I hear some variation on this question with surprising frequency—or it seems surprising because many infertility doctors tell me they never hear it. I suspect that the people asking are more comfortable asking in a non-medical setting or are asking before they go to an infertility clinic.
Obviously the answer to what type of fertility treatments are available if you object for religious reasons depends on the exact nature of your objections. In general, I find that most people are open to “simpler” forms of treatment such as clomiphene citrate (Clomid) or letrozole, with or without intrauterine insemination (IUI), but these treatments won’t work for everyone. We discussed these beginning steps of fertility treatment in detail and for whom they work best on the Creating a Family Radio Show: Knowing When to Move up the Infertility Treatment Ladder, with Dr. Jaime Knopman, Reproductive Endocrinologist with RMA of New York and Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Is IVF Out of the Question?
Well, it depends. Some religions object to the fertilization of an egg outside of a woman’s body, which obviously rules out in vitro fertilization. Others have a general concern for “the sanctity of embryos” in the IVF treatment. If your faith is one that does not outright forbid IVF, but raises objections because of the potential loss of embryos, IVF is not necessarily out of the question.
In the past, I heard people worry over the loss of frozen embryos in thawing process, but with the cryopreservation techniques used now, this is much less of an issue. The concern I hear most now from people who think they can’t do IVF for religious reasons is with creating excess embryos that they will not be able to use. For those people, IVF is definitely an option, but it may cost more.
Donating Excess Embryos to Another Couple
One option to consider is donating any unused embryos to another infertile couple or single woman. Many many people would love to be on the receiving end of donated embryos. The primary risk is that the embryos may not be of a high enough quality to donate and there are consent issues to work through if donor eggs or sperm were used, but this is a great option for some people who finish treatment with unused embryos.
Creating Fewer Embryos
Another option for those wanting to limit the possibility of left-over embryos is to talk with your reproductive endocrinologist about using less ovulatory stimulation medications, and/or only fertilizing the number of eggs that you would feel comfortable transferring, either fresh or frozen, and ultimately feel comfortable parenting.
People tell me that the response they hear from fertility doctors to this request varies widely from totally accepting to totally dismissing it out of hand. If this option is important to you, take the time to find the right doctor, but be prepared to pay more. Knowing how many embryos it will take to get you pregnant is far from an exact science, so it may take more than a few IVF cycles, which obviously adds to the cost.
Egg Freezing Has Changed the Equation
As Dr. Knopman said on the Knowing When to Move up the Infertility Treatment Ladder show, egg freezing is rapidly changing the way we view IVF, and this is especially so for those who have religious objections to creating excess embryos. It is possible now for a woman to go through a regular stimulation IVF cycle and retrieve all the eggs produced. Her fertility clinic can fertilize the number of embryos she would feel comfortable transferring (fresh or frozen), then freeze the rest of the eggs to be used later if more embryos are needed. So far I haven’t heard from anyone who has a religious objection to discarding unused frozen eggs.
On the show, I was able to ask Dr. Knopman a question that I’ve been trying to find an answer—how effective is egg freezing for woman over 35? Most of the research on the success of egg freezing has been done of eggs from young women donating to egg banks for donor egg IVF cycles, not on “older” women freezing their own eggs. Dr. Knopman confirmed that this data doesn’t exist yet, but at least so far, the eggs from woman over 35 seem to survive the thaw about the same as younger eggs. No good data is available on pregnancy rates.
How Do Infertility Doctors Answer This Question
Fortunately we received a question from a woman with religious concerns about IVF on the Creating a Family radio show on Knowing When to Move up the Infertility Treatment Ladder, so our guest expert, Dr. Jaime Knopman, could address it. I think you will enjoy the answer.
If you have religious objections to some forms of infertility treatment, what have you done?Image credit: Damien Halleux Radermecker
Add Your Comment
This is a nice blog about IVF treatment. I am understanding IVF treatment.
I grew up Catholic, had friends from many different religions, went to Catholic school only for 2 years then public school and then a “Christian” school. To say the least, I have my own views which I am sure contradict the devout in any religion.
But I say…. Science made it possible but God made it happen.
If it was Gods’ will for certain people to NOT be able to or should not have children…then why give man the ability to come up with a way so that men and women who struggle with fertility issues (some not necessarily their fault. …*we believe the my father being a Vietnam Vet and the whole Agent Orange thing has something to do with my and my sister having fertility issues) are able to have children?
I have had my religous debates with friends and family.. but never did I doubt that I would ever NOT have the opportunity to be a mother.
My husband and I are devout Catholics, and very informed about the Church’s teachings. Artificial contraception, IVF, artificial insemination and surrogacy are all considered morally wrong. The Church teaches that one should not interfere with the sexual act and its natural course. In case of IVF, obviously there is a third party -the doctor and his instruments- involved. Non-invasive forms of fertility treatments, such as hormone therapy, are permissible.
Also, these are issues that are not open to debate in the Church, just like abortion. I would also like to correct a previous commentator by saying that the Pope is not open to homosexual marriage. I hope this helps 🙂
Derya, yes, for some religions, there is no way to do “invasive” forms of fertility treatment. As I noted in the blog, the issue more often comes up with questions for me from people who are concerned about creating embryos that they may not be able to use.
If you fear that your family and friends will leave you- let them. If you fear that the church will disown you- let it. If you are too weak to do so, do your best to enjoy a continued life completely void of children. Void of children on Christmas morning. Void of children on Easter. Void of children that greet you with the biggest smile you have ever seen every morning. But, at least the church will still welcome you on Sunday.
