I’m treading on ground here that I rarely trespass into…that of religious faith and assisted conception, particularly donor assisted. Yesterday I spoke with someone on the ‘phone who had had guidance from her religious adviser that embryo donation – ‘adoption’ was actually the language that was used – would be an acceptable way for her and her husband to pursue their wish to have a family, but that egg donation or double (egg and sperm) donation would not. The idea seemed to be that ‘saving’ an embryo from possible destruction would be approved of by the church but that introducing one or more third parties into this couple’s marriage by using egg or double donation, would not be. What was troubling my caller was how a child would feel about having fully genetically connected progenitors and siblings out there somewhere living a family life without them. That somehow because of the luck of the draw, they got left in the petri dish, and then the freezer, whilst other embryos were chosen for implantation and went on to become that couple’s children. Someone was thinking about the person to be conceived, even if the church did not seem to be.
We talked for sometime about this dilemma and other ways that she and her husband had explored of becoming parents. They are considered too old to adopt in the UK. Exploration of embryo adoption in the US had ended in blanks and it looked as if adoption of a baby from that country was not going to work out either, partly because adoption in the US is shockingly expensive. Possibly adoption from a third world country was going to be the right way to go but, like many women, this woman would dearly love to experience the bonding process of pregnancy and to give birth.
What has religion to do with all this? Well, clinically egg donation would be an option for this couple but as believers and adherents of a particular way of thinking, they would find themselves personally compromised by going against the teachings of their church and may risk being censured by their priest, or worse, if it was known that they had gone against the guidance given. From my secular perspective it does not seem to be a very loving god who would stand in the way of a couple who wished to create a family, that presumably they would bring up within that particular faith. And why embryo donation – with it’s dislocation of families – would be more acceptable than egg donation is particularly puzzling, but then the status of the embryo is not a troubling issue for me.
The American Fertility Association has produced some lovely pieces on issues of concern in assisted reproduction generally and third party assistance in particular. I particularly like a recent one called Keeping Your Faith: How a Religious Framework Helps (or Hurts) You by Marie Davidson, a clinical psychologist on the team of a clinic in Chicago.
As Marie points out, as human beings we are connected to all our communities, our families, our social networks, our work colleagues and our faith communities. They are all capable of helping or hurting us as we try to build a family. The hurt can come from judgement and lack of understanding. Some of the worst pain can come from the mouths of those you would otherwise look to to support you…”It’s God’s will” or “God has other plans for you”, “Doing what you want to do isn’t natural”. I really like Marie’s reponse when a patient asks her, “Why is God doing this to me”…she says, “”I do have a God concept (ever evolving) and I think that if ‘my God’ is deciding who gets to be parents, then S/He has a really lousy track record”. Most people will stop and think for a second and then smile and laugh – usually seeing how irrational it seems to think that God controls this being a parent thing.
Good stuff Marie. Have a read and see what you think.