Mere Fidelity: On Marriage and Donated Gametes

This week’s conversation continues through our reading of Oliver O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made? with a conversation about the ways in which the possibility of gamete-donation by third parties to married couples has reshaped our understanding of marriage and its goods.

We take as our launching point this meaty bit from O’Donovan:

“For such a thesis forces the sharpest of dividing lines between the procreative and the relational goods of marriage.  It invites us to think that if the relational good is fulfilled in an exclusive communion of sexual love, then the procreative good may be fulfilled in any way at all, not necessarily by an exclusive communion of procreational power. 

It must follow from this, firstly, that the procreative good of marriage ceases to be the natural fulfillment of the relational good. As I argued in Chapter 2, when procreation is divorced from its context in man-woman relationship, it becomes a project of marriage rather than its intrinsic good; the means to procreation becomes the instrumental means chosen by the will, rather than themselves being of the goods of marriage. 

Correspondingly, sexual union itself is deprived of the features that give it its importance in human affairs. It can no longer be the case that the mingling of life in sexual union is a mingling that has both relational and procreative implications. It is no longer the case that the gift of self in sexual communion is at the same time a gift to the other of the possibility of parenthood. The divine blessing of children is no longer a blessing conferred upon this relational union of bodies with its promise of permanent affection and affinity. Children are now to be given (if the verb is still appropriate) by quite a different route.

It would seem to me that those who insist that [artificial insemination by a donor] should be available only to married couples, do not value the direct contribution of sexual communion to procreation, but only the indirect contribution which it makes by establishing a secure and stable domestic context for a child to grow up in. That is what gives this insistence its slightly ‘moralistic’ flavour. It defends the link between married love and procreation only at the level of social order, while abandoning the underlying conception of that link as part of the ontology of marriage, the conception which originally made that form of social order seem necessary and right.”

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Special thanks to Christopher Hutton editing the audio. 

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  • Holly

    2 things, I think, are missing from this discussion:
    1. It seems that all of those involved agree that what Derek (?) called the “Ikeafication” of marriage is a bad thing, and probably have reasons why. However, I felt like these reasons weren’t made particularly clear–the discussion seemed to be moving in that direction but never quite got there. What reason is there for keeping all of these various goods tied to each other, except that they have been up until recently?
    2. I think any discussion of the ethics of using donated gametes needs to keep in mind the reasons why people are doing this. From the way talk started to go at the end, it seemed almost as if you were anticipating a culture in which people are choosing this option even when other options are available to them (cutting off your arm to get a prosthetic one, as Derek put it). But it seems to me that most people would see having a donor as a last resort when there are no means available to them to have their own biological children. If people are choosing this over other fertility treatment options that do not involve a donor, then we have one problem. However, if this is a last resort, it is a very different issue, which might be better compared to levirate marriage in the Old Testament–not ideal, not even allowed in the first iteration of the law, but commanded in Deuteronomy as a last resort to allow for the perpetuation of a family line that would otherwise die out. If that was permissible, I struggle to see why this is problematic, assuming it is being used as a last resort and is seen as undesirable if other options are available.
    Of course, I don’t have any statistics on reasons why people choose to use donated gametes. If you have something that demonstrates that my assessment of the situation is inaccurate, feel free to share. I’m just going off of the logic that, given that having a donor is both expensive and socially stigmatized, people are not choosing this when they have something else open to them.

    • Alastair J Roberts

      Thanks for the comment, Holly, and for the questions.

      1. You are right: we should have made our reasoning clearer at this point. The subject under discussion is huge and we really didn’t get to do it justice within the limited time that we had. There are far too many reasons why detaching various goods, rather than integrating them all together within marriage for me to tackle most of them here, so I will just list a couple. By treating procreation as an intrinsic purpose of the institution of marriage we recognize that as husband and wife pledge their bodies to each other in marriage, the gift by which this pledge is fulfilled is one from which new life will typically and naturally result. The bearing of children isn’t some secondary commitment on the part of the married couple, but is a possibility to which they are already implicitly committed.

