let’s get to the gist.

    Infertility and Artificial Reproductive Technology

    Infertility is heartbreaking and many suffer in silence.  Moreover, medical technology in many cases can aid infertility and this is a good thing.  Where technology goes off the rails is when it embraces the “technological imperative:” If something can be done, it should be done.[6]  If unchecked, this can lead people and society into murky moral waters.  Eugenics is a prime example of this.  While racist sentiments fueled eugenics,[7]some efforts were well intentioned, seeking to ameliorate birth defects and other abnormalities.  Yet, believing lies, this led the US Supreme Court to uphold a mandatory sterilization program because “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”[8]  Good outcome generated by bad means.  Similarly, Downs Syndrome was basically “eliminated” from Iceland, not because a genetic cure occurred, but rather because these Downs children were all aborted.[9]   And, the same sorts of problems arise in dealing with artificial reproductive technology (“ART”).

    This problem arises when people forget that means matter – even a good end, like having healthy and thriving families – cannot be morally accomplished by unethical means.  And this is the problem with many types of ART.  In-vitro fertilization is one ART method that creates great ethical problems.  This results because IVF combines egg and sperm outside the mother’s womb and disconnected from the loving intimate embrace of husband and wife; once this occurs, a new human exists.  The next step requires transferring that person from the petri dish into a female’s womb, who may or may not be the “egg donor.”[10]  Why is all this problematic?  For several reasons.

    First, to maximize the potential for a successful live birth, the usual practice requires “egg harvesting” to acquire usable eggs.  This is an arduous process on women as it artificially accelerates ovulation, often forestalling future fertility.  Then, multiple eggs are exposed to sperm, hoping that fertilization and thus embryos result.  Again, once an embryo exists, a human person exists, notwithstanding lies people tell themselves.  This means that at the outset many more humans are produced who cannot immediately be placed in wombs.  Therefore, they are instead placed in suspended animation in freezers, perhaps never to be used, or used in subsequent medical experiments.[11]  These humans are thus treated as objects instead of what they actually are:  subjects.

    Second, embryos are then “rated” and segregated, depending on how their cells are dividing (meiosis) and whether any genetic abnormalities can be detected.  The “deficient” living ones are then destroyed.

    Third, typically, multiple embryos are implanted in a women’s womb.  Why?  To boost chances that at least some will “take” – not all do and therefore those embryos die; but if multiple embryos are implanted and take, then a procedure known as “selective reduction” occurs.  Selective reduction is a euphemism for killing certain living implanted embryos and removing them from the womb so as to prevent another “Octo-Mom”[12] – the rationale can be qualitative or merely quantitative.  The end result either way is that more innocent humans incur death.[13]

    Fourth, the success rate for IVF is considerably lower than natural pregnancies[14], meaning that by implanting an embryo, one automatically increases the risk of injury or death to the small human.  From a Christian perspective, engaging in activities that present an increased risk of harm at some point violates the 6th Commandment.  As the Westminster Divines taught:

    The duties required in the Sixth Commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes3, subduing all passions4, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practiceswhich tend to the unjust taking away the life of any

    The sins forbidden in the Sixth Commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselvesor of others[15]

    Fifth, this lie is predicated on an implicit lie that embryos do not really matter unless they are wanted.[16]  People become commodities that are coveted if wanted, but cancelable if not.  

    In sum, the lies that are lived claim that IVF “solves” problems; IVF does not.  Instead, like a scared squid, IVF oozes inky darkness that camouflages the death it inevitably spawns.  

    Lies that Harm the “Least of these”

    One of the reasons that people – otherwise pro-life -shun the moral reality of what it means to destroy humans in the embryonic stage is that they have imbibed implicit lies concerning the unborn person.  These lies typically fall into four categories and each one, if believed, can lead to the death of innocent human life.  The person justifying the supposed moral innocence of destroying embryos typically makes four basic arguments, abbreviated SLED,[17] regarding the embryo.  Embryoes may be discarded (= killed) because they: 

    • S:  are smaller
    • L:  are less developed;
    • E:  have a different environment, and/or 
    • D:  have a different degree of dependency.[18]  

    None of these considerations justifies destroying innocent human life as each imposes moral relativism on a human person.  So how should we respond to these sorts of purported justifications?

    Peter’s command is not to know apologetics theories, but to actually do apologetics.[19]  Our 2024 Symposium, Every Square Inch:  Taking Christ’s Lordship to the Streets will be a foretaste of this kind of real world, yet theologically informed, training.  The TxC hermeneutic will comprise a key tool in this effort.[20]  Now, let’s consider and evaluate the lies that live as related to the unborn embryo. Each common purported justification will be addressed yet in a way that allows readers to “take it to the streets.”  

