Playing God

holy bibleA few weeks ago, before an embryo transfer, my embryologist recited a Bible verse to me that she had given to my patient. The patient had written this verse on a scrap of paper and was taking it into the room before the procedure.

When Shan recited this verse and told me that the patient was carrying it, I felt a lump in my throat, a lump that is usually associated with great sorrow, or overwhelming joy and relief.

“That’s strange,” I thought and wondered why it made me feel so unexpectedly emotional.

It was like an aroma that transports you back in time, to a specific place, bypassing the normal circuits of memory. I was at once filled with specific and vague memories and feelings of joy, despair, love, shame and remorse. It was a tidal wave of regret and gratitude.

It reminded me of how small we are compared with the forces at work in the universe.

Despite my religious upbringing, I honestly could not recall ever seeing that verse. More likely, I hadn’t been prepared to see it before.

It’s humbling to realize that this was there all along, and it sums up something that took me years to understand.

So what was the verse?

1st Corinthians 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

With that, let me get to the actual blog entry.

What I am about to write is not something just for people with a religious inclination. I think even an atheist will fall prey to some of the thinking that I talk about in this entry. If nothing else, perhaps it will help somebody else understand how another person feels (and fears). So hopefully, this entry will be of benefit to everybody.

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When I was an Ob/Gyn resident, I told a nurse that I wanted to be a reproductive endocrinologist. A look of disgust spread across her face. “Why would you want to do THAT?” she asked. “It’s so immoral. It’s playing God.”

She proceeded to lecture me along these lines for several minutes before finally concluding that if people weren’t meant to have kids, then they should not have them and they had no right to be parents.

I asked whether she thought that my wife and I should be allowed to have children.

“I didn’t say that,” she said.

“Yes, you did,” I told her.

This exchange allowed us to have what is sometimes called a teachable moment. Probably for the first time in her life, she saw what she said in context of an actual human being rather than a person on paper or in her imagination.

I told her that I didn’t know what God intended for my life. Despite using all the technology available to us, my wife and I had not conceived. Was this punishment for trying to play God? I had no way of knowing. But I did know this, no matter what I did, if God did not want me to have children this way, then my wife and I would be childless.

I think her mind changed that night. What changed it was not an argument, but a realization.

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As my wife and I struggled with infertility, we wished there were clear signs telling us what we were supposed to do. Were we supposed to just stop? Or were we supposed to take advantage of all the treatment that God put before us? Was IVF a path to the garden? Or was it the forbidden fruit?

With each failure, in the midst of each great sorrow, we asked the same questions again … what were we supposed to do? Were we being sinful or prideful by wanting to have children that were biologically related to us? Were we following God’s commandment? Or were we pushing our wishes ahead of God’s will?

In the absence of signs, we persevered. We knew only one thing for sure: If we did not try, we would not conceive and we would regret our decision later.

I personally have not met any patients who I thought were trying to play God. I’ve met people suffering from infertility, people like my wife and me, struggling to understand the plan, if any, for our lives.
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