      When marriage is detached from the purpose of procreation, as it is in the case of same sex marriage (it is not detached in the case of infertile marriages between men and women), the institution of marriage starts to become narrowly focused upon serving the interests of married couples, rather than recognizing that it exists in large measure for the sake of the next generation and the interests of children. As the goods cease to be integrated, the institution of marriage will weaken, as it no longer is perceived as needing to be so strong to serve the interests of children.

      Another example: when the bringing of children into the world is detached from the act of love by which a husband and wife consummate their marriage, one of the effects is that of starting to treat human life in its incipient stages more as a ‘thing’. Think about experimentation on human embryos, which can be discarded and experimented upon because they have been so thoroughly depersonalized as unused material that can be used for other purposes. We also start to depersonalize other human persons. The expression used of a surrogate mother in this article—‘a drama-free uterus’—is worthy of reflection, as is the limbo in which that unborn infant is placed now that it isn’t ‘wanted’. This is a significant contrast from the situation when a mother’s relationship with her child involves bearing the child of her loving and committed husband in her body, a child conceived through a profoundly intimate act performed in fulfilment of promises made in front of many witnesses. Such a relationship to a child is profoundly personalizing: from the moment the child is conceived, it exists in a rich network of relationships and commitments.

      2. O’Donovan addresses the supposed analogy of Levirate marriage and the surrogate motherhood of such as Hagar in depth in his book. He observes that both of these instances rely for their efficacy upon the extremely close relationship between the third party and the married party on whose part they are acting. The Levirate marriage rests upon the close kinship between two males. The surrogate motherhood situation relies upon the institution of slavery and, to some extent, also upon the practice of polygamy. The first situation involves representation by replacement: the near kinsman ‘replaces’ his dead brother (something that is possible because the brother has died). The second situation involves representation by effacement: the slave maid alienates her fertility to her mistress. The second situation isn’t really justified in Scripture (it breaks down in the case of Hagar, who doesn’t allow her fertility to be alienated).

      The Levirate situation, O’Donovan observes, arose for very different reasons from those almost invariably involved modern surrogacy or sperm donation. It wasn’t just about ‘wanting’ a baby, even very intensely, but was about the need to carry on the family line and its portion within Israel. The surrogacy situation was similar in its motivations. Also, the ‘replacement’ effected by the near kinsman was one that functioned on the public level of inheritance and succession: the private reality was not one of replacement so much as a new marriage. However, the sperm donor does not and cannot replace the husband, because the husband is still present.

      If the donation of gametes is to be justified, it must at the very least have a clear sense of the sort of representation taking place, justifying the place of the third party in the marriage. The contemporary practice doesn’t really satisfy this condition. No clear relationship or identification that would justify representation typically exists between a sperm donor and a husband. At the very least, the exchange should be directly from a somehow related donor to the husband and intending father (rather than from the donor to a clinic). The sperm should only be donated to a husband—the party being represented—never to a woman (which rules out single women and lesbian couples as recipients).

      The possibility of justifying the donation of gametes hinges upon finding an effective form of representation. Without such representation, the donor becomes an alien third party presence within the intimacy of the bond between husband and wife. Representation by effacement is increasingly seen to be problematic. Unlike the donation of a kidney, we can’t help but recognize in the donation of gametes some measure of a gift of self (our discomfort here is not unrelated to the discomfort we should feel at the buying and selling of sex). We are naturally interested, not only in any health issues the donor may have, but also in his personal identity. If gamete donation is truly to work, it necessitates ‘the outright denial that the donor is in any way personally present through his genetic contribution’ or the effacement of the donor’s distinct personality by other means (such as the institution of slavery). I think that the problematic character of this should be clear (if it isn’t, it might be worth reflecting upon the objectification of women generally involved in the practices of egg donation and surrogacy).

