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IN-VITRO FERTILIZATION

In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a medical procedure whereby fertilisation takes place artificially. Either the human sperm and egg are united outside the body and then implanted in the womb or the sperm is implanted in the womb by means other than sexual intercourse. Buddhism does not object to this procedure as such because it helps to alleviate a particular type of human suffering (the distress of not being able to have children) and it does not contravene the third Precept. However, there are several aspects of IVF which could be ethically problematic. Some religions object to IVF because the sperm is obtained through masturbation which they consider to be a sin. Buddhism does not raise this objection firstly because while it does not consider masturbation to be skilful it does not see it as evil, and secondly, while it may be unskilful, in this case the intention behind it would be a good one. A more serious objection to IVF is this. Usually more than one egg is fertilised so that if the first attempt at implantation does not succeed others will be available. If the implantation succeeds, the spare eggs are either destroyed, frozen for possible later use or used for experimentation.
According to the Buddha, life begins at conception or soon after and so the destruction of fertilised eggs would probably be an infringement of the first Precept. IVF also raises several serious legal, economic and emotional concerns (e.g. ownership of the unused eggs, the excessive expense of the procedure meaning that the poor are usually unable to afford it and the low success rate of approximately 15%. Perhaps couples unable to have children but strongly wishing to do so would do better to consider adoption.

Buddhism and Bioethics, Damien Keown, 1995.

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