    Size: “How can something so small be considered a human person?  It looks like a clump of cells”

    Response:  Are you saying that those who are larger and stronger should control and determine how – and if – the smaller and weaker live?  Disqualifying a person simply based on body size is irrational discrimination and lacks moral justification.  Is dignity dependent on size?  In what moral universe is it right for the stronger to dominate the smaller? Isn’t it the case that the smaller and most vulnerable should be entitled to greater, not less, protection?  

    Level of Development: “The unborn can’t think or feel pain or know that it exists”

    Response:  The fallacy here is predicated on the notion that value stems from ability and capability.  This is specious.  People exist with conditions in which they cannot feel pain; others exist and yet are unaware of their existence such as sleeping or comatose individuals.  Are they therefore disposable too?

    Environment: “It’s not in the world yet; it doesn’t even breathe air”

    Response:  First, an embryo certainly is in the world, whether in a womb or a petri dish. Second, the embryo exchanges oxygen, consumes nutrients, and grows – like any other human.  This justification is simply specious and lacks any principled basis.

    Degree of Dependency: “The unborn it totally dependent on only one person”

    Response:  Dependency is irrelevant to dignity or ontology; if you encounter a drowning infant in a swimming pool, that infant would be dependent only on you – does that fact disqualify him from humanity and thus rescue?  Moreover, every infant is also totally dependent on another person; limiting this supposed dependency rationale to the unborn is arbitrary and thus lacks philosophical cogency.

    For the Kingdom to expand, the Gospel must be proclaimed.  In today’s culture this means being informed and equipped to understand and then dispel the lies that echo within us and our culture.  TxC exists to equip Christians to do so in a coherent and effective way through its Symposia, the TxC Fellowship and other efforts.  Please help us do so by praying and supporting these efforts, and we hope to see you in Pasadena, CA next August 30, 31 for Every Square Inch:  Taking Christ’s Lordship to the Streets.

    For further study:

    • Oliver O’Donovan, Begotten or Made? (1984)
    • Stephanie Gray Connors, Conceived by Science:  Thinking Carefully and Compassionately about Infertility and IVF(2022)

    [1] Jesus, Matt. 25:40

    [2] For one media treatment, see

    [3] Candidate Haley,

    And also, Candidate Trump,  

    [4] Id. Note:  truthXchange is a non-profit Christian ministry and as such does not endorse nor oppose any candidate for elective office.  These illustrations do show, however that worldview impacts policy choices.

    [5] also,

    [6] See, Jeffery J. Ventrella, From Telos to Technos:  Implications for a Christian Public Life and Ethic (2017)

    [7] Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood embraced eugenic theory and pushed birth control in order to remove what she labeled as “human weeds” from the “garden of children.”

    [8] Oliver Wendall Holmes writing for the Court in Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927)


    [10] These matters become even more ethically complicated when a non-donor surrogate becomes a factor, a situation beyond the scope of this discussion.

    [11] Now, some of these frozen children are rescued by being adopted by willing parents – this is the “snowflake baby” effort and it is perfectly moral option.  Recall that the Lord adopts us.  (see e.g., Jn 1:12) Moreover, no child produced by IVF is any less human, less dignified, or less valorized than any other.  To claim otherwise is also to live a lie. 


    [13] Even if only one egg is used and thereafter fertilized in the IVF process, there remains an ethical issue as noted in the next point.  And, none of this analysis addresses precisely how one initially acquires egg and sperm – one can readily imagine – and whether those methodologies clear ethical hurdles.

    [14] For example, at ages 41 and 42, the success rate is only 9.6% and it drops to 2.9% after age 42.

    [15] Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 135, 136

    [16] Perceptive Dicta readers will recognize that this is a Gnostic move:  another’s value is contingent on one’s desire, an utterly subjective notion depending on one’s internal desires and fleeting feelings, while ignoring biological and metaphysical realities.

    [17] I am indebted to my friend Scott Klusendorf, one of the world’s most effective pro-life apologists for sharing this acronym with me.

    [18] – my illustrations are drawn from this presentation.

    [19] 1 Peter 3:15

    [20] As one example, the tired and scientifically inept pro-abortion sloganeering of “My body, my choice” is fundamentally a Oneist conception of humanity that denies the biological binary extant between mother and her unborn child.