      As your comment recognizes, Levirate marriage is a duty. It doesn’t just answer to a private desire, but to the imperative of continuing the family line and ensuring that names are not cut off from Israel. There is no such imperative in the tragic case of infertile couples who strongly desire to have children. Conceiving through donor sperm would involve introducing the ineradicable presence of a third party with no effective mode of representation and in the absence of any external necessity.

      The desire for a healthy biological child of one’s own is entirely natural. Gamete donation cannot solve the problem of infertility, but seeks to circumvent it, while retaining some of the goods of marriage. However, it does so in a morally problematic manner and invites a host of other problems. It purposefully brings a child into the world who is alienated from at least one of its parents (unless we are to hold that there is no gift of self involved in gamete donation at all). The growth of the practice of IVF has encouraged the rise of experimentation on embryos and the objectification of human life. It loosens the bonds of personalizing commitment to our children. When a child is conceived using a stranger’s sperm, it is much easier to think of that child in a less personal manner. Increasingly, gamete donation is sought as a means to avoid the need to engage in marital sexual relations, whether by single persons or same-sex couples. Increasingly, the criteria by which donors are selected has much less to do with any tenuous grounds to representation and focuses more upon eugenic concerns of producing offspring who will be able to conform to physical, psychological, and intellectual ideals.

      Adoption is an option for many who want to have children, even though this may involve a less immediate natural bond and may offend any lurking eugenic impulse. In cases where even adoption isn’t possible, I believe that it is important to accept the situation and not seek to overcome it in a morally problematic manner (although the success rates of IVF, for instance, is generally overrated). Clearly this will be deeply painful for those who find themselves in such a situation and should call forth our compassion, yet not in a manner that would court moral compromise in order to circumvent their problems.

      Thanks again for the question.

      • RobD

        I think I generally agree with you here. I would make one small addition, however.
        In the case of same-sex marriage, the marriage relationship is *necessarily* detached from the purpose of procreation. But in the case of opposite-sex marriage, the two are not necessarily detached. Even so, in our culture’s practice of opposite-sex marriage, marriage generally is detached from the purpose of procreation. In that sense, we don’t generally practice “traditional marriage” but instead practice what Leithart calls “pornographic marriage.”
        From that vantage point, I see no reason why American evangelicals oppose same-sex marriage with martial vigor, even while embracing pornographic marriage as an acceptable substitute for traditional marriage.

        • Alastair J Roberts

          Thanks for the comment, Rob.

          I’m not sure that I would go as far as you in saying that marriage is generally ‘detached from the purpose of procreation.’ At the very least, I would need to see significant evidence to convince me of this. Most married couples have children and I think that most probably go into marriage expecting and wanting to have children at some point. Are more than a small percentage of married couples determined to keep their marriages child-free?

          Rather than saying that marriage has become detached from the purpose of procreation, I think that we could better frame things as follows:

          1. Marriage has become increasingly privatized, a matter of individual lifestyle choice and self-realization, rather than social and institutional norms. Consequently, such purposes as marriage retains only have their force on an individual or subcultural level. While procreation and child-rearing may rank highly among these personal purposes for most married couples, they are no longer purposes to which all marriages are presumed to be bound. The problem here is the corrosive effect of the highest cultural value of ‘choice’ upon all institutions.

          2. The connection between sex and procreation has been weakened through the general use of birth control.

          3. The expectation that marriage be romantic, companionate, and sexually fulfilling has tended to become the highest and overriding value and purpose for many. The other purposes haven’t been merely dismissed, but this one purpose can trump them all.

          4. The rise of divorce culture has strengthened the idea of marriage existing for the sake of adults and their personal fulfilment.

          We shouldn’t presume that the population has generally detached marriage from procreation. Although the connection has been much weakened, most probably still retain this to some degree. However, when marriage becomes a matter of private lifestyle choice—a value that individualistic democratic capitalist countries have always been suckers for—one can’t impose one’s personal vision of marriage upon others or infringe upon their freedom to live as they please. Also, when romance, companionship, and sexual fulfilment have come to function as overriding, it is hard to oppose same-sex marriage, whatever qualms one might have about it on other fronts, or however it may differ from one’s own vision.

