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College friends discover they are sisters

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Tulane University freshmen Emily Nappi (left) and Mikayla Stern-Ellis (right) discovered that they share a father, who was a sperm donor. (Credit: The Tulane Hullabaloo/Claire Brown)

Mikayla Stern-Ellis and Emily Nappi met at Tulane University in New Orleans and soon became best friends.  They shared similar physical features, an interest in drama and even clothing styles.  And they knew that they were both conceived by an anonymous sperm donor.  It turns out, it was the same sperm donor and they are sisters.

In the last 35 years, more than five million babies have been born through artificial insemination (IVF), a laboratory process by which an egg and sperm are united to produce an embryo which is then implanted in the mother.  For single women or couples considering sperm donation to conceive a child through IVF, let’s seek biblical guidance for common questions.

One: is sperm donation “playing God”?  Medicine is practiced in Scripture, as when Isaiah instructed King Hezekiah’s servants to “take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover” (Isaiah 38:21; cf. Luke 10:34).  If we believe that medical means should not be used to create life, logically we should also refuse medical means that prevent death.  Both can be seen as usurping God’s authority.

Two: is IVF moral?  My belief: only if every embryo produced is implanted in the mother.  Otherwise, life is conceived and then frozen or discarded.

Three: what is best for children of third-party sperm donors?  A recent study found that donor offspring are twice as likely to report problems with the law before age 25, more than twice as likely to struggle with substance abuse, and 1.5 times as likely to deal with depression or other mental health problems.  In my view, these facts do not mean that prospective parents should not consider third-party sperm donation, but that they should be aware of significant issues their children may face as a result.

Four: for couples considering this approach, is sperm donation adultery?  Clearly not, if the couple uses the husband’s sperm.  What if the husband cannot produce healthy sperm and “third party” sperm is used?  Some see this act as a breach of the marital covenant.  Others disagree, noting that no sexual relations occur.  They view this circumstance as similar to adopting a child or a husband raising a child from his wife’s previous marriage.  I agree.

All life is God’s creation, whether conception occurs through natural or scientific means.  If God wants life to exist, he can create it outside normal biological means, a fact he proved with Mary (Matthew 1:23), Sarah (Genesis 21:7) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:13, 18).  If he wants to prevent life, he can do so as well: “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).

Here’s my bottom line: IVF using the husband’s sperm raises no moral issues, so long as every embryo is implanted.  IVF using donor sperm may lead to challenges for the parents and child, but can be viewed as a kind of adoption.  However we are conceived, we can all pray with David, “you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).  Have you thanked him for your conception yet today?