In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is defined as the fertilization of an ovum occurring external to the body. The resultant zygote is incubated to the blastocyst stage and subsequently implanted in the uterus. The technique which is pioneered in Britain resulted in the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown.
IVF is employed in the case of impediment preventing access of sperm to ovum. This is manifested in various ways such as diseases or fallopian obstruction. The would-be mother is given hormone therapy causing a number of ova to mature at the same time. During ovulation, ova are aspirated from the ovary via laparoscopy or under ultrasound screening. In the latter case the aspirating needle may approach the ovary through the abdominal wall, the bladder wall or the vaginal wall, depending on the position of ovary to avoid iatrogenic complications.
The ova are exposed to husband’s sperm in-vitro with chances that at least one ovum would fuse with the sperm. If fortunate, the fertilized ovum is maintained in specific medium for division.
At the four or eight cell stage, seen under the microscope, this early embryo is aspirated and pumped into the uterus of the woman through the natural route. An approximate of three embryos can be embedded with hope that at least one is successful in adhering to the lining of the uterus. Pregnancy mirroring natural pregnancy ensues.
The verdict in Islam of IVF is acceptable and commendable, but only if it exclusively involves a legitimate husband and wife couple. It should be performed only during the span of their marriage, This is due to the fusion of sperm and ovum between a man and a woman should take place only within the marriage contract. Since divorce or widowhood brings the marriage contract to a conclusion and they are no more husband and wife, it follows that a woman may not be impregnated by the sperm of her ex-husband kept frozen in sperm bank, if any. In this case, stored semen of the husband if any would be foreign to her.
The triangle formed by father-mother-child should only be thrice sided, without interjection of other parties. The donation of ‘alien’ ovum is equivalent to the donation of alien semen because a pregnancy would result from two parties not bound by a marriage contract. Intervention of a third party other than husband and wife is not permissible because this would be an intrusion into the marriage contract binding the pair. “Alien sperm“, “alien egg” or an “alien womb” is prohibited.
Hence, it can be concluded that artificial insemination is permitted, as long as the reproduction involves only a lawful husband and wife pair. Permission is granted whether the fertilization itself occurs inside or outside the woman. However, it is NOT permitted to use third party donor of sperm or eggs, even when either spouse is infertile.
Such procedures should only be used when normal means are proven ineffective. It is imperative, in the end, to remember that while we have been commanded by Allah Most High to take all the permitted means, we have also been commanded to believe that means themselves do not have an effect; only Allah does. Verily, Allah knows best.