          As for American evangelicals, there have certainly been attempts to justify the child-free by choice approach to marriage in certain quarters (just last week I read such a piece from the 1970s). However, such voices are far less commonly found among more conservative evangelicals, where one typically finds vocal opposition to this approach and some sense of a duty of procreation associated with marriage. Most of the cases that come to mind of evangelicals pushing the child-free line come from firmly within the progressive camp and are from people who support same-sex marriage (this is one such example). I really would need to see evidence that evangelical opponents of same-sex marriage are being deeply inconsistent here.

          Further to this, most of the evangelicals I have encountered who have advocated something like a child-free by choice line have also described the pressure that evangelical culture places upon them to have children. Evangelical subculture is one place where the purpose of procreation attached to marriage carries powerful practical force.

          I don’t dispute that evangelicals have been compromised here in various respects and have partially adopted some of the prevailing cultural assumptions. However, the evidence that they practice ‘pornographic marriage’ is rather slim, I think. More importantly, the people who have adopted such a vision of marriage are seldom if ever the vocal opponents of same-sex marriage. Rather, adoption of the ‘pornographic’ model of marriage tends to go hand in hand with progressive evangelical support for same-sex marriage. The hyperbolic characterization of evangelicals in general strikes me as quite contrary to the actual reality.

  • Lee

    How can we even get to this point in the discussion when things are already so artificially staged by birth control. Imagine a world in which life is valued in it’s fullest. Where the sexual act is not perverted into an exercise whose action is virtually disconnected from it’s creative purpose. Imagine a society where natural consequences are not bypassed and people are not given freedom to act without responsibility. Might society have quite different priorities? Under the rule and reign of Christ I will be very interested in his attitude (requirement, no less) of marital function, not to mention all the other, inappropriate sex.

  • KarenD

    Why is it that when men talk about sex-that-leads-to-conception they seem so often to romanticize it? This entire discussion sits awkwardly with me because undergirding it is this notion of mothering that is idealized and false. You can keep the discussion, as above, in the realm of the theoretical, but when you start talking about things like birth control (whatever flowery and disguised language you use) or more importantly sex without birth control, you are talking about profound alterations to women’s lives. As a mother of two, as a Christ-follower, as a deep thinker (at least I like to think so), and as a woman who decided to use birth control and to stop at two children, I made those decisions with prayer and faith. Being a mother in this modern moment is incredibly isolating and impossibly hard for many of us. Women are working outside of their home or “village” in numbers never before seen while still carrying the lion’s share of responsibility for rearing the children and caring for aging relatives. Our lives — especially our spiritual lives — are whittled away to nothing, submerged beneath endless “do do’s” and responsibilities, but discussions like this make me think the guys holding forth don’t really get that. Maybe i’m reacting to something that is not here, but this discussion seems only to sit in the larger context I always am reading in, wherein there is only one path forward for professing women: abstinence until marriage, sexual availability in marriage, eschewing birth control in favor of “faith” and the concept that children are a blessing (ergo more children = more blessing). But the discussion ends there, almost a “And They Lived Happily Ever After” without even trying to cope with the incredible implications of this ideology (or is it a theology?) for the women who are tasked for decades on end with care-taking.

    • C. Quinn-Jones

      I’ve read your post and I wish I had time to reply to you fully today. Just for now, can I ask how old your children are? My children are now adults, but I still remember the time when they were young and I felt that a 50 hour day would not have been long enough for me!

    • Lee

      …mother of three, here…I, too like to think of myself as ‘becoming’ a deeper thinker as I discern the lies of the worlds systems…which I bought into as well. There is a way that seems right to man, but the end is the way of death…and we know something has gone terribly wrong on all fronts.

    • Alastair J Roberts

      Thanks for the comment and the question, Karen.

