In doing the due diligence for starting a family with my partner, I was curious to find out what Islam stance on infertility processes such as IVF or artificial insemination. What I found is rather abysmal.
A 1980 Sunni fatwa came out shortly after the first test tube baby, Louisa Brown, was born in 1978, forbidding any form of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). However since the 1990s, a rash of fatwas made some ART accessible and permissible for married couple with infertility issues. These fatwas still serve as the foundation of Sunni ruling around ART up to today.
A highlight summary of the rulings include:
- Gamete (third party) ART including surrogacy, egg and sperm donation are not allowed. As no third party are allowed to intrude into the marital functions of sex and procreation, since marriage is a contract between the wife and husband during the span of their marriage, no third party donor is allowed, whether the donor is providing sperm, eggs, embryos, or a uterus. The use of a third party is tantamount to zina, or adultery.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Artificial Insemination (AI) with the wife’s egg and husband’s sperm are permissible.
- Women should not expose themselves to male staff for treatment
- Husbands cannot masturbate to get sperm for infertility treatment
- Children born out of third party donor are considered illegitimate or worse, the rightful children of the donating party e.g. the man who donated the sperm or the woman who donated the uterus, egg or embryos.
- A muslim should be cautious of the fertility clinics motivation and procedures to avoid using the wrong sperm or eggs/embryos.
For more fun-filled details of other fatwa-sanctioned ART rights, read Making muslim babies: IVF and gamete donation in Sunni vs. Shi’a Islam: Marcia C. Inhorn 2006.
The end sum of options for people facing infertility issues as far as I can tell are as follows:
For a married man and wife who has to go through IVF to conceive:
1. As long as the sperm belongs to the husband, the egg and uterus belongs to the wife, the wife does not expose her aurat (See Hijab laws) to non-muhrims, husband does not masturbate to get his sperm out, the process is halal i.e. sanctioned.
For a woman with an infertile husband:
1. divorce the husband and find a fertile spouse
2. foster a child
3. be patient as God knows best
For a man with an infertile wife:
1. Marry (up to 3) other fertile wife
2. foster a child
3. be patient as God knows best
For a single person who has no desire to marry
1. get married to a fertile spouse and get divorced after the child is born, otherwise known as a mut’a wedding i.e. fake wedding to fulfill the religious obligations of finding sexual fulfilment or having children through marriage. Note: Mut’a is typically a Shi’a practice. Malaysian muslims are majority Sunnis.
2. foster a child
For a gay couple
1. forget about fostering a child, you and your spouse are going to hell
Granted, the basis for these rulings is well meaning. The aim is to keep the family line unambiguously defined and to protect one’s lineage. The intent is to protect future complications with relationships e.g. avoiding incestuous siblings/parent-child relationships should lineage be unknown.
Hence, a muslim wife retains her family name to “maintain the link between her and her parents and ascendants” and marriage is the only legitimate way to have children and most interestingly, muslims do not adopt children as much as foster them. I will cover adoption in islam in another article.
In breaking down the lineage argument, when a husband has a wife who is infertile, he is allowed to marry up to 3 other wives assuming they are fertile and have children with these other wives because the lineage of the child undoubtedly belongs to the husband.
When a wife has an infertile husband, using a third party sperm donor is tantamount to zina even when there is no sex involved because technically the child’s lineage belongs to the sperm donor and the wife.
For a single man trying to have a baby through a surrogate mother, this course is also considered zina. Furthermore, the ruling on children born out of wedlock is that the man has no parental rights over the child that is if the uterus donor and man are not married, only the biological mother has the rights to the child. (See Sunni Forum: Out of Wedlock Child) The ruling however runs counter to the protection of lineage and I am assuming is designed to punish the adulterers by denying parental attributions to the biological father.
For a single woman trying to have a baby via a sperm donor, unless the woman marries the sperm donor in a mut’a wedding or otherwise, the baby will be considered illegitimate and the act of impregnation is considered zina. According to law with illegitimate children, the sperm donor has no parental rights and the baby will be attributed to the woman, i.e. the baby is given the mother’s name as oppose to the biological father’s name.
Interestingly, Shi’a has a different view on ART where gamete donation is permissible as long as the infertile parents abide by the religious codes regarding parenting according to a late 1990 fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran. However, the child of the egg or sperm donor has the right to inherit from the donor themselves, as the infertile woman or man are considered to be like adoptive parents as opposed to actual parents. The child is allowed to have the name of the infertile father. Specifically, in regards to sperm donation, the child born of sperm donation get to have the name of the infertile father instead of the sperm donor. However, the child can only inherit from his biological father, the sperm donor, since the infertile father is considered to be like an adoptive father.
Equally fascinating is IVF views in Judaism. 3rd party gamete donation including sperm is allowed as “Jewishness is conferred through the mother particularly through the act of gestating and birthing the baby.” In other words, lineage or Jewishness passed along through the biological mother instead of the father. In addition, conservative rabbis prefer non-Jewish donor as means of preventing future possible genetic incest. The Jewish state is quite pronatalist in that IVF is not only permissible for single career women and lesbian Jewish mothers but the procedure is often subsidized by the state. Another interesting fact is to ensure correct sperm/eggs implantation, maschigots i.e. “orthodox Jewish women” would preside over IVF procedures.
The fact of the matter is fertility clinics and sperm banks have improved leaps and bounds over the years where careful background and health screening is done through each sperm, egg or uterus donor. Many fertility clinics make potential parents go through therapy counseling and some require the couple to have counseling sessions with the potential donors if known. Most conscientious sperm banks have family limits for each sperm donor irrespective of successful pregnancy. Many banks have identity release programs designed to allow the child to find out the identity of the sperm donor after a certain age. Others even set up sibling catalogs to ensure couples get the same sperm source for consequential children.
I had a friend asked me once why I bothered going through the therapy sessions, paying thousands of dollars out of pocket to find a sperm donor and go through artificial insemination when I can easily just get a guy to sleep with me for less money or even free. After mentally punching this friend in the face, my simple answer was because I respect and love my partner that I will not “divorce” her to marry some guy to bear a child with, that I will not commit adultery with another person when I am committed to my spouse, and that I want her to be a part of the process as much as I will be.
Personally, though some percentage of the child’s biological origin may come from another source, we both believe that the child that we hope to conceive will be 100% our child. This child will be result of both our hard work in going through the process of ART, pregnancy and child rearing. The fact the child has some biological origin not from my partner is of minute emotional consequence. I am alarmed and a little sadden that the religion I was born into, place paternal lineage high above over love and fidelity of a relationship. I hope that the religious authority continue to have discussions on ART and come up with better rulings for couples with infertility issues, single parents and (I dare dream) gay couples.