I made my decision last year. Hello beautiful, healthy, twin babies…..goodbye religion. If it truly was not “God’s Will”, wouldnt it not have happened?
Cindy, indeed I always hold onto hope. The Jesuits have done good work around the world and not all Catholics subscribe to the Vatican’s older viewpoints. One of my most supportive friends in our fertility journey is a practicing Catholic 🙂
jo – we can always hope. this was the first step in the right direction, but not a very big one. the jesuits who taught at my university were much more open, more like nuns.
Dawn Davenport I’ve also heard my fair share of “don’t play God” from conservative Christians (not necessarily evangelical).
I’m guessing Christian Scientists might have a problem. However, who we mostly hear from are Evangelical Christians primarily concerned about unused embryos.
jo, sadly, the pope did not do that. he said, in context, that gay celibate priests are not to be judged. and all priests are supposed to be celibate. there is a long way to go, but this is the best start the church has seen in a long time. i expect more compassion to come from a jesuit.
Cindy, Oh crap, I was being too hopeful.
I would suspect that Jehovah Witnesses would not be for any type of ART. I wonder if the Catholic Church will be reassessing their policies given the Pope’s recent openness towards being gay – as in if they are shifting their stance on gay sex not being a sin, surely that means not all sex needs to be for procreation only…lessening the sperm collection/fertilization outside body debate around IUI/IVF. But I’m not a theologist so who knows which way the wind blows in hallowed halls.
Also, other than Catholicism, what other religions object to some or all fertility treatments?
Evagelical Christians are against it, too. That’s the religion I was brought around. I don’t even share my fertility struggles with any of my family–I don’t want to hear their opinion on my choices for family building.
In my experience, it’s hard to make a generalized statement of how “Evangelical Christians” view IVF. What I’ve heard most often from self-identified members of this faith is that their concern is with what to do with the embryos that may remain after IVF and a desire to reduce the number of embryos created.
So, if the sperm is collected during intercourse (there are special condoms available for this) would IUI be acceptable? I’d love to hear what others have heard on this.
Not to be insensitive here, but does it sound ridiculous to anyone else that old men wearing robes who are supposedly virgins, sit around making rules. Why do they get to make the rules? Jesus wasn’t conceived through intercourse.
This is such a hot bottom issue with me. Even before treatment I have had such a heavy heart–learning how my family views gays, for instance. And the whole idea that women are suppose to submit to their husbands.
Why can’t we just be more like Jesus. Help the poor, the sick, the elderly. Why are “Christians” so obsessed with sex.
Collecting sperm using the “Catholic condom” would be acceptable for semen analysis, but not necessarily for an IUI in Catholic theology. That’s still up for debate (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/resources/upload/Reproductive-Technology-Evaluation-Treatment-of-Infertility-Guidelines-for-Catholic-Couples.pdf). At issue is the possible interference in the right of the child to be conceived naturally inside its mother as a blessing from God from a marital act and not as an object the parents have some right to, conceived outside the marital embrace in some way. On the one hand, the sperm is collected during the marital act and the child is conceived inside mom, so in that way the right is preserved. On the other hand, there is the interference of the doc in prepping and injecting the sperm. Though, to my knowledge, no definitive answer has been arrived at yet, most theologians of note side with IUIs being illicit.
http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6984 a blog entry but someone who appears to be important. 🙂
http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=29370 i didn’t read the whole thing, but it does seem to at least start with the concepts that were in my book. (which i think are ridiculous, but no pope has ever asked my opinion!)
dawn, my husband and i both went to a jesuit (therefore catholic) university and both took the marriage and family life class as a theology requirement. IUI is not considered acceptable because of the “method of sperm collection.” seriously. even to do a semen analysis was convoluted. only the act of intercourse between a married couple is considered acceptable to produce a child. what is also interesting is that, at the time i researched it, the church would not take a stand on donor embryos. some scholars say it is ok because you are respecting the life of the unborn embryo. some say it is not OK because you are then condoning IVF in the first place. oh, and i read all of this from some of our old text books. let me see if i can find references for you, other than digging through boxes of books in my basement. 🙂
I am not Catholic but I am glad that I had at least some coverage. In the end it wasn’t successful and we moved on to do 2 FETs out of pocket and are now moving on to adoption. It does seem there are many interpretations of what falls under the catholic guidelines.
Cindy, is IUI with the husband’s sperm considered “inappropriate” in your understanding of Catholic church teaching? I’ve heard differences of opinion on that one.
great article. i am catholic and did research just out of curiousity, so i can say that even IUI is considered wrong by the catholic church. (FWIW, we did 4 IUIs, 2 fresh, 1 frozen, 2 donor embryo and 1 donor embryo/surrogate, and all are considered “bad.”) i clearly don’t care what the church says. the only thing bad we did with embryos was put them in my uterus. 🙂
I work for a Catholic Health care system and IUI’s and GIFT were covered under my insurance but IVF/FET was not. With GIFT I was stimulated to produce eggs in the same fashion as IVF but on retrieval day the eggs were retrieved and then put back into my tubes via laproscopic procedure along with my husband’s sperm so that fertilization took place inside my body.
becca – i’ve heard of other catholic insurance policies covering it, but i’m amazed at it. the RE (at the local catholic hospital that does a large l&d unit) is allowed to do IUI but not IVF at his office. he goes to another RE’s office.
becca – i understand completely! we were all out of pocket. and my children’s college fund will suffer because of it. not joking. dawn, my understanding is no, because it’s still not sex. the 2nd post had other religious viewpoints, but it was all obviously written by someone else.