      A very sharp distinction should be drawn between ‘romanticization’—or even ‘idealization’—of ‘sex-that-leads-to-conception’ and what we and O’Donovan are engaged in here. What we are concerned with is to discern the meaning of sex in the relationship that it bears to conception and the bringing of children into the world. It would be a mistake to believe that this meaning is located in a subjective sense or feeling of the ‘meaningfulness’ of what is occurring experienced by a couple when they engage in non-contraceptive sexual relations in their marriage.

      In a similar manner, the actual experience of bearing a child will be a deep disappointment for many women, far from the elevated and romanticized experience that they had been led to expect. I have spoken to mothers who have told me of their sense of deep alienation from and even antipathy towards their unborn children. The reality of the experience will not sustain romantic notions.

      Nevertheless, in reflecting upon non-contraceptive sexual relations and child-bearing we can still discern profound meaning in the nature of the realities disclosed within them, irrespective of how they may impinge upon our subjective awareness while engaged within them. The fact that the act through which children are conceived is, in the ordinary course of affairs, an intimate mutual gift of bodies between a man and a woman, is a fact of great significance. The character of this act shapes the ways that children are received into the world and the ways that we regard them. The use of artificial insemination by donor, in changing the manner in which children are brought into the world, can also have an effect upon the ways that we perceive children, marriage, male and female, etc.

      Our podcast wasn’t about birth control. However, I will make a few remarks upon it. First, I think that both Derek and Matt would agree with me in acknowledging that birth control is something that makes an immense practical difference in many women’s lives. While there are questions about the morality of birth control in general and of certain forms of it in particular, along with questions about what exactly is being done when women take birth control pills, I think that all of us are aware of the fact that these questions are very far from academic for the overwhelming majority of women (they aren’t academic for many men too, but their practical force is considerably less immediate). I hope that, in pursuing these crucial questions, we have retained an appreciation of this fact, along with attention to the many actual reasons why women employ birth control and the difference that it makes within their lives. I suspect that, like me, Matt and Derek have read posts such as this, along with dozens of other personal accounts of birth control use and the processes of practical and moral deliberation by which women have determined to use them. I suspect that I am not alone in having had several personal conversations on the subject with female friends. If our discussions do not immediately exhibit the presence of attention to the concrete situations involved in these questions on our part, this is unfortunate and regrettable. However, I trust that closer cross-examination would reveal that, while not on immediate display, such attention was part of the infrastructure of ethical exploration undergirding our reflections.

      Second, you speak of sex without birth control as involving ‘profound alterations to women’s lives.’ At the outset I think that it is important to point out the implicit normalization of birth control within this statement. The normalization of dependence upon birth control is itself something that involves a profound set of changes in the way that we relate to the naturally procreative character of sexual relations as a society, to the way in which women relate to their own bodies, and to the way we think of the process of having children. It is crucial to reflect upon the significance of these changes and to the natural significance of sex, the body, and procreation that our dependence upon and normalization of birth control may disguise. Even were we to declare the use of birth control in certain stipulated situations to be morally licit, the normalization of birth control would remain morally problematic in many respects.

      Third, in reflecting upon the meaning of what is done when a couple use birth control or contraception, I think that it is important to consider what a couple’s pledge of their bodies to each other in marriage entails. The use of contraceptive methods is a partial withholding of this gift, the establishment of an obstacle to the ‘one flesh’ union of bodies. I am not of the persuasion that every discrete act of sexual relations in marriage must be of a kind that involves a comprehensive gift of bodies. However, the union of marriage can only truly be consummated and encapsulated in an act that does. The woman’s full gift of her body to her husband envisaged in marriage is only possible when birth control isn’t used (this doesn’t mean that no gift occurs when she is on birth control). Likewise, the man’s full gift of his body to his wife cannot occur while he is using a condom. In themselves, these considerations may not commit us to a Roman Catholic position on the subject, rejecting the use of birth control entirely (the use of birth control for purposes beyond its nominal purpose, such as for painful periods, is quite a different question). However, at the very least, I stand with the Catholics and others in pointing out the manner in which birth control involves an intrinsic compromise of the consummative and paradigmatic act of marital union. I would be interested to hear Matt and Derek’s thoughts on this.

