The Eastern Orthodox approach to marriage provides the context for discussing procreative and sexual issues. The church sees marriage as a sacramental dimension of human life, with ecclesial and interpersonal dimensions and purposes (Guroian). The Orthodox church sees both men and women as equal before God as human beings and as persons called to grow toward God-likeness. Both men and women are persons in their own right before God and may be endowed with many potentialities that ought to be developed as part of their human growth. Yet the special sacramental relationship of marriage, procreation, and child rearing gives to women, in the mind of the church, a special role. Accompanying it is the role of husband and father in constituting a marriage and creating a family. Most of the bioethical issues regarding the transmission of life arise out of this marital and familial perspective in Orthodox thought.
REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES. Artificial insemination assists spouses to procreate when they cannot conceive through normal sexual intercourse. In such cases, the sperm of the husband is artificially introduced into the wife's child-bearing organs. There are differences of opinion in the Orthodox church regarding this procedure. A major objection is that this is a totally unnatural practice. But since other "unnatural practices" such as cooking food, wearing clothes, using technical devices such as eye-glasses and hearing aids, and performing or undergoing surgery are considered morally acceptable, this argument loses much of its force.
More cogent is the argument that artificial insemination separates "baby-making" from "love-making," which is a way of emphasizing the unity of the spiritual and bodily dimensions of marriage. In the case of artificial insemination by husband (AIH), the personal, social, and spiritual context seems to indicate that AIH is morally acceptable. The opposite holds true when the semen of a donor is used (AID). The intrusion of a third party in providing the semen violates the psychosomatic unity of the marital couple.
The same pattern of ethical reflection applies to other procedures, such as artificial inovulation and in vitro fertilization. If the sperm and ovum come from the spouses themselves, and the wife bears the child to term, ethical objections to these procedures are lessened. Often, however, fertilized ova are discarded in the procedures. The majority of Orthodox consider this a form of abortion. Others hold that for abortion to take place, implantation in the womb must have previously occurred. Nevertheless, surrogate mothers, egg donation, and sperm donation from parties outside the marriage find no place in an ethical approach that places heavy emphasis on the wholeness and unity of the bodily and spiritual aspects of human life, and of the marital relationship in particular.
STERILIZATION. Where sterilization is intended to encourage promiscuous sexual living, Orthodox Christianity disapproves. A strong ethical case can be made for it when there are medical indications that a pregnancy would be life-threatening to the wife. An as yet unexplored ethical area is the case of almost all older, yet still fertile, married couples, for whom there is a significant likelihood that the children of their mature love would be bearers of serious genetic diseases.
GENETICS. Genetic counseling seeks to provide information to a couple before they conceive children so that potentially serious conditions in newborns can be foreknown. Genetic counseling is also related to genetic screening of population groups that might be carriers of particular genetic illnesses. Genetic screening refines and makes more accurate the earlier practices of the church and of society that sought to reduce the incidence of deformed and deficient children, through the restriction of marriages between persons closely related genetically.
As a procedure that would reduce the number of persons entering into marriages with dangerously high chances for the transmission of genetic illnesses, these procedures ought to be strongly encouraged. Premarital genetic screening of young people with Mediterranean backgrounds, where there is a relatively high incidence of thalessemia B and Tay-Sachs disease, might guide them in the selection of spouses. Once a child is conceived and growing in the womb, however, the church could not consider the termination of the pregnancy as anything other than abortion. An impaired child is still the image of God with a right to life (Harakas, 1982). Since the church strenuously opposes abortion, prenatal diagnostic information indicating the prospective birth of a genetically deformed child cannot justify ending the life of the baby in the womb. Instead, this information serves to prepare the parents to receive their child with the love, acceptance, and courage required to care for such an exceptional baby.
GENETIC ENGINEERING. Concern with genetic engineering as an aspect of the transmission of life provokes a conflicting reaction among Orthodox Christian ethicists. Some Orthodox ethicists value the potential therapeutic possibilities of genetic engineering. In this case, the treatment of the genome to correct deficiencies is looked at positively, as a form of medical therapy. Nevertheless, there is concern when these same techniques are thought of as means for eugenic goals. The potential for misuse and abuse make Orthodox Christian reactions very cautious (Breck, 1991).
Was this article helpful?
Prior to planning pregnancy, you should learn more about the things involved in getting pregnant. It involves carrying a baby inside you for nine months, caring for a child for a number of years, and many more. Consider these things, so that you can properly assess if you are ready for pregnancy. Get all these very important tips about pregnancy that you need to know.