By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 05/13/2016

Today, human reproduction covers a major area in every religion, and is highly influenced by the point of view each one of them has before married life, fidelity between the spouses, responsibilities of each gender, child rearing and education, the role of women in today’s society, etc.

Religions have their own moral code regarding sexual behavior, and family creation. This are the reasons why, in turn, they can influence each devotee’s capacity of making reproductive decisions.

The increased popularity of assisted reproductive technology (ART) in the past few years focuses now on a major discussion from a religious view, due to the impact that religions have among each country’s citizenship, and also because of the fact that techniques such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), and artificial insemination (AI)—along with the use of donor gametes—are not always accepted to a large extent.

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church opposes to the wide range of fertility treatments available today, since it is considered to entail the artificial handling of gametes, and therefore it is nothing but a totally unnatural way of conceiving.

Every fertilization process that does not take place through sexual acts between partners in marriage translates into a non-human way of conceiving a child.

Sperm donation is seen as a morally illicit act: the fact that a woman in marriage is fertilized with the sperms of a man other than her husband contravenes the moral principles of Catholicism.

Likewise, Catholics are against the process by which a woman other than the spouse becomes the carrier of another couple’s baby through surrogacy. The fact that the conceived baby does not carry the genetic material of both parents is seen as a deviation from God’s will, and thus a sin.

According to the Holy See, if God has decided not to give a married couple the capacity to have children, he may have done so for a justifiable reason. The start of a new life is solely in his hands, and even if you were to resort to assisted conception, the success of the treatment and the subsequent pregnancy continue to rely exclusively on his will.

Embryo freezing is a fertility procedure contrary to the principles of the Church, since it is seen as an alternative means of accessing to abortion.

Some followers of the Catholic religion have a different bioethical point of view regarding embryo adoption. We refer to the so-called prenatal adoption, an alternative option that would lead to the possibility of giving the spare embryos of a fertility treatment the chance to have a life. In their opinion, unused embryos are fully-fledged human beings despite having been conceived in a morally unacceptable way according to the Church.

Islamism

The Sharia or Islamic law sees assisted reproductive technology morally acceptable as long as it is used between the legal spouses, as the aim of marriage it to ensure healthy offspring. This means that fertility treatments such as artificial insemination by husband (AIH) as well as in vitro fertilization with own gametes are approved.

Conversely, it rejects egg donation and sperm donation because they are considered to mix up various lineages, which is to say, the gametes of two unmarried individuals are used, something that translates into another form of adultery through the eyes of Islam. For this reason, techniques such as IVF are acceptable if both the eggs and the sperms used have been collected from each one of the spouses.

The Islamic law does not recognize sperm donation outside marriage or accepts this type of treatments in single women or lesbian couples. As mentioned earlier, the preservation of genealogical lines is a key principle for the Islamic religion.

Using the sperm of another man would translate into a severe breach of the sacred Islamic laws. Thus, using another man’s semen sample would mean the end of a family’s ancestry tree. This also applies to egg donation.

It is forbidden that fertilization between the husband’s sperm and the egg of an anonymous woman occurs, so that the resulting embryo is transferred to the wife’s uterus. Surrogacy is also prohibited as long as the “surrogate mother” is an outsider, and the egg used has not been retrieved from the married woman.

In the Muslim countries in which polygamy is accepted, surrogate motherhood is allowed provided that the surrogate is the second wife of the married man whose sperm has been used for the fertilization of an egg retrieved from his first wife.

Embryo selection through PGD is an admissible option if it is medically necessary. Although biological life starts from the very moment in which fertilization takes place, a human being is only created when God himself instills a soul in the body, something that occurs between days 40 and 120 after fertilization. Within this time interval, the biological parents are free to authorize embryo handling if they wish to.

Judaism

Broadly speaking, we can say that Jews allow the use of assisted reproduction to conceive. The fundamental laws of Judaism are gathered together in the Halakha or collective body of Jewish religious laws. According to the first Commandment of the Torah—according to which human beings must “grow up and procreate” above all—, breeding is a primary value for the Jewish community.

The latest advancements in the field of reproductive medicine are a way of complementing divine intervention when it comes to creating new lives and overcoming the obstacles that nature may pose. Given that mankind is God’s partner on Earth, it is a man’s duty to do everything in his power to improve the working of the world, and make sure the human race does not become extinct.

The main discussion between Rabbinical authorities is related to third-party reproduction. While both Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism do accept the use of an anonymous sperm donor, most Rabbinical authorities from Orthodox Judaism systematically reject this way of procreation.

Sperm cryopreservation is another controversial issue whenever it is used outside the boundaries of marriage. Thus, artificial insemination by donor (AID) is prohibited in Judaism, since it is believed that getting pregnant by donor sperm implies a series of problems related to parentage and Halachic identity.

In this sense, the concept of “matrilineality” is the one governing human reproduction. According to it, the Jewish identity can only be passed through the mother, and that is the reason why the sperm donor being Jewish or not is not considered as a crucial aspect.

Spare embryos remaining from a fertility treatment can be destroyed if patients wish to do so, since Rabbinical authorities do not consider zygotes that have been created outside the maternal womb as human beings. This is the same reason as to why abortion is allowed whenever the life of the pregnant woman is at stake.

Surrogacy is consistently rejected by Rabbinical authorities because of reasons which are not associated with marriage or parentage, but because of the fact that the surrogate is given an economic compensation for “incubating” and giving birth to a baby for another couple.

Many rabbis criticize the commercialization of the woman’s body, and the reproductive process itself. Most radical feminist perspectives consider surrogacy as a form of slavery, since they see it as using a woman’s belly for just carrying the baby of another person.

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Authors and contributors

 Andrea Rodrigo
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia along with the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Postgraduate course in Medical Genetics. More information
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One comment

    1. Sirkania33

      We are a married couple, followers of Islamic law and find it totally unacceptable that a woman is inseminated with the sperm of another man, let alone if she believes in Allah.