      Fourth, the alternative to birth control isn’t ‘faith’ and a procreating frenzy, but something like fertility awareness, which compares very well in its success rate to other methods. While it may impose a greater burden of temporary abstinence, such abstinence can be formative, much as sexual abstinence outside of marriage. It teaches man and wife that sex is something to be taken seriously and respected, an act that cannot be undertaken lightly or irresponsibly. This may rankle in our society, whose normalization of sex without strings attached or consequences following has encouraged a sense of entitlement to sex (and created the need to develop emotional prophylactics to complement the physical ones). It does give us a healthy perspective upon things, though. The husband cannot take the body of his wife on his own terms as his right, but must receive it as a gift, on the terms of his wife and her body’s nature. The benefit of something like fertility awareness is that, not only does it maintain the natural bonds between women’s bodies and fertility and between sex and procreation, it enhances them, teaching women (and their husbands) the art of deep attentiveness to their bodies.

      As to the other points that you raise, I believe that they are very important. Thank you for bringing them forward. The development of society over the past few centuries has presented women with acute problems. Work first migrated from the realm of the home, leaving women stranded in an economically impotent domesticity. We now increasingly see community and society migrating from the home as both men and women must go out from it to work, leaving us without people to form the robust neighbourhood bonds that many of us once enjoyed, and tending to leave any women who do remain at home not only isolated from economic production, but also from cultural and community production also. These are matters that I have discussed in various contexts and, while we cannot humanly speak of all things at once, must be a part of the picture of which we are cognizant and which conditions our treatment of all adjacent and interrelated issues.

      It has certainly been my experience that many Christian men who address subjects such as birth control are not alert to these issues, nor to the peculiar and often novel pressures that modern life places upon women. I cannot vouch for myself, but I hope that the women who know me best and with whom I have discussed such issues extensively in person could honestly testify to my concern on such fronts. Whatever my level of awareness, however, I hope that I continue to see myself as someone with much to learn and to whom even the scale of my ignorance is not yet apparent. I suspect that Matt and Derek are with me here.

      Thanks once again for your thoughtful comment.

      • Lee

        ..fertility awareness? The purpose being to avoid the dreaded ‘conception’ but maintain the ‘intimacy’….hmmm. We need to follow the proposed logic here as well.

        • Alastair J Roberts

          Thanks for the response, Lee.

          Fertility awareness is not about dreading and avoiding conception. Indeed, for many, fertility awareness will be about precisely the opposite.

          The bearing of children is one of the primary ends of marriage and is an important aspect of the integrity of the marriage bond. It opens out a union that might otherwise be merely for the mutual benefit of the couple to the larger end of bringing new life into the world and making the movement from one generation to the next. ‘Childfree by choice’ marriages run against the biblical ideal. Although there may be some unusual or exceptional situations where it may be wise to avoid having children (for instance, a married couple who find themselves caught in the context of extreme persecution), ordinarily a married couple should seek to bring children into the world.

          However, although commitment to marriage should involve openness to children, we are never commanded to have as many children as we can. Nor is sex narrowly focused upon the end of procreation. There is no sin in having sexual relations outside of a woman’s fertile period. Fertility awareness cultivates a deep acquaintance with the natural fertility of women’s bodies and the procreative potential of sex. It provides knowledge by which a couple can honour and act as wise stewards of the natural gift of the body, rather than grasping it on their own terms.

          Sexual relations between man and wife are not just a matter of subjectively experienced ‘intimacy’, but establish, express, and maintain an objective one-flesh unity. When I speak about ‘intimacy’, my focus is upon the objective character of sexual relations, not a sense of special closeness.

