Fertility and Faith: The Ethics of Human Fertilisation

Written by Brendan McCarthy Reviewed By E.D. Cook

The avowed aim of the book is to concentrate on ethical and theological complications of the debate surrounding the Warnock Report from a Christian perspective. The focus is on the status of the human embryo and the nature of marriage and family life, in particular the relationship between the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual union. Written by a pastor of a community church in Northern Ireland, there is a blend of personal experience and perspective, through experience of two children dying at birth and investigation of fertility treatment, and an attempt to propound or work towards a convincing foundation for a Christian approach.

The first five chapters offer a series of overviews of Warnock’s agenda, the nature of morality and its relationship with legislation, the biblical approach and then a theological approach to the status of the human embryo, followed by a discussion of sexual ethics. The next eight chapters offer a way into the key topics and issues in fertility including artificial insemination by husband, by donor, egg and embryo donation, in vitro fertilisation (IVF), surrogacy, embryo research, the storage of gametes and embryos and abortion. These chapters are divided into two main sections with a survey of the Warnock position and Christian submissions both favourable and unfavourable, followed by analysis offering the author’s perspective on what are regarded as the crucial elements and responses.

The last chapter offers a series of observations by way of conclusion. This is critical of Warnock both in terms of the inadequacy of a basis for morality within the report and a lack of clarity in the connection between law and morality. At the same time, there is equal criticism of the Christian contributions to the debate in terms of the tactical focus, the lack of agreement and disparity of Christian submissions this allowed a confused and confusing message to be given both to society and to government. In particular the author argues that when it comes to the status of the human embryo a simple appeal to Scripture is inadequate, appeal to tradition will not lead to a unified Christian approach, and that both metaphysics and science fail to address the issue properly. The book argues for a dynamic understanding of personhood and the embryo as well as suggesting that the complication of issues of sexual ethics must and do revolve around a few essential principles about the status of embryo and children, responsible parenthood, the link between the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, and making genetic parenthood the basis of legal parenthood.

The author requires that Christians will not embrace his views wholeheartedly, but offers a means of greater understanding of the issues for Christians, thus enabling them to engage better in debate with others. Many will wish to debate the use of Scripture yet the book does offer an interesting analysis and survey of Warnock. It might have been more effective if written earlier in the ongoing debate in and with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The scope of the book is too vast to do justice to the detail of each issue and approach and to the inter-connections between them. Many will be unhappy with the conclusions about surrogacy, which seems more concerned with the autonomy of individuals than the welfare of the child.

E.D. Cook

Whitefield Institute