          So, what is the difference between using birth control and a fertility awareness approach in cases when both are being used to avoid the possibility of getting pregnant? Fertility awareness recognizes that marital relations can naturally lead to procreation and that the body of the wife is naturally fertile. Unlike the use of birth control, it doesn’t seek to overcome this reality, but adjusts its practice to it, learning to move with the grain of nature, rather than pharmaceutically or medically circumventing or frustrating it. It operates in terms of the fact that sex is tied to procreation, that this is a given of nature. The husband receives the gift of his wife’s body in submission to this reality. Receiving the gift of his wife’s body on nature’s terms means that they must abstain from sexual relations at many times if they don’t desire to have children.

          The difference between this and the use of contraception is the difference between adapting ourselves to nature and its terms and seeking to control it and take it on our own terms, adapting nature to ourselves. In such a manner, fertility awareness maintains and respects the integrity of the natural order and our bodies within it.

          In terms of the larger picture of a marriage viewed over its entire history, if it were used to keep the marriage child-free, fertility awareness could indeed raise some problems that overlap with those raised by birth control and other contraceptive means. While not a direct attempt to control nature like contraception, this would be a frustration of the purpose of marriage. The avoidance of procreation through fertility awareness could be an appropriate adjustment to the constraints of a exceptional situation, just as there may be exceptional situations where it might be appropriate to use something that might have a contraceptive effect. However, in all such cases, there is a frustration of the ends of marriage or sex imposed from some quarter—whether personal choice or external necessity—rendering the situation ‘not good’, even though it may not be morally wrong.

          • Lee

            Concept of the Natural Law in Thomas Aquinas, pages 96-127 has some interesting points to make.

          • Alastair J Roberts

            Thanks for the response, Lee. I presume that you are referring to Natural Law and Practical Reason: a Thomist View of Moral Autonomy, by Martin Rhonheimer? Since few of the people reading this thread will have access to the book in question and your point is rather vague as it stands, could you elaborate on the particular pertinent points that you believe that he makes?

          • Lee

            I can only ‘vaguely’ digest this information much less convey it to someone else. Basically, I think it is the perspective you have given, Alastair. It has been very humbling for me to think about this issue and what I have been unwilling to commit to in my own life. The knowledge of truth is an important quest because it helps us to see God’s heart and desire for mankind. But like the divorce issue, it is stated that it was not God’s plan from the beginning…but because of the “hardness of heart”…concessions had to be made. I think that is where we find ourselves even more, today. There are so many variables, disconnects and manipulations, that I, for one can’t see myself conforming to the ‘ideal’ even if I were to understand it clearly. Our hope is the fact that Jesus has provided for restoration of all things in the future and when our eyes are truly opened we will give God the glory…for the wonder of His perfect plan involving imperfect people. Thanks for your input!

  • C. Quinn-Jones

    I’ve listened to the podcast and read all the posts here – thank you for all your thoughts and questions on these complex and sensitive matters and a special thanks to Alastair for giving us the chance to post here.
    I’m especially interested in the subject of contraception raised by Karen, and explored by Alastair and I’d like to add some thoughts of my own.
    The advent of many forms of contraception has given more options (and no doubt more ‘decision overload’) to both men and women than my grandparents had!
    Back in the 70’s, when my sisters & I were talking about ‘the pill’, my father interrupted us with the words : ‘If my mother had been on the pill, you lot wouldn’t be here to argue about it!’ My father was the youngest of 14 children,10 of whom survived to adulthood, some to a ripe old age.
    I get the impression from a number of my older relatives that some of the female members of the family were, at the time when they had several small children, less interested in sexual relations than their husbands were, and that they would have had fewer children had they not submitted to their husbands. This highlights male dominance, but it also suggests to me that the womens’ temporary reluctance to have sexual relations with their husbands might have been a form of ‘natural contraception’… if only their husbands had treated it with respect!
    I am at peace with Ephesians 5:24 with the exception of the last two words ‘…in everything.’ However, v. 33a looks more promising:’ However, each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself…’

    • C. Quinn-Jones

      Sorry… when I wrote the above post, I thought I was still on Alastair’s website… my thanks, too, to Matt for giving us the chance to post here.

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  • JoAnn Morse

    While I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the podcast, quotes and comments — how generous! — I would like to suggest a missing (to my ear) point of reference: economics. What are the economic choices for the couple using this method of child-obtaining? What are the choices for society of supporting research or subsidizing this method, including opportunity costs? Are those choices in line with Kingdom values? The same questions could be raised of paths to adoption (spoken as an adoptive parent).

    In gratitude.

    • Alastair J Roberts

      Thanks for the comment and the question, JoAnn!

      You are right, the economics of these situations are definitely worth discussing. The issues that you mention may be touched upon to some degree in a later podcast, as a number of the issues that could fall under this heading reappear later in O’Donovan’s book, where they are treated more directly. That said, it would be interesting to explore the issues you raise a little here.

      Perhaps the first thing to notice is the role of economics in mediating the bringing into existence of the child begotten by artificial insemination by donor. The occurrence of a financial transaction is essential to the child’s conception. This contrasts with adoption where, although the process may be expensive and involve financial transactions, it isn’t the bringing into existence of a child, but the establishment of a legal relationship with a child already begotten.

      While it varies on the country (the UK doesn’t have financial incentives to donate gametes, for instance), wealth may also grant prospective parents considerable power to determine the ideal genetic fitness of their offspring. The ‘choice’ to have a child can increasingly become a choice akin to other consumer choices.

      Birth is naturally one of the most egalitarian of human realities. However, when the genetic material, conception, and birth of a child starts to become something that can be determined by one’s wealth, the child itself can start to be regarded as a designer commodity and symbol of wealth. Economic power can also become a means by which circumventing the limits of nature. If we don’t want to receive a child in the manner that nature typically bestows them, we can just buy a child that fits out specifications instead. Thinking of children as a ‘gift’, more than a ‘choice’ makes such a difference.

      The way that wombs, eggs, and sperm start to have price tags placed upon them atomizes and objectifies human beings, in ways not entirely dissimilar to slavery. These dynamics are most pronounced in the cases of egg donation or surrogacy. The vast differentials of economic power in many of these situations can lead people to alienate themselves from their own fertility and natural offspring (the reduction of the gift of self to something that can be bought and sold merits comparisons with prostitution, which often preys on similar dynamics).

      The quotation that I read at the beginning of the podcast and which is quoted in the post above is also important here. The possession of wealth is increasingly regarded as one of the primary qualifications for parenthood. Though the effect may be subtle, this can lead us to diminish the sense of children ‘belonging’ to poorer parents, especially when thinking about children in poorer nations, but also when thinking about children in poorer families in our own society. Since they aren’t rich, on some level they don’t really deserve to have so many kids. Children are a ‘choice’ and only those with wealth should have the right to such a choice.

      A corollary of this is a reduction of parental figures, especially fathers, to their financial input. A father who lacks a good wage isn’t regarded as much of a father by society, no matter how loving, committed, and faithful a mentor and example he may be to his children. A child’s interest in its father may be reduced to little more than the expectation of regular ‘child support’, that is, his financial contribution. The notion that a child needs its father in so many other ways and that that relationship should be preserved if at all possible is easily lost sight of.

      Some have argued that the poor are being priced out of the marriage market. Marriage is for richer, but no longer for poorer. The ideal marriage and family is often defined by income, spending power, and socio-economic status, rather than by the integrity, strength, and durability of the human bonds that it sustains. This new vision of marriage is increasingly displayed through lavish displays of conspicuous consumption in contemporary weddings. My fear is that our support of such reproductive technology is yet another way that we make marriage and family something that privileges the wealthy.

      I am not sure to what extent this addresses the sorts of issues that you were thinking about. If it doesn’t, please follow up with further questions.

      Thanks again for posting your thoughts!